Facebook Ads – Beware!

A cautionary tale before you decide to spend money on Facebook ads.

We are currently marketing some great office space above our studio in Farringdon/Clerkenwell, available to rent from August (details here, if you’re interested).  I created a post for our Facebook page detailing what is available and after a few days decided to spend some money ‘boosting’ the post as a Facebook ad.

The options are: “Automatic audience (recommended) Let Facebook explore different audiences to help you reach people who may be interested in your business.” or targeted by your own selection of demographic.

As Facebook recommended “Automatic Audience” I assume they have a clever AI algorithm that would analyse the post (perhaps using words like “office space available” and information like our address and business sector) and send it to a bespoke list of people who might be interested – skewed in particular, you might think, to people who work in London and who work in the media and related areas.

The options you are presented when creating a boosted Facebook post

This is important not just so the right people see the ad and to avoid annoying people who feel they shouldn’t be seeing photos of London office space cluttering their news feed, but because every useless impression and click costs the company money.

Within a couple of days I was getting messages like this: 

  • Relevant to me in Bristol? What a waste of your advertising budget!
  • I’m a stay at home mother in Northamptonshire. FB is wasting your money.
  • I’m in Scotland, have no idea why I’m seeing this.
  • I’m a teacher in Manchester – as absolutely beautiful as it looks, Facebook hasn’t targeted the right person sending this to me.

So I contacted Facebook yesterday (it’s not easy to find out how to do that, but I got there in the end). 

Facebook: When creating your ads you need to specify where you want them to deliver and to what type of people. Without these parameters the system does not know what type of people you want to target.  

Me: If Facebook recommends using an algorithm rather than the user setting parameters, then it is surely under any obligation not to send the ad to people who are obviously not in any way in the target market?

Facebook: The algorithm targets people within your set parameters who are most likely to compete the action you have set for your objective, in this case engage with your post, as this is a “post engagement” campaign. The location and interest targeting is there so that Facebook can serve your ad to relevant people as determined by you, Facebook can not pull this information without you guiding it. 

Me: But when I set the campaign you recommended using your algorithm rather than me setting the target market (which I would have been happy to do). You shouldn’t recommend using your algorithm if it’s not targeted!

Facebook: This is a “post engagement” campaign so what the algorithm would do would reach people who are likely to complete the objective you set – like/share the post etc. As the objective is engagement, the system does not know you want bookings, it is completing the objective you set and reaching users who will engage with the post. I will have to close this chat now but please get in touch if we can help further.

So in my view their ‘Automatic Audience (recommended)’ setting is totally misleading. Facebook seems to be saying that as a “post engagement” campaign all I want is for anybody, anywhere to like or share the post. But how many companies – and I assume it is mainly companies using Google Ads – are just happy with ‘likes’? Surely what they want is a sale. 

And why should a stay at home mother or a teacher be particularly interested in ANY post from a film and TV studio in Central London? i.e. they are very unlikely to like or share the post.

I think I’m committed to spending the rest of the allocated budget and have now amended the ad to be targeted to London and certain sectors. Something I would have done in the first place if Automatic Audience (recommended) hadn’t persuaded me to waste the company’s money.

So if you’re new to Facebook Ads, I’d recommend avoiding “Automatic Audience”. It’s an automatic audience, alright, but just one that has little likelihood to be interested in what you’re advertising, but which makes automatic money for Facebook.