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By now you've almost certainly seen the below video by Veritasium, discussing issues with Facebook's advertising platform providing branded Facebook Pages with "fake" likes, fake like being likes from accounts that are involved in click farm operations, where the account owners are paid to like pages. This post is the first of a series of posts this week where I am dissecting this video, separating fact and fiction (or rather, misunderstanding), and helping you to understand how to get around the hurdles that plagued the examples put forth in the video.

Today's Topic is Issue #1: The Virtual Bagel Facebook Page

The first pillar of Derek's argument against the effectiveness of Facebook ads is Virtual Bagel, a fake business page setup by BBC journalist Rory Cellan-Jones as an experiment regarding fake likes. He spent $100 on an ad targeting the US, UK, Egypt, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The problem the experiment uncovered was that the ads were most popular in the third world countries, and so the Facebook page collected a majority of fake likes from click farmers.

This is like blaming a hammer for missing a nail. It's not the ad platform's fault, but rather the blame is with the advertiser for not understanding how to use the platform. There is definitely a problem here, but the problem is that most small business owners (and apparently journalists and bloggers as well) don't understand how to correctly use the Facebook ad platform, and it's costing them.

That's no reason for it to cost you though, so here's a quick breakdown of where Virtual Bagel went wrong, and why the results weren't surprising, but were actually inevitable:

Virtual Bagel targeted ads to 2 countries that would be considered to generally provide "quality" likes, those countries being the US and the UK. However, the page also targeted those ads to at least 3 countries that are known to generally provide likes of a lower quality, those being Egypt, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The problem here wasn't that Facebook was trying to defraud Rory, the problem is that Facebook was doing exactly what he was telling it to, but he didn't understand what he was telling the ad platform to do.

Like most items of low quality, those likes from third world countries are far cheaper than gaining likes from the US and UK. When you create a new ad, Facebook is going to do its best to fulfill your requirements while keeping the Cost Per Click as low as possible for as long as possible. So, if you target the same ad to third-world countries with cheap likes and also to countries that provide higher quality likes, which countries do you think your ads will appear in the most often?

With interactions in the US and UK sometimes costing more than double those in Egypt, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines (according to my own experiments with Facebook ads), it's simple math to realize that for the purposes of simply driving likes, it's much cheaper (and therefore, according to the ad platform, better) to fulfill as many of those interactions in those third-world countries as is possible, because you can get double the results for the same budget!


So What Can You Do To Avoid the Same Fate?

In 2014 any serious Facebook marketing team's objectives have moved far beyond simply building likes as a vanity metric, but unless you carefully target your ads by location, age, interests, and other qualifiers that make sense for your desired audience, the ad platform will treat gathering likes as cheaply as possible as your default objective, even if those likes aren't very valuable to you in your future efforts to build community, create engagement, drive traffic, and ultimately monetize that audience.

Essentially, this all boils down to one key takeaway: Facebook's ad platform won't do the heavy lifting for you. If you don't target your ads well, if you target countries that run rampant with click farming, and if you don't think carefully about what audience you want and how to target them effectively, then you will create a following that is utterly useless to you. It's worth your time to study what others are doing and run your own experiments with Facebook ads to understand what works well for you.

Join us tomorrow for Part 2: The Veritasium Facebook Page, where we'll examine why the $50 AUD that Derek spent in Facebook ads resulted in fans that don't engage with Veritasium's Facebook page, and the other assorted issues that he's run into with the Veritasium page since advertising on Facebook.

Post by Zachary Chastain
March 03, 2014