Skip to main content

My blog post on Derek Muller (Veritasium)'s Virtual Cat Facebook ad experiment turned out to be way too big for just one post, so I've broken it up into two posts. This is the second post, where I examine the method and results of Derek's Virtual Cat experiment in detail. If you'd like to read the introduction, where I talk about what Virtual Cat is and touch on some of the most glaring issues with the Virtual Cat experiment, you can read it here.


My thoughts on the Virtual Cat experiment:

1. The experiment wasn't planned well. I touched on most of this already in part one, so I'll keep it short. Derek's experiment used a small sample size, according to his video it ran for less than a day before conclusions were reached, and I found the experiment was tainted from the start by an influx of Veritasium fans because Derek went public with his results before the experiment had really even started.


2. Engagement is actually amazingly high on this page! PTAT (People Talking about This) in and of itself is not a very useful metric for comparing engagement across pages (especially when a page is in the middle of an ad campaign), because obviously organic PTAT on a page with 1 million likes will be vastly different than organic PTAT on a page with 1,000 likes. However, this formula is useful for comparing engagement across pages, PTAT/Likes = % of active users. This is useful because rather than a straight comparison, it tells you what percentage of a page's fans (or users they're reaching through advertising or viral reach) are engaging with that page.

Generally, anything above 1% is considered to be a very good ratio of engagement to likes. Virtual Cat's current ratio is 74% (796 likes & 587 PTAT), making it one of the most active pages on Facebook, period. Large brands struggle to reach this ratio while running huge advertising campaigns, but unless Derek has learned to love Facebook ads since his video, Virtual Cat is doing it organically and virally.

And of course this is where we come back to point number one. This experiment is so tainted! Who knows how much of that engagement comes from his 39 likes he gained through $10 of Facebook ads? Even if the page still only consisted of those 39 people (or if it had for a few more days, at least a full week), it would be hard to say anything definitively with such a small sample (no page with 39 likes sees much engagement at all), but at this point those 39 people make up only 5% of the page's likes, so nothing on this page is necessarily representative of that original group. All 39 of them could be engaging at some point with those posts, but nobody would be able to tell now.


3. Only an idiot would like this page. One of Derek's key points about why it's amazing that anyone would like Virtual Cat is that the description itself says "Only an idiot would like this page." However, what Derek doesn't consider is that most interactions with any brand on Facebook happen in the newsfeed. People can like your page from a post or ad within the newsfeed without ever visiting your page, and if they liked your page due to an ad, then they 100% absolutely clicked the like button in your ad, so they didn't even see your page's description before they liked it! Also, unless they're a particularly rabid fan or have come to complain about something, they will likely never visit your Facebook Timeline. Most, if not all, of their interactions with your posts will happen within their own newsfeeds as your posts appear there.

Buried somewhere deep within the iTunes terms and conditions may be the phrase "Only an idiot would accept this agreement." But your average iTunes user would never know, because seriously, who reads that? For your average Facebook user, your page description may as well be buried in the Facebook terms and conditions, because they're just as likely to read it. You know what's right beside your page description? Those useful little tiles where you can direct traffic to your tabs with graphics, a nice new touch that came along with Timeline. Think about the last time you clicked on one of those on a Facebook page. Tabs used to drive pretty decent traffic on their own (especially since you could drive all non-fans to visit a default tab upfront). However, following the Facebook Timeline updates, traffic to those tabs literally died, because after those updates, Facebook made the newsfeed king, and nobody visits your page anymore.

To Derek of course it doesn't make sense that someone would like the page when it calls them an idiot, but if you think about how newsfeed and sidebar ads work, none of them include the page's description. They actually give you an easy way to like the page right there from the ad without ever visiting your page (because a call to action with fewer steps is more effective), so the people who liked his page through ads never saw his page description. They just know that they like cats (and we know they like cats, because Derek only targeted people who like cats), and this page is about cats.

Other than the description calling them an idiot, after looking at the page myself, there's no reason people who love cats, and pictures and videos of cats doing amusing things (so basically, the entire Internet) wouldn't enjoy most of the content that comes from Virtual Cat. So, once you realize that most, if not all of those people who liked Derek's page through ads never saw that insult, you realize that there probably isn't a good reason that people who like cats shouldn't like this page.


4. There are real pages that are making it work for them. So, Virtual Cat could have been a promising experiment if some of these things had been taken into consideration, however, one thing Virtual Cat isn't, is a real brand with real things to say that people will care about. There are, however, a lot of brands, small, large, and everywhere in between, who are having success with advertising on Facebook and with building a thriving Facebook community full of people that love their products, services, and content.

Are there issues with Facebook's advertising platform? Sure. Is it fair that small businesses and personal projects like Veritasium that are trying to utilize social to build a genuine following are at a disadvantage because they don't have the support of an agency or internal employee with the specialized knowledge and experience that ensures they succeed? No, probably not. However, that doesn't mean that because you didn't target your ads properly that it's someone else's fault, or that Facebook is trying to defraud you by letting you run whatever kind of ads you decide to create, whether they will benefit you in the long run or not.

Join us tomorrow for the conclusion of our series on Derek Muller's video, where I'll summarize my thoughts on the Veritasium video as a whole, tying together each of the posts in this series!

Post by Zachary Chastain
Mar 5, 2014