Do Not Advertise On Facebook Until You Read This

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Dear Facebook Advertisers: I just published a much shorter posting about how-to save money on Facebook advertising based on the information below. I also posted an article based on past BBC and TechCrunch articles that includes a more recent communication from Facebook customer support.

This is an email thread between me and a Facebook customer service agent named Neil about my request for a refund for 90 percent of the advertising we did with them recently. I am requesting the refund because I believe Facebook misled us about the nature and value of the clicks they delivered as part of our ‘Like’ campaigns.

If you read this and do not fully understand what I am saying in the discussion, then do not advertise on Facebook. If you read this and understand it, then you have fair warning and can proceed with caution as you see fit. In that case, I recommend you also read my posting about how to detect and mitigate the problem.

FWIW, I recommend against speculating in their stock one way or the other until they make a clear public statement about the situation. To see why I say that, read this post for some very rough estimates of how large the problem may be.

To help you understand what is going on, I need to define a word. A booklicant is a Facebook user who consistently clicks on dozens of ads in a day, perhaps 4 or 5 in a minute, adding up to hundreds or thousands of clicks per year. They do this for various reasons that are generally unrelated to typical click-based online advertiser expectations – to collect things they like, to increase their ‘like’ score, to express their interests, to help Facebook better target content to them, to while away the time. They are a small percentage of all Facebook users, but they represent a large percentage of Facebook ad clicks, especially in smaller ad campaigns.

From: Erik Larson
Date: Fri, May 25, 2012 at 1:47 PM
Subject: Re: Help with Your Ads Manager
To: The Facebook Ads Team

Thanks Neil, I greatly appreciate this much more rapid reply.

To short-cut another possible delay that may occur, I already know these people are real users based on my own research. That is not the problem.

The problem is that Facebook misled my company with respect to the inherent value of most of the clicks by claiming that these clicks were comparable in value to clicks in other CPC venues or to clicks by FB users with typical and expected interactions with CPC advertising (emphasis added). To be specific, I believe that about 90 percent clicks you charged us for were worth about 1/1000th of the price you charged us. It also seems likely that your company was aware of this disparity in value, because after looking at the data some more it feels like you must have some sort of algorithm in place that invalidates clicks from these users once they pass a certain threshold, but probably you only invalidate clicks after that threshold, not all the clicks that came before. Even more, that threshold appears to be WAY above what any reasonable advertiser would expect it to be.

Specifically, my gut feel is that you allow valid clicks as long as people click fewer than ~4-6 rapid-fire clicks in a minute, and then after that point you invalidate their clicks within a very short session period, probably around an hour or two, but you do not go back and do what everyone would expect you to do and invalidate the first ~4-6 clicks. Further, I imagine you have a very high threshold for clicks in a day, probably ~40-60 daily, and similar to the rapid-fire clicks you do not go back and invalidate the first ~40-60 clicks. It also seems like you have no algorithm at all based on how many annual or total likes a user has, which is somewhat shocking since combining such an long-term algorithm with a rapid-fire algorithm and a daily algorithm would be the best way to identify ‘booklicants’ or ‘likers’ or whatever you want to call this group of users. I’ll continue to call them booklicants because from an advertiser’s perspective they are as much a creation of your product interface as they are regular people with rational interests.

I am guessing at those numbers after looking at the data from our campaigns and imagining how to reconcile the results, but the real basis for my guess is empathy. If I was your product manager for these clicks, and I had data at least as good as that provided to me as an advertiser, that is roughly where I would put the set points if you asked me to stretch the validation algorithm such that it filtered out truly bizarre behavior (e.g. perhaps people who have OCD about the word ‘like,’ or people who appear to be in the employ of a click-fraudster, etc.) yet did not entirely destroy revenue from these people since they represent a large percentage of our CPC inventory. I would then create some sort of rationalization after the fact – for instance, “Setting the limit at 4-6 clicks per minute is completely reasonable because it takes the average person about 10-15 seconds to read an ad made of one small picture and fewer than 115 characters, thus the user could reasonably have read the ad and made a decision to click.”

