Why Facebook Advertising doesn’t work

As you can tell by the title, today I’m talking about Facebook Advertising and why buying it, isn’t a good marketing strategy.  But lets start from the beginning.


Why Facebook Advertising doesn't work

Facebook is a ‘for profit’ company

When Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, his idea was give the opportunity to college’ student to communicate with each other, to build relationships, exchange messages and photos. Year after year Facebook started being used by more and more people.  Zuckerberg saw the opportunity to create a one billion dollar company and  so Facebook started to have pages, groups, sidebar ads, etc…


Early this year Facebook changed the algorithm behind its News Feed and that drastically decreased the views to the Pages. This was a quote in one document shared by Facebook after the changes (now it’s been removed):


We’re expecting Organic Distribution of an individual’s Page’s post to gradually decline over time.   


I completely understand the fact that Facebook, like Google or Linkedin is a ‘for profit’ company so it’s normal that it has to make money in some way.  I really do understand this concept and this is why I didn’t voice my opinion, because unfair or not, it is legitimate.


How Facebook Ads work

I decided to write this post because I realized that Facebook ads don’t work as great as people expected. I learn this thanks to Derek, the founder of Veritasium, a science video blog, featuring experiments, discussion, etc… about science. I trust him because I enjoy all his videos and a lot of other people do as well, he has more than one million followers on Youtube and more than 54 millions views.

But what does he have to do with Facebook? He has a Facebook Page and he noticed strange things happening in there over time. Let’s see what he discovered.

If you want to know how Facebook algorithm works, I suggest you to read one of my previous post, What Does Facebook’s “News Feed” Algorithm Mean for Your Page?


To make it simple, every time you send a Facebook Post, it won’t be seen by all your fans because Facebook filters it based on different factors. If you want to reach more fans (so people that have already liked your page) you have to pay money.


This also happens if you, as person and not page, want that more of your friends see your posts, about your wedding for example. We all agree that a filter is needed when there are too many posts to be shown. However, by doing that Facebook is using its filtering power to make money allowing who pays money to be shown.

Derek explain it very well in the first minutes of this video.




Derek is a Youtube blogger, he makes videos and an advertiser gives him money to put a banner below them. Youtube receives a fees for helping the blogger and advertiser to meet, that’s a simple business model. Facebook instead treats everyone as advertisers, whether it be me as a user or my business page. Everybody can pay to obtain more views.

The best things about social networks is that the user can decide what to read, like or comment. It’s you that has the power to say the last word, however in this case it’s not always true. In Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram there’s no filters at all and if you don’t like something you just stop follow it.



The Facebook Ads experiment

I’ll report here the most important part of the experiment of Rory Cellan-Jones, a tech journalist who writes for the BBC.


When social media consultant Michael Tinmouth told me of his concerns about the returns his small business clients were getting from advertising on Facebook, I decided I needed to mount an experiment. Could I persuade Facebook users to click on adverts for an imaginary business and like it?

I set up a page (Virtual Bagel), with very basic information: “We send you bagels via the internet – just download and enjoy.” Next, I created my first advert, of $10. Then I pressed the button and waited. Within minutes people were starting to “like” my meaningless site, and within 24 hours I had 1,600 likes – and had spent my $10.


It seemed VirtualBagel was hugely popular in Egypt, Indonesia and the Philippines, but just about nobody in the US or the UK had any interest. And amongst my likers were some interesting characters, notably Ahmed Ronaldo. He was from Cairo – the city where my page is still most liked – but seemed to work at Real Madrid, and his profile consisted of nothing but pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo.


Then for one final day, I decided to advertise solely to UK Facebook users. The results were frankly disappointing – new “likes” slowed to a trickle. After spending a total of $60 (£40) VirtualBagel had built an audience in Egypt and India, but was not making an impact in the lucrative UK or US markets.

Then I sat down to analyse the results. Generally the number of clicks on the advert divided by the number of times it was shown – was 0.55%. But when I restricted the advert to UK users, the click through rate fell to 0.059%

Now Facebook, it is important to say, feels my experiment is worthless because I have simply failed to target my advert in a way which delivers useful results.


After reading all of this I was pretty shocked, mainly because the experiment was done by a BBC journalist and I trust that network. Secondly because I realize my doubts about Facebook Ads were legitimate. In fact, I have come across different pages with a lot of likes but without any good content.

Then I read Derek’s second video where he mentions Rory Cellan-Jones experiment but he also talks about his own similar experience.

I received a number of emails from Facebook offering me $50 worth of free promotion of my page, which at the time had only 2,000 likes.And after a few months I had about 70,000 Facebook likes, which matched my YouTube subscribers at the time. What was weird was my posts on Facebook didn’t seem to be getting any more engagement than when I had 2,000. If anything, they were getting less engagement.


I suggest you watch his video to understand in detail the experiment he has done with analytics and graphs. Start from the third minute if you have read what I wrote before.



Final thoughts

After reading posts and watching different videos I think that Facebook Advertising is not the best solution for a business, and if your business is small it’s even worse. Big brands can afford to pay many dollars on different platforms in order to reach their consumers, small brands can’t. It’s also not a good business model for Facebook itself because I won’t like (and I think you wouldn’t either) a Facebook feed full of advertising posts. Instead, I think we can do a good job right now with social media marketing by targeting real people that will like our products and services. Of course it will require more time to acquire genuine clients but just remember that it’s better to have less however of high quality.

I’m curious to know what you think about it, please leave a comment below.