There Is No Salvation for the ‘Facebook Expert’

In the old days of search marketing, it was about tricking the dumb robots–buy links, cloak, spin content, or whatever trick you could pull.

And then came the old days of Facebook marketing (up through 2014), which was also about tricking the dumb robots–arb out placements available only via Power Editor, run weighted average fan acquisition campaigns internationally, pollute a competitor’s remarketing campaigns by sending garbage traffic, scrape Facebook user IDs to generate custom audiences, roll up applications to build your email list, run sponsored stories with messages fans never endorsed, move text to bypass the 20 percent rule and the list goes on.

Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo?

Good–that means you’re not one of the people who are about to get slaughtered. Maybe it’s people on your staff or some of your vendors. Seeing the forest from the trees, the smart Facebook advertiser no longer salivates like happy dogs hearing dinging bells.

Ride the gimmick game from tactic to tactic–and as each trick exhausts, you are a junkie in search of your next fix. As we said before, Facebook has now largely solved the optimization challenge for you.

Choose your business objective, load up your content, connect your audiences–that’s it. Put the money in the machine and Facebook itself does the optimization. But you’re still responsible for your goals, content and targeting.

This kills the single-channel marketer and a raft of Facebook-only companies at the same time. The walking dead who are peddling search-engine optimization, Facebook ads, or other disciplines are starting to realize this. They’re dropping SEO out of their name, rebranding as content marketers and jumping ship.

Keyword <> Facebook interests (2007-11)

You see, keywords were a great start in search-engine marketing. And the first folks to do Facebook advertising were the search PPC (pay-per-click) folks that assumed interests were keywords. Some people even pretended to build software that mapped Google keywords to Facebook interests.

Of course, that didn’t work.

That’s also why you don’t see any legitimate keyword, audience research or competitive tools for Facebook. It was easy with Google, since you could set up a crawler to scan where you ranked and also monitor competitor ads. On Facebook, because every user feed is personalized and behind a login, you have no idea what anyone else is doing or seeing. There is no legitimate competitive ad intelligence tool out there, and I doubt there ever will be.

Back to the consultants and software companies, which had raised funding from venture-capital firms which themselves hadn’t used Facebook. The curtain were hamster wheels, frenetically spinning to extract intent out of things people liked. But what you clicked like on in an indeterminate time past was no proxy for your immediate needs now–a broken toilet, hunger pangs for sushi or the need to buy a wedding gift for an old high-school friend.

You just couldn’t make gold from coal, no matter how many philosopher stones and divining rods you had. The fool’s gold of social was inflated fan campaigns, the bubble of app installs and general nonsense passed off to unsuspecting brands. Back when Facebook had one-dozen offices in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2008 (its food was delicious and still is), I felt we had a new tech gold rush.

But this time, it was data miners, not panhandlers–though the same charlatans existed selling their wares.

We actually did have search ads in 2011 briefly on Facebook. But Facebook pulled them because 99 percent of the searches were navigational, not demand-driven. And, I suspect, a lot of brands didn’t like being sniped on their own terms.

It was a clever, effective parlor trick.

In the same way you could cloak the search engines (show them one thing, while showing users another), with Facebook ads, you could programmatically bid high and low every 60 seconds. Thus when you created the ad at the high bid, it would get priority in the auction.

But when the system came around to bill you, it would notice the lower CPM (cost per thousand impressions) bid, assume there was an error and credit you back. The ad geeks called this optimization, but I called it cheating.

Facebook going through the ‘teenage years’ (2011-14)

With Power Editor and the Facebook Ads API (application-programming interface), the geeks got a ton of tools to play with. The number of ad types grew to more than 30, depending on how you counted them. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of interest targets (we got a list of 300,000 from Facebook at one point), partner targeting (offline behavioral data), custom audiences, and demographic data and you have billions of combinations possible.

The complexity created huge niche opportunities, as well as room for consultants to sell into the confusion. Facebook was able to “move fast and break things,” which conferred advantage to folks who could exploit cracks in the system before they were fixed.

For example, a number of companies found that they could spin up thousands of ads at low bids. And the ad algorithm wasn’t smart enough to know, allowing you to game the system. Many of the software companies that manage Facebook ads still rely upon this mass multiplying.

Even if you could get the targeting spot on, trying to do CPM and CPC (cost per click) bids against a range of placements was too hard.