As you can tell, I am not just talking to you, but to whomever else reads this on your product team or on my blog. And to be clear, I think that the rationalization above is false and misleading. So if I had been your product manager, I hope I would have refused to do it because at a minimum it is unethical from my standpoint. At least I hope I would have said no, but that would have been a very hard thing to do in the face of millions of dollars coming towards me and all my colleagues. On balance, I am glad I was not in that position. I am trying to earn my millions some other way.

Here is an ethical algorithm to use instead: retroactively invalidate all clicks by users as soon as they click more than twice in a minute, more than five times in an hour, or more than 500 times in a year. By retroactive, I mean both all the clicks within that particular timeframe, and also looking back at their behavior over the past five years to determine other times that behavior occurred.

That algorithm is ethical because the booklicant interactions clearly do not represent a meaningful CPC advertising interaction by any reasonable standard (emphasis added). The reason they are clicking the ads is to express their interests to Facebook so that your company can present them with more things that they like, and also because it is satisfying to them to like many things. The are essentially collecting likes and interests. However, you can’t say that is the same as consciously liking something any more than you can say a wild-haired Berkeley liberal who happens to collect political campaign buttons ’likes’ Joseph McCarthy or Sarah Palin just because they have several of their buttons in their collection. I am sure that is a big part of why your product interface makes the number of likes so prominent - your most active users probably asked for that feature, so they could keep better track of their collections. All the rest of us just wonder why that ‘Likes’ box is so prominent in our new Timeline interface.

The booklicant algorithm is important because Facebook implies that advertising on the site is a form of ‘CPC’ advertising, first of all by using that industry standard term, and also by using industry standard terms like ‘CTR’ and ‘invalid clicks.’ That is where you misled me, and it appears you have misled a large swath of your advertisers as well. The current context for CPC ad pricing is search (high value clicks because the user intent/goal is fairly clear) and display (lower value clicks because the user intent/goal is less clear but still represents intent to interact with the ad and advertiser). In both of those cases, no one would think that there are normal human beings out there clicking on ads to somehow ‘collect’ them in a sort of general interest inventory, NOT EVEN THE EXPERTS, BECAUSE OVER THE LAST FEW WEEKS I HAVE TALKED TO SOME OF THEM AND THEY WERE ALL SURE THESE ‘BOOKLICANT’ PROFILES MUST BE BOTS AND THAT YOU WOULD QUICKLY REFUND MY MONEY.

Blog Side Note Not From The Email: Neil, et al., I apologize for the ALL CAPS…my passions got away from me for a moment there.

I am not saying that such likes have zero value. I am estimating that the market rate for such clicks is probably about 1/1000th the current value you are charging, since these people seem to click on about 1000 times as many ads as typical users (emphasis added). You have two completely different classes of ad inventory on your network, people who collect likes and people who don’t, and you are charging us the same for each even though it is clear the behaviors represent categorically different levels of intent and engagement with the ads. I will happily pay 40 cents for a click from a UK resident who only clicks on things that they are curious about on their own merits, i.e. like what happens with display ads. But I will only pay 0.04 cents for a user who regularly likes 20 to 40 or maybe more than 100 things in a day. It is wrong to allow advertisers to think that all clicks on Facebook ads are the same even though you could have simply and easily communicated strong evidence and understanding to the contrary.

How you have managed to continue to collect money from advertisers in this way for the last several years is amazing to me, and to most people I have talked with about it. They just don’t believe it at first: “How is it that more people are not shocked about this?”

Since I fell into the trap I can tell the story and explain why. Most people don’t want to believe it, so they don’t. Here is my story:

I started out advertising my external landing pages like a typical CPC campaign. The CTRs and landing page conversions were terrible but my ads appeared to perform better than the average FB ads, so it felt OK, and the demographics of the clicks validated some of our segmentation assumptions. Then since your app and your marketing highly encourage use of ads to market internal FB content, and you promise much more detailed data about the users, I spiffed up our FB page and ran my first ‘like us’ campaign. WOW! Hundreds of people in less than an hour, and the CPCs were 20-30 percent lower! So I did it some more, right then, spent more money, eventually $170 instead of the $30-50 I’d planned on. It was exciting.

