Facebook Advertising Fraud Experiment

Glenn Jimerson
Glenn Jimerson Blogger, Snake Oil Social

Posted on March 11th 2014

Facebook Advertising Fraud Experiment

Facebook advertising fraud is a concern for every online marketer. This is one of the worst kept secrets of the online ad world. It’s not just Facebook. Google Adwords  is rife with it as well. A few weeks ago Veritasium published an eye opening video exposing these fake clicks by using a honeypot.

Being an Internet marketer that created multiple Facebook advertising campaigns, I was surprised  by their findings.  The first criticism I had was that Veritasium  didn’t target very well which lead to garbage clicks.   They did exclude common click farm countries but if they went farther could it be weeded out entirely?

I then ran an experiment to see if I could recreate their findings and hopefully figure out a way to use better targeting to minimize/eliminate fraud. Besides, I’m an experienced Internet marketer, I can outwit a bunch of YouTube stars and click farm workers.    Well, come to find out, no I couldn’t.

Facebook Advertising Fraud Experiment:  Snake Oil Social

On February 27th I created a simple Facebook ad campaign in order to increase the number of Likers on my page Snake Oil Social .    The idea is that I would keep the targeting laser focused to the Phoenix area who expressed interest in Internet Marketing and Reputation Management.   Theoretically, the number of fake profiles should be small to non-existent as the niche isn’t as popular as Veritasium’s Virtual Cat and the geographic targeting was limited to Phoenix, AZ.

Campaign Setup

The campaign consisted of two ads:

Standard Sidebar Ad
facebook ads experiment ad #!
Targeting
facebook ads #1 targeting
Sponsored Story Ad
facebook ads experiment ad 2
Targeting
facebook ads experiment ad 2 targeting

The first ad should give me targeted niche Likers in the Phoenix area. Running under the assumption that those people would be real and have real friends, the second Sponsored Story ad would appear to the friends these authentic users. Brilliant right?

Facebook Ad Campaign Results

In 7 days the campaign generated :

  • 26 new Likers
  • 1 Website click
  • 1 post share

facebook ads experiment results

One of those new Likers unliked the page the next day so the net was 25. Despite the crippling  feeling of abandonment over the loss of the random liker, I pressed on.

Not Smart Enough: Fake Likers Detected

Since my page following is so small, I can easily keep tabs on these newly acquired Likers.  They can be broken to three broad groups:

  • Authentic Likers:  17
  • Suspicious:  6
  • Fake:  3

The authentic likers were just that.   I determined authenticity  by looking at the info they share publically.   A real Liker will have comments and Likes from other real profiles.  A little Google kung fu produced their other social profiles.   Also, a Google image search of their profile photos  wouldn’t pull up any conflicting information.

The second group I classified as suspicious.  The reason for this is two fold:

  1. They passed the majority of the authentic profile tests, but lacked any connection with Social or Internet marketing in general
  2. On average they liked 1000 pages or more.

This group is an odd bunch.   While they didn’t look outright fake, there is just something off about them.  At best they aren’t going to be interested in my page and any update will get lost in the shuffle of the other thousand+ page updates they would get on any given day.   I’m not including them in my Liker yield because either way I’m not going to get much from them.  If anything, they are going to hurt my organic reach.

The Fake profiles are blatant.    Let me introduce you to Kelsey Rodriguez  from Buckeye Arizona.

facebook fake liker

Dos Equis needs to feature her as the Most Interesting Woman since she has 1, 987 followers.  Are there even 1,987 people in Buckeye?

Kelsey likes a lot of things:

fake liker likes

Yes you read that correctly,  she likes 37,244 Facebook pages.  Then I see a picture she shared that isn’t completely in English.

facebook fake liker proof

According to Google Translate, it’s Filippino.    What did I tell you; interesting indeed.  I doubt she learned that at Verrado High.   So, either Kelsey is a multilingual  voracious consumer of Facebook pages, music, and, sports or she’s a click farm employee from the Philippines.

fake liker busted

Before and After Facebook Ads

Snake Oil Social had 23 Likers the day this experiment started.  They were 100% authentic because I went on a Like begging campaign and guilted my friends into Liking the page.    After a week of running  Facebook ads, I have 48 total Likers of which only 81% are authentic.

 Total LikersReal LikersFake Likers% Real Likers
Before23230100%
After4839981%
Delta+25+16+9-20%

Facebook Ads Experiment Take Aways

Despite focused targeting on a niche topic,  the fake Likers found me.  Hat tip to Veritasium.  You guys are pretty damn good for a bunch of YouTube stars.  Jealous rage rising… So what does this mean:

  • Facebook ads can generate new authentic Likers
  • Fake Likers are a real problem and greater targeting will not weed them out
  • These fake and suspicious Likers will negatively impact your organic reach on Facebook

Keep in mind that this was a very small test and numbers can vary wildly at this size.  Maybe I was unlucky with 36% of the new Likers acquired being garbage.  Your mileage may vary.

