Facebook Stole My Money

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.42.59 AMI’m taking a quick hiatus from my philosophy of positivity to share my observations around a distinctly non-positive experience I had recently.

I ran a “Boosted Post” from my Flightless.co Facebook business page, as a little experiment. I had new content, I’m working to build my audience as I gear up for a Valour kickstarter campaign, Facebook display ads convert really well for Mobility on Demand, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The boosted post featured original content from this blog. (Specifically, the Valour backstory.) Full disclaimer, I know this wasn’t an ideal ad: several equally-emphasized calls-to-action, many clicks through to a ‘conversion’; more on crafting a good ad in another post. But as we’ll soon see, my ad content never had a chance to fail on its own merit.

After popping in my credit card number, I started configuring the ad. Conveniently, I was at a coffee shop, and I ran into one of Andrea’s marketing buddies, so I mentioned what I was working on. He screwed up his face, and pointed me to this video, regarding some alleged sketchiness and counterproductive outcomes with Facebook’s “Like campaigns”, i.e. campaigns designed to get your page in front of more Facebook users in order to drive up the Like count:

I watched with trepidation, but ultimately left with the takeaway that Like campaigns are both a waste of money and perverse to a company’s business objectives on Facebook. Since I was looking to drive clickthroughs, and mostly just experimenting anyway, I pressed on with my “Boosted Post”.

If anyone is still interested after seeing the results below, I will put together another post on the ins & outs of configuring Facebook advertising, but here’s the overview of what I configured:

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Most important to note is the middle column, where “Including Interests: Board games. Including Interests: Vercingetorix, Julius Caesar, Ancient Rome, or Gaul.” is indicated. Based on the tools, this could be more succinctly written written as: “Interests: (Board Games AND (Vercingetorix OR Julius Caesar OR Ancient Rome OR Gaul))“[1]

I felt confident that this combination of interests would:

  1. Find the people I wanted to reach
  2. Be small enough to make the ad effective and well-priced

Here’s what I got:

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So over three days, I got the ad in front of 2,300 people, and only 30 Liked. Additionally, Facebook rates ads on a “relevance” score, which is calculated based on both the positive interactions and negative interactions it receives when being displayed. i.e., Likes increase it, and someone choosing “I don’t want to see this” from the ad’s menu decrease it. More info on Relevance Score here, via Facebook.

While checking in on the campaign in-progress, my ad received a 4/10 for relevance. Not surprising considered against Like / reach ratio I had gotten, but quite surprising given the narrowly targeted audience I selected compared to the subject matter of the post. I went digging.

I pulled up each of the 33 profiles of the Like-ers (except my dad… thanks dad!) A varied group, to be sure, but with my conspiracy brain deeply saturated in Like-farm fraud from the Veritasium video, I did notice quite a few who were “self-employed” or “work at home”. I checked the Likes page for every. single. person. The only common thread among them was a distinct absence of interest in board games, or anything relating to the ancient world at all. If this sample is representative of the 2,300 people Facebook chose to present with my ad, no wonder I ended up with a 4/10 relevance.

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The kicker is that ads with a low relevance score cost more for each subsequent display, since advertisers should be disincentivized from carpet-bombing users with ads they don’t want. But in a closed system where Facebook is both choosing to disregard my targeting parameters AND deciding the ‘relevance’ of my ad to those people they selected to show it to, there is a clear conflict of interest in their advertising ecosystem.

So my question for Facebook’s ad team is this:

Why did I pay to show my post to these users?

Curiously enough, I got an automated followup email “Invitation: Survey on your Facebook Advertising Experience”[2]. I took the survey, and when the final question asked me to describe my experience in one word, I replied: Fraud. No response. What makes this a shame is that Facebook has become such a great platform for connecting board gamers, I wish I could trust them with my ad spend to help me reach more people who might be interested in my game. Have you run a Boosted Post? Was it successful? How did you target it? I’d love to hear your experience in comments.


[1] Facebook advertising veterans who are screaming “Wait but you can’t do AND targeting (also called Intersect Targeting) with Facebook’s tools!”… this ability is exposed in the Ads REST API. I used a third party tool to configure it.
[2] The automated email listed a “To:” field with the name of someone on the Facebook ads team, who, in typical Internet-small-world fashion is someone I know in real life. Erin, if you read this… Hi! Also, I’d be happy to talk through these results of my boosted post with you or the ads team.