Then I did a little bit to try to get engagement from those users, a few posts to the page, and nothing happened. I read more about how building engagement is a skill that requires investment, and I also began to look into sponsored stories. Luckily, in parallel I was analyzing my fan base and discovered they were not what they appeared to be at first. They were mostly ’booklicants’ who like dozens of things a day. So I didn’t do sponsored stories, I sent you a note asking for my money back. If I had done sponsored stories and managed to get into their streams, then no doubt some of those users would have engaged, because they clearly use FB a lot and I would have been jamming my message in front of their faces…which is what I thought I was doing in the first place, btw. But I bet the competition for those particular streams is relatively intense, not because they are more valuable and more advertisers want to compete for them, but because those people typically like thousands of advertisers, and since I was a small advertiser with an audience comprised primarily of booklicants this would have hit me hardest.

And that is the #1 reason I think what you are doing is wrong. It hits small and unsophisticated advertisers the hardest (emphasis added).

You could have given our money back after my first inquiry saying something like “All of those users are real based on our initial investigations, but we will continue looking into the matter. We value our customers and in particular we appreciate your detailed feedback, so we would like to offer you a $300 credit as a thank you.” I would have been happy, I would have spent a lot more that $300 over the next few months, and I would have enthused about it on my blog, etc. That is not what happened, I suspect because you have internal policies in place that require you to take certain steps to give you legal standing in case of lawsuit, and probably the last thing you want is for people like me to be publicly enthusiastic about large refunds from Facebook as a result of strange click behaviors.

I really want my $150 back. I now doubt you will give it back to me any time soon, because doing so would effectively require you to admit to what I have described, or explicitly explain why I am wrong. If I cared about the money, that means I made a tactical error by sharing all this information with you and the readers of my blog postings. However, what I really care about is the truth, and figuring out how to use data and social networks and so forth to make people happy. I am happy that the booklicants like ‘liking’ things, and I am happy that Facebook exists, and I am happy to spend money on advertising. I am even happy that you misled me and caused me to waste so much time and energy on this, because it helped me better understand how people interact on social networks and it gave me some great blog postings that were fun to write. But I am not happy that you continue to mislead other small advertisers who do not have the skills, education and experience that I have. So I will continue to explain my understanding about how Facebook ads work to other people until you guys take responsibility and start to do it yourselves.

One final suggestion. Just come out with it, right now, all at once, while the clouds are already gathered, and try to turn it into a pivot point. Maybe do it this way:

“We have discovered an amazing type of user in our Facebook community, they are people who like lots of things and as a result they provide us with amazing data about general human preferences. No other company has this information, it is unprecedented in the history of advertising, it will allow us to create both relevance and serendipity at a scale never before imagined. From this point forward, we will not be charging advertisers for the clicks from such people, but instead we will use that information to dramatically improve our ability to target meaningful awareness advertising to other users just like them, primarily through very high value multi-media CPM sponsored stories, first on mobile devices, then on our website. This is a material change and will have a short-term negative impact on our revenue of XX% effective immediately, and we will also take a one-time loss of $X billion in the form of ad credits refunded to all advertisers who have paid for the clicks from these people over the past five years. Our FAQ describes the algorithm we will use for this refund. This is a new industry, but as you can see we are an agile company that keeps the interests of our users and our advertisers front and center. This is just one step in our march towards the future.”

If your company has the fortitude to make that sort of decision in the face of all the likely consequences, then you have a chance to become a boon of unprecedented proportions, make a lot of money in various ways and have me as a shareholder.

If not, then I’d say all bets are off.
I know it is hard, but I’m rooting for you to do the right thing.

Cheers,
-e

On Fri, May 25, 2012 at 12:24 AM, The Facebook Ads Team wrote:

Hey Erik,

I might get delayed in responding to you, but certainly wouldn’t forget. I’ve reached out to our products team to investigate into the two campaigns you mentioned below. We’ll look at the delivery as well as the kind of users who have been clicking on your ads, but at first glance, these clicks appear to be coming from real users with real likes and interests.

Will keep you posted on this. Thank you for your patience,

Neil
Global Marketing Solutions
Facebook

From: Erik Larson
Date: Thu, May 24, 2012 at 9:18 AM
Subject: Re: Help with Your Ads Manager
To: The Facebook Team

Hi Neil,

Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it. Thought you’d forgotten about me ;).

