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Keep up with the goings-on at Birdwalk Press, from the celebration of our wonderful couples' weddings to stationery insider tips.

What we discovered about advertising on Facebook (Hint: It's Sketchy)

Ian Johnson

Think twice before diving in!

Let’s get this out of the way: we’re pretty sure that advertising on Facebook is a really bad idea.  

As a small and fresh company, Mina and I are constantly looking for ways to boost our fan base and get the Birdwalk Press name out there.  As all creative companies should, we started our social media marketing early on with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.  Creating a following has been slow (especially on FB and Twitter), so recently we started looking at ways to speed it up a bit.  Nothing crazy, just trying to get more brides and Northwesterners aware of their new option for letterpress.  

I should put out there that I’m a total geek when it comes to this type of stuff.  Building our website, optimizing SEO, poring over traffic stats… it’s my jam.  So I saw huge potential in advertising on Facebook, as the possibilities for hyper-targeted advertising is honestly HUGE.  I can make a Birdwalk Press post show up in the feeds of women 18-40, newly engaged, living in Montana, with an interest in stationery? Blew my mind.

So we tried it out.  We had received a $50 free advertising coupon from Facebook and figured it couldn’t hurt… $50 in online advertising might go a long way for us.  We entered the coupon and created an ad campaign comprised of five different photos each with a slightly different target audience.  One for the newly engaged crowd, one for lovey-dovey retail customers, another for the thank-you note inclined… so on and so forth.  Right off the bat, the stats were amazing.  We could see total impressions (number of times the ad loaded on someone’s screen), cost per click, cost per like, percentage of success turning impressions into likes, etc.  As was expected, a few days when by and we didn’t see any likes.  All was normal and we were excited to start seeing results.

Then things got strange.

One night we received 3 likes.  No big deal we thought, that’s a realistic number.  At the time we had about 70 total likes so these 3 were definitely noticed and appreciated though.  So as any good Facebooker would, we took a minute to understand who these new Birdwalk Press fans were and better understand why they liked us.  

I won’t give out specific names as it’s possible these are real people (we’re not 100% convinced), but what we found quickly killed our buzz.  All three of these women fit our demographic to a T according to their About pages.  Sweet, it looks like the targeting is working!  But when we scoped their other Likes these women had THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of them.  I was literally scrolling for 15 minutes and still didn’t hit the end.  Each of our three new fans looked exactly the same: a believable profile with some sparse but genuine-looking interaction with other Facebookers… and then kazillions of page likes. 

Their page likes were all over the place too.  One 50’s to 60’s looking woman liked everything from “The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club” to “Bic Razors for Men” to “Trains Magazine” and “Aleve”.  She liked every Four Season resort, and every auto manufacturer you can think of.  She liked “Stop Amnesty” (a group condemning illegal aliens) as well as “Road Map to Freedom”.  This woman likes everything.

She's got some diverse tastes.

The other two were the same story.  And the following night, we got three more likes, with profiles exactly like the others.  Oddly enough, all our new fans were supposedly in our timezone but the likes always came in the middle of the night… slightly fishy for middle aged women into stationery, but it could be coincidence.  Either way, clearly none of these women have any sincere interest in Birdwalk Press, and that’s where this gets troublesome for a small business.

Facebook has an interesting way of distributing content, which everyone who maintains a small business should be aware of.  Essentially, Facebook tests the waters to see if the post will be popular (and worth showing all your fans) by initially showing only a small number of them.  This is why you often see posts that confusingly say “23 people saw this post” when your fan base is much larger.  If no one clicks or likes it, the post dies there- only a small number of your fans ever see it.  The success of your post depends entirely on engagement, the holy grail of social media.  Clicks, likes, and comments.

Lets say we continue to pay for advertising on Facebook, and acquire 70 new fans like the new ones we’re seeing.  Now our fan base has doubled, but the percentage of fans likely to engage our posts has halved (there’s no way that someone who likes “Keep the Bitch Floored” and “Friendship Quilt Shop” will be commenting on any of our posts).  As a result of low engagement, our posts will never get to our real fans, the people that actually are interested in our stuff.  By getting all these hollow likes we’ve killed our outreach.  And the worst part?  We’re paying Facebook for this to happen.

Who’s behind these sketchy profiles?  I have no idea.  Click Farms are a real thing (many of which are in Southeastern Asia), and perhaps these are fake profiles created by click farmers.  Maybe they’re real people with real lives in the towns they claim to reside in, and are making some extra cash on the side with one of those “Get paid to work in your PJ’s!” online programs.  But what we know for sure is they’re not real fans, and they’re not worth the money to find.

I recommend thinking twice about paying for advertising on FB.  Once your page has likes, you can’t delete them.  Diluting your engagement like this is permanent, or lasts at least until you can gain real fans to outnumber the fake ones… which won’t be easy if your posts aren’t getting seen.  It’s a downward spiral that the uninformed naturally think can be solved by more advertising.  Which, you guessed it, further dilutes your fan base.

That sweet $50 free advertising promo that Facebook emailed you?  We wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

Our friends over at Veritassium posted a great video a couple months ago about this exact problem, which was what inspired us to test advertising for ourselves.  They go a bit more into the issue of Click Farms and what might really be going on here, as well as Facebook’s reply to their requests for help.  Watch it here.