Is Facebook deceiving advertisers? That’s the question several companies like Limited Run, a musician and label-based company, are asking when internal reports came in that between 80-90% of clicks on their Facebook pages were from spambots. While investigating the report, Limited Run expressed anger at the social media giant, announcing the company would be deleting its Facebook account.
The anger in that statement may or may not be well deserved, but it’s undeniable that after building an in-house page logger, Limited Run found that only 20% of clicks were verifiable.
“Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs,” the company explained. “So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t reply. Do we know who the bots belong too? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue. No. Is it strange? Yes. But let’s move on, because who the bots belong to isn’t provable.”
But that’s just one company right? Well, yes, but on the heels of Limited Run’s claims, blogger Erik Larson—who had also recently detailed a story implicating Facebook in other dishonest advertising practices—posted the transcript of an email thread between himself a Facebook customer service agent named Neil from the Global Marketing Department. Almost as soon as the exchange began, Larson was frustrated to find that Facebook’s powerful analytic tools were unavailable to him, with Neil requiring an enormous amount of data that Larson wouldn’t be able to get without using the Facebook analytics. A Catch-22 right?
After some more digging, Larson replied with the following: “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. 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…”
The full text of the email can be found in link about the email transcript, but besides the section above, there’s one more thing worth highlighting. In explaining his experience with Facebook advertising, Larson relates that after a great initial success:
“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, naturally, Larson asked for his money back, something which Facebook declined to do, drawing yet more ire from Larson and leading him to post about it on his blog (as linked above). These may be isolated incidents, or they may not. Regardless, advertiser beware.
In fairness, however, there are those who are more skeptical of Limited Run’s claims than those made by Facebook. The Search Agency’s own, social media manager David Carrillo, had this to say:
“My personal takeaway from this is that advertisers need to continue to refine their KPIs away from just likes and clicks; those things can be important measurements, but ultimately, what is the conversion? Are people coming from Facebook converting on the macro or micro level? If they are not converting directly, can their value be ascertained through some type of attribution modeling? If we move away from determining success of Facebook advertising through clicks alone, whether or not a percentage of clicks are coming from bots is almost irrelevant. Either your spend is achieving a positive ROI or it isn’t.”
Ultimately, I suppose, what you take away from this article depends on your focus. If you’re worried more about your personal conversions and advertising success on Facebook, then you need to look at it like Carrillo. Conversely, if you’re focus is more on Facebook’s transparency and “standards & practices” issues, then the question is whether the company is being honest. Either way though, it’s a story that deserves your continued attention.