In the intervening three weeks I’ve done my own research, which makes this easier.

To keep things simple, I would like to shrink my request for refund and limit it only to the money we spent to advertise ‘liking’ our page at www.facebook.com/wahanegi. I am requesting the refund because a large number of the clicks appear to be as a result of Facebook users engaging in behavior that has very little to do with a meaningful response to our ads and is mostly about their attempts to enhance or enjoy their own experience using Facebook as suggested by your product interface. You can read more about the problem here: http://wp.me/p2dKfK-5s.

If you also want to keep it simple too, then please just refund all of our money from the following two campaigns on our Wahanegi account:

$109.91 spent on We Need Your Help – ANZAC
+$62.40 spent on We Need Your Help – Philippines
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$172.31 total

If you want to be more specific, then you can easily do the required reporting, because all of that traffic stayed on your servers and was driven by users authenticated into your app. Further, since Facebook does not provide sufficient reports for advertisers to allow us to determine how much money was spent to generate any particular ‘like’ by a specific user, it is literally impossible for me to provide you with the necessary data to get a more accurate sum. You must do it.

If you want to go that route, then I am specifically asking for a refund for any clicks that we paid for that came from Facebook users that hit the following filters:

*Refund money for any paid clicks from users who have liked more than 499 pages in the past 12 months, OR that liked more than 9 pages on the same day they liked our page, OR that liked more than 149 pages in the past 12 months AND more than 5 pages on the same day they liked our page.*

When you run that report, I would appreciate it if you could provide the full results to me so that I can review them for accuracy and decide if I want to remove or block any of those users.

Finally, if you don’t want to do that work but feel that I am asking for too much since these clicks are probably legally valid even if they are meaningless as a measure of advertising effectiveness, then maybe we can compromise. I estimate that the filter above encompasses about 90% of the clicks we paid for. So you could also just refund $150 and we’ll call it even.

Please reply either way and keep me in the loop wrt your progress and any questions you have.

Cheers,
-Erik

On Thu, May 24, 2012 at 8:08 AM, The Facebook Ads Team wrote:

Hi Erik,

Thanks for following up and giving a detailed background to this issue. I really appreciate your inputs and will make sure your feedback is heard by the products team. Meanwhile, we are happy to look into this further if you can provide us with detailed click logs documenting the activity you’re concerned about. We aren’t able to investigate this further without actual traffic logs. We understand this may be a frustrating process, and we apologize for the inconvenience. Please contact your web hosting company directly if you have questions about how to obtain server logs detailing individual clicks or visits to your site, as we aren’t able to verify data collected through third-party tracking systems. In order to assist you further, please include the following information from your server logs:

(A) Raw server logs of all clicks coming to your website, or the total amount of all clicks coming from Facebook, with an explanation of how you filtered them. These server logs should, at the very least, include:

(1) Timestamp of page load
(2) User agent string
(3) User IP
(4) Exact page loaded, with the parameters passed to the page load if you are doing URL tagging. Please note: a popular tracking method is to link your Facebook Ad(s) to unique URLs that are only used for specific Facebook Ad campaigns. Another tracking method is to add an extra, identifying parameter to your URL. By doing so, you’ll be able to isolate visitors who reach your site through Facebook Ads rather than other traffic sources.

(B) Aggregated counts of your clicks.

If possible, please also include the following:
(1) The total number of clicks you received from Facebook, split by day, for the specific time period where you have noticed the click issues.
(2) The total number of clicks you were billed for, by Facebook, also by billable day for the period in question.
(3) A screenshot of your external reporting system showing the total number of clicks received from Facebook.

Please note that we do filter out any clicks that appear to be invalid, including repetitive clicks from a single user, clicks that appear to be from an automated program or bot, or clicks that are otherwise abusive. We also cap the number of times any user can view or click on an ad. Rest assured that we take discrepancy reports very seriously and will be happy to take a look through our and your logs for any indication of invalid click activity.

