I was recently sent a voucher by Facebook to try out their advertising network. If you're not familiar with it, Facebook offers its own take on Google Adwords style advertising. You can use it to either promote web content (like with a google ad) or you can promote your Facebook page and even specific posts/updates made from your page.
The supposed real power of Facebook advertising—and arguably why it was recently valued so high before its stock market floatation—is in the demographic data Facebook essentially holds and can let you use. If you know that your biggest customer group is the 27–32 year old male, who's into technology and design, cycles, and lives in Bristol; you can only have your adverts shown to him... yes, that's me if you're wondering, and there's 5,660 people similar to me according to Facebook.
Sounds amazing, but what's the catch? Well, you have to pay for it and it's far from obvious how much, or rather how much you're going to get for your elected budget. So when I got the £25 voucher for free advertising, I figured this would be a good opportunity to try it out.
Facebook is desperate for its advertising to take off, its entire grossly high valuation hinges on it being a success, even if to simply prove its worth what investors paid in share price. If you run any Facebook pages at the moment, chances are you've been sent one of these vouchers. And if you've used it already, chances are you've been getting all sorts of follow-up-emails coaxing you to try more.
Things are moving fast and changing daily with Facebook advertising. There's clearly a big push and a lot of activity going on to get people spending. Is it a coincidence that I've only had contact from the Facebook Advertising team post-floatation? Possibly, but probably not. The main Facebook Advertising site is a clear sign of the push they're making. It was not long ago that advertising was something they were recommending quietly on the side, now it's a sales juggernaut.
Please advertise with us…
Well, it was more like half a day, the approval process was a bit inconsistent and I started in the afternoon, but more on that shortly.
As you may be aware, in addition to working here at Pixillion, I also run not-for-profit cycling magazine Cyclist No.1. I decided to use the voucher to promote the Cyclist No.1 Facebook page and see if I could drum up a few more likes.
Creating your ad starts out as a pretty straightforward process, simply choose a page that you manage or a URL you want to promote to kick things off. If you chose a Facebook page you can specify whether you want to promote that page or a specific post on that page. You can then make modifications to your ad such as the thumbnail and the ad text. It's all very Google Adwords at this stage so if you've done that before, it should feel pretty comfortable to you.
Next you do your demographic filtering and this is the really powerful stuff. You can see the estimated number of potential recipients changing as you tweak the settings and I'm sure there's probably a proven optimal level here. I went on instinct and just tried to target who I know to be my key audience based off the Facebook page insights [pdf] I already have. I tried to filter it aggressively enough to bring the estimated audience down to a few hundred thousand rather than millions, but with hindsight I suspect I should have filtered it further.
A few other options are available to you but the next big thing is setting your campaign duration and budget. You pay in terms of a daily budget (in this case I put £25 and to only run my campaign today so as to only use my voucher). This is where I had a few problems with Facebook advertising in terms of UX, and perhaps being a bit of a Dark Pattern.
My first big beef was Facebook changing from US to UK date formatting between creating your advert and previewing it. Normally this should be pretty obvious but I was trying to run a one day campaign on a date where the day and month made sense in both UK and US formats. As I flicked between editing the ad and previewing it, I had a moment where I wasn't 100% sure if I was committing to one day of advertising or one month! With hindsight it was more obvious, but factor in the 'point of sale stress levels' and level of frustration, it would have been an easy mistake to make. At best it's a bit of a UX blunder that is frustrating, at worst I could have been nearly £1,000 out of pocket!
And this leads me into the Dark Pattern aspect, namely Forced Continuity. You can't advertise without supplying some credit card details for billing purposes, even to take advantage of the free trial. Now while it's not strictly a Dark Pattern in itself—you can set your campaign to only run for one day or at least to the amount of your free voucher and not be billed further—with the above UX problem, I could have been stiffed for quite a bit of money before realising. I still felt the need to login the next day just to check my campaign wasn't still running due to the date formatting problem.
With my campaign confirmed and mostly being convinced I'd got the dates right, I sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Like with Google Adwords, there's an approval process. Unlike with Google Adwords, it was a bit slow, and it was a good couple of hours before my ad was running. I don't know if this is normal or whether it was a one-off, but it would have certainly been frustrating if I hadn't been approved first time. Especially as I'd just accepted the suggested copy and thumbnail generated automatically from the Facebook page itself, by Facebook.
