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Facebook: A place for people who don't matter

I bet you thought this would be another one of those "you don't know any of your FB friends IRL" rants.


Simon says raise your hand if you hate Facebook. If the world just shifted axis, I'm taking credit, just a heads up. As a user, you can never get it to show you what you want. It's chunky, slow, and tries, in its effort to juice every last bit of your personal data into its database, to be all things to all people. It's like a Chucky Cheese packed full of full grown adults with no pizza, no beer, and no tokens, plus game requests. If you just got chills, you're not alone. Facebook treats people like shit, let's not act like it's not true. They are the King of the Hill, and they do as they please. As someone who takes seriously researching the subject and knowing the ground they speak from, I barely feel the need to cite how they jack your privacy from desktop to mobile at every opportunity, and there's a reason for that. They can charge people like me (advertisers) for the accuracy and volume of the data they get from you. When you sell advertising, your demographic data is like gold. Hitting the right audience reliably pays. In the social world, nobody gives you access to the audience like Facebook. As a consumer, you may or may not be okay with that, it's not my point to rag on your privacy rights, after all, if you know it's going on and do nothing, you don't really have a problem now, do you?

Now, it might seem like an irritation when Facebook randomly switches your news feed from most recent to top stories, but imagine that happening when money is on the line. You're starting to understand exactly what it's like to be a paying customer of Facebook. It's important to understand it's not really their fault. When you're a leader, you test out weird shit and find out it doesn't work. Pokes may have become the next OKcupid, had Facebook put the money and focus on it, but they went another way. This is how brands evolve in the real world, it has consequences, and when your motto is move fast and break things, well... The problems start when the mess of that evolution combines with scrambling to choose a monetization strategy. Let's make sure we live in the real world, step away from the shiny timehop and ask ourselves whose going to pay those bills .

Websites need to earn money. Any website that gets traffic pays for that traffic because it's expensive. One way or another, and they either hawk product to do it, or they monetize the site itself with any one of a dozen types of schemes. We all remember the Facebook by subscription talk that never amounted to squat, they simply found another way to cover their costs as a company that has nothing to sell, they decided to sell data and ads. Nobody likes ads on the internet, right? So what does Facebook do? They make them experiential, when they can (Remember Read.Watch.Listen.?). They put ads into little places you're likely to notice them, jam them into your newsfeed, you know. That's a game changer, that's how you use design to steer user behavior away from ad blockers kids. Who wouldn't be lying if they said they preferred red and yellow flashing banners?

Now that creates a problem. Facebook wants you to have a "natural" experience, and advertisers want to sell you something, which means they need to tell you something. This requires words and pictures, and if your pockets are deep, some video for kicks. Maybe you hadn't heard, but Facebook has a policy on what advertisers can use in their ads. And when there's thousands of tiny invisible hands behind the great blue wall, someone's making the call on whether your ad can be shown or not. Now call me old fashioned, but that sounds a lot like institutional censorship. I'm not saying they'll let an ad slide if the dollar amount is high enough, or the person who submitted it is "on terms", because honestly, how the fuck would I know, it's a judgment call cloaked behind a policy...

I can tell you that despite making best efforts to bend to their policy, roughly 70 percent of the ads I submit are rejected. Some of these are simply photos of products that are being given away. Some are promotions or contests. Some are just great posts that someone wants seen by a lot more eyes. Trust me, it's a powerful tool, but the question remains, who is it really working for? After you've spent the time on the creative to make the content, you've got some time setting your target audience, hope you're not on the clock, even without Power Editor , the range of choices is wide, and if you don't know what you're doing, it's going to take an hour to set your copy, demographics, placement, duration, blah, blah, blah.

Now you wait. Your ad can take anywhere from 2 minutes to an hour to get rejected, sometimes, longer, but it's coming. So, if you're like me, and you're, say, giving away tickets to an event, and timing is critical, pray harder. Never fret though, when your ad is rejected, they give you the ability to fill in a form box, where they'll let you know they rejected your ad, it's your fault, and in a very form(al) way, instruct you to adjust your ad to meet, you guessed it, the policy linked earlier. Seem a little broad to give you a target to aim for? Too bad.

Imagine yourself sitting in a dark office, faintly lit blue from various LEDs, doing your best to facepalm a solution when there's no clear direction on what the correct answer might be. Hell, you might even get the correct answer, and still have to go back to the teacher and let them know. It happens. Let's please, by all means, give credit where it's due. Facebook will acknowledge their mistake, and turn your ad back on the next day, after you've given away the items you wanted to promote in the first place. They send you a nice little notice, IN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS about it. Hope you catch it, that's a lot of people you're advertising something you no longer have to give away that Facebook isn't responsible to. Things work out in the end sometimes though, I caught it in time for it to not be delivered, and based on the success of the first promotion, armed with the knowledge that the image was cleared and we were good to go, we ran the ad again.

It was denied.

Thus truly concluding that Facebook is, indeed, the place for people who don't matter.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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kidsleepy's picture

Two years ago I wrote about how GM pulled all of its ads on Facebook but kept its Pages only because it didn't cost anything to maintain. I'm not sure how many other brands followed suit, but it's no surprise Facebook recently rolled out the "boost post," feature, which is nothing short of the Mafia style protection-money to ensure brands keep paying.
"That's a real nice bunch of likes you have there. It'd be a shame if none of your posts reached your fans."
The arbitrary nature of this scheme is not lost on us. Adland isn't a business with GM style money to spend on reach. And yet, our reach has also dwindled on Facebook. When I posted the original article two years ago it had reached nearly 300 people. Now if posts in our Facebook feed reach 30 people, we'll get a notification letting us know our post is "doing better than average." Now why do you suppose that happens? Of course there's no way to know, as you mention.
I think a lot of brands have come to the conclusion Facebook is not only a walled garden but as more effectiveness studies emerge, they realize it's not worth the effort unless they treat it as a traditional media channel and spend a lot of cash on reach.
Question is how much longer will brands continue to do so until they realize the ROI isn't worth it?

ReasonedDissent's picture

That's a good question kidsleepy, and anyone's guess is as good as mine. Without getting into a bunch of numbers, there's a break even point there between the time cost to jump through every hoop that degrades the ROI further every day. Made worse by the instability of Facebook's "we always have to be changing something" model...

Dabitch's picture

I'm curious about the fakes. I did an experiment when the promoted post pay thing just became available, and used some ten dollar voucher Facebook gave me to try it out. The posts seen by numbers were higher, but I also got a few comments in Spanish and Thai. These people commenting were not fans of adland, nor working in related businesses.... And I wasn't targeting Thailand or south America (a bunch of Indians also commented, but in Indian mixed English). To top it off, the campaign ran past my ten dollars in an hour, and by the next day I suddenly owed Facebook money.

Organically shared posts have always pulled traffic, but as the log reader it's frustrating that I can't tell who is talking about us, so I can't learn which audience likes what. Similarly when I paid for a promotion, it was a black box who saw it.... And seemed to be mainly fake accounts, just to boost the numbers.

I'll pass.