Thank you for your continued patience,

Neil
Global Marketing Solutions
Facebook

—–Original Message to Facebook—–
From: Erik Larson
To: The Facebook Team
Subject: Help with Your Ads Manager

Select: Other
Email address: …
Describe your question or issue: Two weeks ago I inquired about the validity of a large percentage of the clicks from campaigns that we ran via this account … and my personal account … . I also followed up with an extensive description of the problem, but have heard nothing since. I just made a blog posting about it (http://wahanegi.com/dont-believe-the-like/). Please review and respond. Thank you.

—–End Original Message to Facebook—–

NOTE: I hope this post is helpful. However, we are not in the advertising business…we are a start-up building an app that helps people make wise life decisions. So if you have a chance please help us out by signing up for our betaAlso, you can follow me on Twitter @erikdlarson. Thanks.

Journalists – Especially ABC News and Yahoo! Finance: If you link to this blog posting, you should read what it says and make sure you represent it accurately to your readers. I do not think these clicks are from ‘bots,’ I think they are from real people who behave in an unexpected way. And I am not a blogger, I am the CEO of this start-up and just happen to blog about some of his experiences along the way. That said, I still think Facebook has an obligation to be forthcoming to advertisers about this user behavior, and to make adjustments in their business to end the misleading and unethical nature of their current advertising algorithms. As you can see, I am not a blogger trying to make a big press splash, or else I wouldn’t use the words ‘algorithm’ and ‘unethical’ in the same sentence ;-). You can spin all this however you want of course, as long as it is not a false representation.

42 thoughts on “Do Not Advertise On Facebook Until You Read This

  1. Moises

    I am a Facebook Fan. I use it everyday to connect with a network of more than 700 friends. Many of them I know since I was a little kid and being I able to have glimpse into their lives is a blessing. That is Facebook to me. Essentially I will be a user for life. Extrapolating my own usage to millions and millions you can see how Facebook has a shot at maintaining their success. This problem, THE BOOKLICANTS, as coined by Erik, is huge. It is very much comparable to the BLACK HAT SEO problem Google has been dealing with since its inception.

    Perhaps worst?
    How can Facebook solve it?
    Imposing a limit on paid likes within a certain period of time?

    Reply
  2. Dan hosford

    Hi Erik,

    Thanks for publishing your experiences. It’s good insight.
    One thing I would throw into the ring is that clicks have been an invalid metric for the vast majority of digital advertisers for a long while.

    Comscore have been big proponents of removing the click as a valid evaluation metric for similar reasons you describe above. http://blog.comscore.com/2010/12/rid_meddlesome_click.html

    87% of all clicks online delivered by just 8% of users. The booklicants or bots.

    Exposure is the most reliable evaluation metric… if you’re justifying digital advertising based on clicks alone then you’re on a hiding for nothing.
    Google can get away with it because they measure user intent and are always relevant…people go there to click but even for them, only 60% (and shrinking) actually click on ads

    I’d suggest Facebook are in a better position than most given that they can link all clicks to profiles and therefore real people, as they have done for you.

    Would love to talk in more detail…I’m currently running the digital marketing team for Harvey Norman in Australia so it’s a topic of great interest for me.

    Cheers

    Dan

    Reply
      1. Dan Hosford

        If I was a small business I would too. My point stands though, if you are buying visual ads the click is the wrong metric. The RIGHT metric may not yet be available

        Reply
  3. Kathy Passmore

    Excellent post(s)! Each of your posts’ certainly gives one food for thought and are extremely interesting points of view(s).

    I happened upon a link (http://www.socialadblog.com/) apparently dedicated to news and opinions around Facebook advertising and in particular an article “Three Ways Facebook Can Leverage Mobile To Boost Revenue” which is interesting.