So optimized CPM solved this issue by not only bidding to the business objective, but subselecting within the broad audience you’ve chosen. This solved the problem of needing to micro-target (you reading this?) and of conversion optimization. It meant the system could automatically learn who your best customers are and find more of them for you–lookalikes, for example.

Now if only they could create your content for you–use PostPlanner, Canva and your customers to curate and create for you, meanwhile. Every piece of content, which includes every organic post you’ve done, necessitates a different audience, too.

In the Google ad world, you create content that exists only for advertising and can live forever.  Set it and forget it.

But on Facebook, it’s the opposite–there are no ads, just organic posts that you amplify. You throw fuel on the fire once you find that something is working. The “always-on” post was perhaps my favorite ad, since it would just promote your most recent post. But that died, largely because not all posts should get promoted, like when you’re notifying the community of a problem.

There is still no good solution for this issue, so you need a human to watch this every few days. You can simplify their work by predefining the audiences they can choose from–saved audiences and various custom audiences.

Facebook ads as a young adult (2015 and onward)

I suppose if you’re old enough to drive a car and get your own place, you’re an adult. But maybe if you’re not old enough to drink or possess maturity in other subjective areas to be truly “grown-up.”

Likewise, Facebook integrates with only a few systems that you’ll need–your content-management system and your customer-relationship-management solution. Facebook is a platform that connects the two, matching people with content–you just happen to need to pay to do it–social postage, if you will.

Assuming you can get the content (Facebook posts, blog posts, photos from customers, reviews, etc.) and users (emails, app users, pixeled users, check-in users, etc.) piped in automatically, you still have to deal with specifying the business logic of sequences. In other words, you have to chain out content delivery according to the customer persona and where they are in the funnel.

The current batch of marketing automation companies out there do this nascently via drag-and-drop flow charts.

I’d argue that even if Facebook were to create the ultimate version of Power Editor, there is no way it will succeed in asking customers to build duplicate funnel logic within Facebook. It will have to integrate with the marketing automation companies to replicate the same logic into Facebook. Same users and content–just delivered beyond just email, which is what’s currently happening.

The marketing automation companies are really just email automation companies, since they don’t extend across all marketing channels yet. I predict three more years before Facebook is truly able to help mainstream small business owners. The delay is less about their technology, which is already robust enough, but about partners that need to integrate platforms and about educating marketers what Facebook is and isn’t.

Google was founded in 1998 (2000 for AdWords), so that’s 17 years. And I’d argue that it is too hard (at least its ad platform) for most businesses to use.

Facebook was founded in 2004 (2007 for ads), so not bad for only 10 years. Facebook ad optimization is a human psychology and finance problem, not a geek optimization problem.

When these integrations are finally in place, the finance people will be running the show. In undergrad religious studies, we learned about supersessionism. The Christians say they believe everything the Jews do but chide them for missing Jesus. The Muslims say they believe in everything the Christians do but they missed out on Mohammed. I’m not a preacher, so forgive the oversimplification.

When the web started to become mainstream in the mid-1990s, it was dominated by tech weenies. They were called webmasters, if you were around then. And they protected their high priesthoods with jargon, in the typical union-like keep-away played by IT.

Then the marketers came in and took over the web functions, too. And you’re not surprised that the chief marketing officer now outspends the chief technology on technology. The mainstream marketers–even business-to-business and small and midsized businesses–have been blasting Facebook posts indiscriminately.

Facebook stock is way up because of this, but nobody is quite sure what the return on investment is of these efforts.

We’re in the end of this period now.

Now the finance people are coming in. They don’t care about the information-technology or marketing stuff, except to minimize cost centers and not eat too much into profit margins. So the smart marketer must tie Facebook results to profits and losses, which is the only thing that finance people care about.

They are no longer OK with impressions, likes, shares or reach–they want revenue and margin maximization. The Facebook ads geek can talk a good technical game about how novices wouldn’t possibly begin to comprehend the complexity of these algorithms.

They may even be able to talk content marketing and marketing automation. But the people holding the purse strings will tire of this, since they want to know cost and revenue, tied neatly into a forecast. And that is why the Facebook tech weenie or Facebook guru will be dead soon, along with all single-channel marketers.

It’s not just Facebook ad specialists: It also includes social media strategists and anyone professing channel or tool-specific expertise. External consultants who come in for specialized situations–sure, there’s some room for that, but not in-house. Left behind is the ROI-minded marketer that leaves the optimization natively to the networks.

That smart marketer focuses on business goals, sources content in line with personas, and has the systems build audiences automatically.


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