Things kicked off pretty quick after that and I was able to follow stats with only a marginal delay. I was checking Facebook's reporting against what I was seeing in terms of likes in real-time on the page itself, and I reckon the reporting was only about 20–30 minutes behind, not bad!
The impressions were going out thick and fast, and thankfully there were likes coming in too. I was quite apathetic about what this would actually deliver but the results were more positive than I expected. My £25 voucher lasted pretty much until the end of the day, and I'm not sure if that's coincidence or whether Facebook was rationing my budget.
First up, this is far from a scientific test and I'm sure an expert Facebook advertiser could have eeked more out of this budget. But at the same time, I wanted to just sample this and share my findings in a very real way. Although I've benchmarked my results and probably through luck rather than judgement, I seem to have outperformed industry averages.
So, the 'Likes'. According to the Facebook stats, my ad directly generated 67 page likes. Not bad, but interestingly there was obviously some knock-on effect because I saw more likes than that on the page itself. I'd expect the Cyclist No.1 Facebook page to organically receive a couple of likes per week (so not many). On the day I advertised I saw more like 100 actual new likes in total, so if you subtract the ad generated ones, I still gained an additional 30-something likes—much higher than I would normally expect to get. There's clearly a knock-on effect here where people are seeing on their timeline that a friend has liked Cyclist No.1, and they're choosing to like it as well.
So to put a price on a 'Like' (including the knock-on acquired likes), I would have effectively paid £0.25 per 'Like'. I was quite pleased to acquire 100 extra likes in just half a day, that's a few months worth if I waited for them to come in organically. On the flipside, as a not-for-profit, it's going to be pretty difficult to generate much of an ROI on that. If I ran this campaign for a month, it would cost £775 and assuming no drop off in the above figures, I'd be 3,100 'Likes' better off. That's a lot given the page is only on around 1,000 likes as it stands. But £775 is not a small sum either.
There's no denying it, engagement and reach was definitely up…
There's a lot of factors here that make it difficult to judge whether you should or shouldn't do Facebook advertising, and I'm not sure I can even conclude myself just yet. I can't establish an ROI on something that isn't generating any revenue so it's hard to put a value on a 'Like'. On the flip side, I know that if I could generate another 3,000 'Likes' over the next month, I'd absolutely love that. My gut feeling is that £775 is perhaps not too bad a price to pay, and if Cyclist No.1 was generating good advertising revenue, I could conceive a situation where there was a possible strong ROI to be made.
But then Cyclist No.1 is a publication, and quality content generation is all it does. Social engagement is a massive part of its strategy and it thrives on building an audience to deliver yet more content, which in turn builds an even bigger audience. In many respects I wonder if this was the wrong thing to test it on? Was it too easy an example that flatters the effectiveness of Facebook advertising? Did I get so many knock on likes (nearly 50% extra free) purely because of the quality content on offer?
My gut feeling is that a business that isn't in the game of making content, or doesn't have solid strategy for social engagement, probably shouldn't step into the arena and try to generate 'Likes' for a fan page in this manner. They simply won't be in a position to do anything worthwhile with those 'Likes' to justify the investment. Any that they do acquire won't be worth a penny with no strategy to engage with them.
That's not to say you shouldn't Facebook advertise, if you're an e-commerce business for example and you're looking for an alternative to running Google Adwords, there might be mileage here in promoting your actual website and generating sales/leads. The power of this quite sophisticated demographic targetting is pretty hard to resist.
There's a saying in ad circles: Google let's you advertise to people who already know what they're looking for, Facebook let's you advertise to people who weren't looking yet, but are likely to be interested (in theory). In an age where there's been a big shift towards Permission Marketing, this does start to feel like a step backwards. But like with all things, if you can be interesting and be relevant, there's a good chance people will engage.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Facebook Advertising but were too afraid to ask? Not quite, but Gary gives it a try anyway and asks the question, "What exactly does a ‘Like’ cost?”
Posted by — Gary Lake