    Amelia is one SMART gal! Hope you compensate her well, e.g. a big increase in allowance, for all the valuable advice and guidance she contributes :)

    Reply
    1. Kathy Passmore

      Oh, and I am soooooo looking forward to FB’s next “customer support” response to Wahanegi.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Is 10% of Facebook Revenue Generated By Booklicants? | Wahanegi

  5. Pingback: Facebook Booklicants: Why BBC & TechCrunch Missed the Point | Wahanegi

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  7. emilymorgan

    Well, I have tried to benefit from advertising on Facebook, but the results were much worse than I expected. The most strange thing was that the number of visits shown in analytics was much less that that shown in Facebook reports. This confused me a lot. Besides, the Facebook support team hadn’t respond to any of my letters and finally I stopped my campaign.
    http://blog.britainloans.co.uk/2012/06/our-ambiguous-experience-in-advertising-on-facebook/

    Reply
  8. wandspiegel

    I haven’t advertised on Facebook myself, but this is is an interesting concept. If it’s broadly true and that Facebook essentially has two “classes” of users, then it’s up to them to price them segment and price them effectively for advertisers.

    Reply
  9. Joe Bilmy

    People go to Google and type in things like, “i would like to buy a ______.”

    People go to Facebook and type in “fred and i broke up on friday.”

    Obviously inbound marketing is going to be 1000X more effective…

    Reply
    1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

      I agree, the only reason I did it in the first place was 1) to test some marketing assumptions against different customer segments for which Facebook targeting seemed particularly well suited and 2) I had the standard $50 ad credit to spend. Wishful thinking on my part in retrospect…you get what you pay for and caveat emptor remain in force.

      Reply
    1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

      I suspect that Facebook agrees with you on both counts ;). I don’t think I am entitled to a refund according to some sort of contractual agreement, if that’s what you mean. I’m sure they have their bases covered, especially considering what a thorough run-around they gave me.

      I want my money back because I believe they misled me about the nature of the clicks I was getting, and by extension the nature of the clicks that most small advertisers pay for. They directly state that Facebook can target customers extremely well and that your purpose in advertising should be to generate engagement, yet they do not allow for targeting based on user behavior (the most important measure, just ask Google Adwords customers or any interactive marketer on the planet) and early in a campaign they primarily deliver clicks from customers who are extremely unlikely to engage after they click. Plus, if my guess about their algorithm design is correct, then they are very well aware that most advertisers would be angry with such a situation if they bothered to look, and so they try to curb the impact of the behavior slightly, probably just enough to cover their legal bases, but certainly not enough to match expectations of advertising customers.

      All that insults my sense of business ethics, and since journalism is mostly about blogs these days, I decided to write it up to make sure that other advertisers are aware of the situation. I even wrote a ‘how-to’ yesterday so that advertisers who really want to advertise on Facebook can mitigate the problem. http://wahanegi.com/save-money-on-facebook-ads/

      If all of this is the stupidest thing you have ever read, then I would like to see your reading list, because my reading list is clearly not up to snuff.

      Reply
  10. nflfreepicks

    I have advertised on facebook. It was a disaster. The #s just don’t work. I have 15 years experience on the web and was SEO Strategist for a large SEO company here in NY, and I will confidently say that I will NEVER advertise on facebook again. It was a total waste of money! I have 5000+ fans on my page and most are not customers. We spend $hundreds before I stopped. Absolute disaster for advertising or marketing. I think most of the value in FB is for BRANDING which is very expensive any way you try it.

    Reply
  11. Pingback: Why Do Some Advertisers Believe that 90% of Facebook Ad Clicks are From Bots? - Forbes

  12. Catena Creations

    Thank you for doing the research and posting this. I found your blog through a story in Forbes today:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/07/31/why-do-some-advertisers-believe-that-90-of-facebook-ad-clicks-are-from-bots/

    Your information about booklicants was especially helpful.

    We are following up on a recent campaign because of your information, and what happened to Limited Run. I will post or email you when we complete our research.

    Reply
  13. moshepop

    More than the mess Facebook advertising is right now, which apart from being fascinating is scary and sad, I am writing to express how cool it is that Erik published this in May 25th. Two months ago. I was the fist one who commented on this post and have been subscribed to the comment thread ever since. Its amazing how 2 months later the whole thing explodes. Today I recevied 20 e-mails in my inbox and I am finally unsubscribing but wanted to send my regrads to Erik, and never forget, he coined the term “BOOKLICANT” as to be used for Facebook Bots, or humans?. By the way and I am glad I am remembering about this. I am the Online Marketing Manager for a company and today a fellow employee offered me if I wanted 1000 Facebook likes within the hour. It turns out this is an underground network of US college students who are paid an hourly fee to like pages. When i asked about the name of the company offering the service i was told it’s a secret.

