Main content

My awesome Facebook promotional failure

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy August 23, 2014
Facebook is hailed as the go to advertising platform but promotional failure is all too easy. Here's how we failed but picked up valuable lessons along the way.

lionel messo
Lionel Messi - a diginomica fan?

Promotional failure takes many forms. This is how we failed with Facebook.

Along with many other businesses, it's always nice to know that you've got lots of people who like your business. Promote that, have it evidence on your Facebook fan page (or whatever it's called these days) and you've scored a social media success. Right?  What happens when you spend on something that's a promotional failure?

There are plenty of 'experts' who will guide you through what it takes to have a successful branded Facebook page. There's a ton of resources out there, many well intentioned, some little more than a snake oil salesman's pitch. But none of them can get you past the vagaries of Facebook's ever changing algorithms.

The general advice seems to go something like this:

  1. Don't try buy likes through incentives - Facebook doesn't want you doing that anyway. An example might be a competition: 'Give us a like and you might win an iPad' kind of thing.
  2. Don't use a broker to buy likes since these will almost certainly prove to be useless and hurt your trust standing.
  3. Do promote on your website through like and content share buttons
  4. Do promote offline in print media or promotional material but do so carefully
  5. Do provide interesting and relevant content - this is a bit misleading and I'll explain why in a minute and...
  6. Do run Facebook ads.

Our Facebook unsmarts

As something of a thought experiment I decided to spend $70 (plus tax) on a Facebook promotion designed to run a week for diginomica. During that period, Facebook said I'd get somewhere between 40-70 likes. OK - I can go with that. Would it work? We now know the answer but it is worthwhile stepping back to examine what we actually do right now and how that works in the context of both diginomica and our individual social graphs, or profiles.

First up, our Facebook page isn't that interesting so even though we had organically attracted a reasonable number of people, we know who they are and how they behave. Unfortunately, this group is not particularly useful because while they will certainly view content and click back to our site - Facebook is our second highest referrer but way outsripped by Twitter - those people's interests are diverse and they don't necessarily share or 'like' our diginomica posted Facebook story links.

Part of that is our own problem because a I said, our Facebook page isn't that interesting. It's pretty much a collection of links back to diginomica. What is far more interesting are the individual account profiles of the people with whom we individually have genuine relationships and others that are more digitally driven. Our profiles contain way more than whatever Howlett, Lauchlan etc are thinking about on any particular day.

I've noticed that even among the numerous tech people I know who are on Facebook, our type of content is not something they routinely share for themselves. A few do, but most do not. That inevitably means the diginomica links and excerpts that appear in our individual Facebook profiles, while driving a good amount of  traffic, can only offer limited link referral capability. Most of the time. A good part of the reasoning behind that is because diginomica is not really positioning itself as part of the news cycle so will rarely be seen as something to which other content can be directly related with that much ease.

That in turn means that content relevancy is somewhat of an ephemeral concept for us. At least for the moment. Would a promotion help?

The promotion

net likes
diginomica new likes and unlikes

Facebook tries to make it easy for small scale promoters to get on the bandwagon and to that extent does a good job. A few clicks and a bit of gussying up in the target profile and you're good to go. Where Facebook singularly failed is in finding the kinds of people who are remotely interested in what we have to say.

In the end, Facebook served us 80 new likes in the week which ended up costing $90 and not the $70 I was expecting. I have no idea how that happened but I do know that as the campaign proceeded, the cost per like dropped dramatically from a near $4 per to just over $1 per. Again, I have no idea why although it was interesting to see the number of likes accelerate as the days counted down. In one sense I would not mind because a good like is worth a lot to us. We want to find those people with whom we can have a great conversation.

But once I started to look at those profiles it quickly became apparent that they are no better than doing the very thing Facebook refuses to allow. What do I mean?

Anatomy of a promotional failure

Facebook did serve our promotion to thousands of potential likers (is that a useful word?) and the strike rate was above any conventional advertising campaign.Facebook claimed a clickthrough rate of 1.223% based upon serving the ad 1.32 times per person who clicked. Judged in those terms, it was a relative success and if that was it then job done, move on to the next campaign. was really a total fail.

I am going to sound incredibly churlish here but why on earth Lionel Messi could possibly like our stuff is well beyond my imagination. Flattering though it might be. The same goes for the 20 year career short order cook who posts cat pictures, the retired person who joined Facebook last week, the nurse with a heavy religious bent. On and on it went.

As I examined all the profiles it was clear that Facebook was serving me and getting me to pay for useless likes. Of the 80, 78 were of the variety I have mentioned. I deleted as many as I could in a two hour sitting. I did this because we want likes from people who are vested in what we have to say and want conversations in the topics in which we are interested. Padding our numbers with random people does nothing for credibility.

As I looked more deeply at the profiles, I saw a partial pattern. It was clear that a number of the people were very new to Facebook and I assume were clicking on random likes because they had been presented to them. Somehow, we'd managed to create something that Facebook's algorithms think should be presented to the wrong people.

Where are we going wrong? I don't think we did that much wrong although there are a few obvious learnings.

Next steps

As an inexpensive lesson in using Facebook promotions, it was a very useful lesson. I learned a lot.

  1. Don't be an amateur at promotions. Learn from those who know how to do this.
  2. Don't be surprised with what appear to be modest results. This is advertising by another name and this is early days in the digital medium.
  3. Don't be disheartened. Consider any failure as a learning experience and the step before success.
  4. Analyze what happened to understand success and failure.
  5. Experiment with different ways to promote your page. I'm going to give this another shot, but not just yet.
  6. Work diligently on your corporate profile page to make it as interesting as possible. And by that I don't mean a glorified ad sheet for whatever you want to spout. That is our problem today.

Image credits - Lionel Messi via Wikipedia, Graph via dahowlett

A grey colored placeholder image