The Problem With Social Ads: It’s Not Facebook, It’s You

As a digital marketer, I’m reading far too many articles taking jabs at the Facebook advertising platform. The argument runs that because the ads you see against your profile are sometimes irrelevant, Facebook’s business model is flawed. Most of the articles of this ilk focus on this being Facebook’s problem, with this being a product-related issue. From a user and business perspective, this is simply not true.

As a digital marketer, I’m reading far too many articles taking jabs at the Facebook advertising platform. The argument runs that because the ads you see against your profile are sometimes irrelevant, Facebook’s business model is flawed. Most of the articles of this ilk focus on this being Facebook’s problem, with this being a product-related issue. From a user and business perspective, this is simply not true.

Facebook has given us the most sophisticated targeting platform ever seen. The amount of data shared by users, and, therefore, available to advertisers is unprecedented, and Facebook’s platform, although sketchy at times, offers access to a large amount of it.

The fundamental problem that Facebook has right now, in my opinion, is a lack of education on our side as agencies and brands. Facebook has given us the tools to acquire new fans, engage users, create brand advocates, and generate conversions, with the caveat that we have to be sophisticated in our approach to social media advertising to make it work.

The problem is that too many agencies and brands are not taking a sophisticated approach — hence, why users and commentators can justify the view that many ads on the platform are irrelevant. How can targeting users based on the simple fact that someone they know likes a certain brand not cause massive impression wastage? And how can it be justified to target someone based solely on their demographic when so much more information is available? These are some of the scenarios that are happening time and time again, causing massive wastage in terms of impressions and driving down ad performance.

As an example, here’s a quick look at the ads alongside my personal profile right now:

  • I’ve not bought jeans online and don’t like any fashion brands on Facebook, so I can only assume the top ad is targeting me based on my age, location, and gender alone.
  • The “Viewbix” ad seems to be fairly well targeted as it recognizes that I work in some form of tech/marketing sector and may be interested in driving leads and sales.
  • The “Play Wolf Run Slots!” ad looks like another untargeted ad. I don’t like gambling brands or games on Facebook, so there are others much more likely to click than me.
  • The “Ireland’s having a party!” ad is fairly relevant, as I like many travel brands, hotels, and locations so the people behind this campaign would be fairly happy to show it to me, I’d imagine, as we are on the lookout for our next trip away.
  • The final ad for PC World business again is a decent effort in terms of targeting. I like a range of pages than identify me as someone involved in business, and I have bought from PC World recently, so I am possibly being targeted based on my purchase using custom audiences.

So of the top five ads I’ve been served in this session, two are irrelevant to me. Actually, that’s not too bad compared to many occasions, with four out of five regularly being irrelevant. A quick refresh gives me a selection of ads with less relevance, for instance, from golf holidays in Scotland (I don’t like any golf pages), to Sky bundles specific to the northeast of England (I’m already a customer and live a long way from that area).

It would be unrealistic to think that every ad should have 100 percent relevance in terms of impressions served. That’s simply not possible. There will always be occasions where someone has liked a page for inauthentic reasons, or their liking of a certain type of brand is no longer relevant (e.g., pregnancy pages soon become outdated as relevant likes). This means that you will always get some wastage, but our job as advertisers is to reduce this as much as possible by using all of the available options to us.