    Reply
    1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

      Nice post. I haven’t had any luck wrt refunds yet, so I wouldn’t spend too much time on it. I’ve written our spend off at this point. I don’t think that Facebook will be giving any refunds or changing their policies unless they are forced to because advertisers go other places after reading blog postings like yours and mine. We’ll see.

      Reply
      1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

        Interesting idea. We could both be right.

        Here are two bits that your theory needs to account for. First, I have actually communicated with some of these ‘fake’ profiles, and they are real people who seem normal except they use FB in an unusual way. It could be that they are just wetbots in the employ of black hats, but I didn’t get that impression. Also, I did a quick check of our FB fan population interaction in general. For the last story we promoted we had roughly a 2% click rate, which is on par with the low end of email click rates, so not particularly suspicious, certainly far less suspicious than their unusual number and range of likes. Of course, the black hats could also have a clever algorithm to like and comment on stories to keep up the illusion, and they may always be three steps ahead of us.

        I tend to believe that crooks are lazy, and that conspiracies of dunces are far more common than conspiracies of super-geniuses. Only FB has the wherewithal to figure it out and police or explain it properly.

        And depending on what you believe about FB, those last two sentences are either heartening or depressing. ;)

        Reply
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  15. Jaye

    Thanks for sharing your detailed investigation. I have only started (and now paused) ads on Facebook. I felt that they were low quality or fake IDs. Many of the likers had up to 500 or more friends, and yet when they posted something, they had absolutely no comments or responses from their “friends”. Also many of my likers didn’t have a profile that showed they would be interested in my business at all.

    Reply
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  19. Chris

    The problem is facebook could easily be funding these outside “likes” companies and nobody would know or be the wiser. If done properly (which it doesn’t seem like they are) they would be able to generate a constant revenue stream for facebook by just clicking 3 likes per ad campaign per advertiser and nobody would be the wiser. This is what makes advertising with fb a complete gamble. I have a series of android games and apps (which is off topic I know) but I find that traditional advertising methods like newspaper, transit, and radio do more for my apps than advertising through google’s adwords, which I suspect also employ’s some type of invisible ad clickery to pad their bottom line.

    Reply
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  24. JP

    Hello, just wondering if there’s any update on this issue. Have you been in contact with the Facebook team lately? I’m running my campaign and i’m getting suspicious on how things are working now. Thanks

    Reply
    1. Avatar of erikerik Post author

      I never heard back from Facebook. We have since collected about 8,000 of these ‘likes’ on our Facebook page for a penny or two apiece, and for the most part they seem to be real people who just like enormous numbers of things. They do interact with our page, not a lot, but not zero. Netting it out, from an advertising perspective they probably aren’t worth the pennies we paid to get them. If we ever go back to seriously advertising on Facebook, we will do it in very targeted ways, focusing on friends of our followers and using the basic method outlined here: http://wahanegi.com/save-money-on-facebook-ads/.

      Reply
  25. Dani

    Similar incident happened to me. I did an ad that had a cap of $10 a day for 2 days. Facebook charged me $260. WOW. After I opened a dispute they gave my issue no attention. What a horrible company that makes millions and they don’t even have any live customer service reps to call. I will never give anymore money to facebook and will ALWAYS tell people the same.

    Reply
  26. Kenny

    Man, we’ve been running an ad on our page and I couldn’t help but feel the same way about it. Seems like such useless likes! Thanks for this info, we’re going to use it going forward with our ad strategy.

    Reply
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  28. Peter

    Awesome and very informative work, Erik. Facebook do not communicate well with their users (difficult when you have so many of them, I guess). I’ve submitted several requests to which I haven’t received any reply. I would assume that such a big company could afford to hire more support people, so the fact that they don’t suggests they aren’t interested in doing so. I’d love to see more accountability on their part for the advertising expenditure for a simple reason: I don’t trust them and they’ve not given me any reason to trust them, ever.

    Reply
  29. Pingback: Do Not Advertise On Facebook Until You Read This | Mick Say: Online Business Development

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