If you run a Facebook ads campaign you have to account for this spoilage.  Facebook reports the cost per Like at $1.29.  When I compensate for the 9 useless Likers the cost per “real” Like goes up to $1.97.   This  represents a 52.71% increase in cost per acquisition.

So, is it worth advertising on Facebook?   I’d still say yes but you need to understand that you won’t yield 100% authentic Likers.  And as it stands,  your organic reach will decrease with every fake Liker added.  In the long run, the more Likers you generate via ads the more locked in you will be to paying for advertising in order to get your posts seen.  Granted,  Facebook keeps making to lessen organic reach.   Brands are going to have to accept that Facebook advertising is looking more like a pay to play instead of a best content gets exposure meritocracy.  You know, the stuff that made social media marketing worthwhile in the first place.   But that’s a topic for another day.

Folks, if you have any questions, comments, or if you’ve run similar test like this, please leave a comment below.

 

The post Facebook Advertising Fraud Experiment appeared first on Snake Oil Social Media.

Glenn Jimerson

Glenn Jimerson

Blogger, Snake Oil Social

Glenn has over 15 years of IT management and Internet Marketing experience. He has developed solutions for Motorola, Coke-a-Cola, and several technology start-ups.In the past 6 years, his SEO expertise has resulted in numerous top 10 Google and Bing listings in multiple industries including automotive, education, and entertainment.

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Comments

Hey Glenn - really great read. I'm one of the few people who has been harping about fake likes from countries other than the "usual suspects" for about a year now with the agencies that I've been working with. This experiement here is a clear indication of how ridiculous this fake likes problem has become on Facebook. First of all - it's exceptionally expensive to target audiences that are in the US and UK. Each like comes at $1 or higher, and even if you're targeting posts at them to interact/engage with or advertising/promoting link stories, each click accounts to at least $0.50+, which is a ridiculous amount.

Facebook advertising right now is broken. It's as simple as that. They had their reasons to drop organic reach and they have their reasons to say that we must pay to promote. But pay to promote to bots? Is that what we're doing? Which SME today can afford to waste 25% of their budget on bot - clicks on Facebook, if it's that low even?

Another significant problem of course is that after spending $2 to generate a like - it's quite likely that your future posts won't go to this person. You'll have to spend more to promote the post to your own fans so that they're able to see this. It's a vicious, vicious web - and I hope Facebook sorts this out soon.

Personally - I cannot wait until Twitter allows us to promote tweets / accounts to regions other than the UK, US, Canada and Ireland.

Really good article though, nice one!

Thank you for the feedback Avtar.  We are definately on the same page.  In the good old days we could post qualiy content to social meida and it had a decent chance of being seen by our Likers.  Today, we are getting squeezed by Facebook so they can generate revenue.  It's hard to blame them but it's fair to say they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to their approach.  There will come a day when you and I will haave to pay for advertising, otherwise our Likers will never see our posts.

If you go down the route of promoting on Twitter let us know how it goes.  I haven't done that yet and would love to hear about your experiences.

Hey Glenn,

One of the features I love about Twitter is that you can target followers of another Twitter account. While this may come across as just "stealing followers" from other Twitter accounts, it's not exactly them leaving that account and following yours, but following both accounts. I like this feature the most because I know exactly what kind of accounts my TA is currently following, so I can just target users of those accounts.

And of course, for brands it makes it much easier to target competitor's audiences.

I've perhaps spent only about $300 on Twitter so far across various accounts that I have handled Twitter for, a mix across getting new followers and promoting a tweet with a link in it and what not. Cost Per Action tends to be somewhere near $0.70, but recommended by Twitter is always $1.2+. For Cost Per Follower - the recommended amount seems to always be $1.8+, but I've seen a marginal amount of success by keeping it down to $0.50 even - although they only trickle in, sometimes as low as 2 followers a day, sometimes as good as 8-10.

For brands that need decent results, it tends to be a little hard to spend so much, which is why targeting other countries where there are still quality followers but are generally cheaper to target should be interesting.

Great little experiment here. It's practically impossible to avoid fake likers, even Veritasium points out in their video acknowledging that a significant portion of their likes are fake. Considering the decrease in organic reach it's extremely detrimental to have fake likes since these profiles will likely never engage with your page. 

As you pointed out advanced targeting will help limit the number of fake likes, but it's practically impossible to avoid them entirely. 

Hi Zach, you're right there is no way around fakes.  I ran a second test with even more tigheter restrictions i.e. smaller geographic size and restricted by language.  In less than 24 hours I got 2 blatant fakes.  I doubt Facebook likes this any more than we do.  It's just extremly hard to filter out these click farms and they do have bigger fish to fry like making investors happy. 

P.S.  Aplogies for the extremely late response. I didn't have the notify me of replies feature enabled. 

What do these fake likers get by liking your page? Why are they bothering to exhert any effort?

Hi Joy.  They like these pages in order to look like a legitimate user and thus avoid any programatic SPAM filters.  Granted,  when you see the number of pages these click farm workers like, you'd think Facebook would add that to their anti-SPAM algorhythm.  

P.S.  Aplogies for the extremely late response. I didn't have the notify me of replies feature enabled.