Are Facebook ads good value for money?

I’ve never used Facebook to advertise anything to do with Ada Lovelace Day, but I thought I’d give it a go with a post about Ada Lovelace Day Live, just to see what happened. I assumed that FB would be quite effective at delivering my post to a large, relevant audience, but that’s not what happened.

When I set up the ad, FB said I’d reach 2,700 – 7,200 people, but in fact it only reached 1,588. The idea that FB somehow can’t find 2,700 people in the UK, over 7 days, who match my audience profile (ie, graduate or higher, in all the STEM-related fields they have) is absurd. Indeed, FB itself says that the potential size of my audience is 28 million, but it couldn’t find more than 1,588 people. Sure. Right. I totally believe that. *cough*

Of those 1,588 people reached, 25 “reacted” to it (ie used the like button), two commented (one of those comments is a guy being an asshole), five people shared it, and six people clicked the link.

These are not particularly impressive figures to me.

Now, I know that I only spent £10, but I run ALD on a shoestring, and that £10 was a test to see if it would be worth spending more. Frankly, I can’t say that I’m confident that it was even £10 well spent.

I had assumed that FB would be a cost-effective way to reach lots of people, but at £1.67 per click, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Frankly, it feels more like a rate-limited con than a useful service.

Kevin is more sanguine than I — he thinks 1,588 is good for a low-follower page (we have 124 likes on our page), and he has more experience than I do with the way that FB works. However, the point is that the whole reason for paying for an ad is because our page has few followers, and because FB has destroyed organic reach in order to force us to pay to reach more of the people we previously would have reached anyway.

But they’ve done a shit job of up-selling, because I would have invested £100 in ads, and would have expanded my ad horizons to include merchandise and similar if FB had delivered on this test. They didn’t deliver, so they’ve lost a potential advertiser and, sadly, I’ll have to just battle on and try to grow my organic reach.

This is a huge shame. The promise of social networks was that it would level the playing field, and that the smallest organisation or the least famous person still had the opportunity to reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. There is, of course, now a huge issue with noise which didn’t exist at the dawning of the social media age, but that’s not the problem with Facebook.

The problem is that they have deliberately locked small folks out of building reach organically in order to drive ad revenue, but are not providing good value for money when people with limited resources pay a small amount for ads. Had they delivered even the lower end of their estimated reach range, I might have considered investing more. Had they delivered 7,200 people, then I certainly would have, even though I still think that’s an artificially low number given that they said my audience is 28 million.

What rankles most is that not only is there no good reason for limiting ad reach this severely, but also that it hurts the very people that social media was suppose to help: those of us stuck in the long tail without the resources to spend loads on advertising.

Facebook and co-opetition: I don’t fear reality but I want my reporters to eat

If Facebook and journalism had a relationship, it would be: It’s complicated. David Higgerson urged “journalism … to get over its fear of Facebook“. He wrote:

Facebook is huge, and needs to remain huge. To do that, it needs to remain relevant to users. It needs to ensure it doesn’t alienate people. That, in turn, is good news for journalists and news organisations. We want our content to be read. Facebook is telling us it has a huge audience and it wants to get stuff they will like to those people.

Facebook is a market reality. I don’t fear Zuck and his crew. And of course we want our content to be read, and there is absolutely no doubt that Facebook drives a lot of traffic to our content. However, as News Corps’ Senior Vice President of Strategy said on Twitter:

Yeah, we want people to read our content, to pay attention to our journalism. Facebook has a huge audience and can help us meet that goal.

But using Facebook to grow audience is only part of winning in the attention economy. The other challenge we must face is how to monetise that attention. The readers of my two papers see our Facebook Page as the freesheet of the digital age. Hell, they say as much. How do I help those readers help me pay for the journalism we’re doing? That’s a really important question.

The angst about Facebook with respect to journalism is about that value exchange, making sure that we get as much out of sharing our content on Facebook as Zuck gets out of it in terms of good old dollars and cents, pounds and pence. To quote my good friend and university classmate Theo Francis who works at the Wall Street Journal, we know we are creating value as journalists, but how do we capture it.

No serious journalistic leader that I know of is saying ignore or be afraid of Facebook, and of course, we need to make sure our content is where our readers are. We’ve moved on from that discussion, and it’s time to acknowledge that on the digital side so we can focus on the hard work of figuring out how to capture the value in the attention we earn. We cooperate with Facebook in gaining attention. We compete with Facebook in monetising that attention. That is the reality we need to face. So, yeah, as a relationship it’s complicated.

But it’s time to get real. At this moment of great flux in the attention economy, we know that any ole fool can publish, but it’s a bitch getting paid. Attention is great, but it only goes so far when it comes to paying the rent or paying staff. I can’t pay my hard working reporters in Likes. I know what Zuck gets out of my papers having Facebook pages, and I know Facebook helps me win in the battle for attention in my communities. I’m working hard to figure out how to turn those Likes into subscribers, opportunities for advertisers and cold hard cash to pay my staff.

That’s not hating on Facebook. It just is what it is, and although I could do a lot of things, I have chosen to fight the fight on the front lines of local journalism. It’s a fight I aim to win.

Facebook likes vs Twitter shares: What The Atlantic’s graphs really tell us

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson has published a handful of graphs which he says tell us about the popularity of “viral publishers” on Facebook and Twitter, and how important Facebook is compared to Twitter based on volume of shares/likes. It’s true that the graphs do give us some very interesting insights, but they aren’t the ones Thompson thinks they are.

Thompson’s graphs are based on data from Newswhip’s Spike database. The first problem is Thompson’s sloppy use of terminology. His first graph says that it shows Facebook likes, but in the text he uses the word shares, but likes and shares are not the same thing. Liking something on Facebook is basically just giving that thing a thumbs-up, it’s a very lightweight interaction. A share is much more emphatic and gives you the opportunity to comment on the item you’re sharing. Both apparently show up in timelines, although Facebook is, as usual, spectacularly unclear on the precise differences regarding when a like will show up and when a share will, but either way, they aren’t the same kind of action.

Newswhip’s graph shows total likes and shares for each content source, whereas Thompson’s graph says that it shows “overall likes” and provides significantly higher figures than Newswhip: ~27,000,000 vs 20,878,994 for The Huffington Post, for example. This is because he has actually plotted “Total FB Interactions”, a figure from Newswhip that includes likes, shares and comments on Facebook.

This might seem like nitpicking, but when you have words like “like” and “share” being used to designate very similar but different actions, with different social meaning, you cannot just use the words interchangeably. And you can’t just chuck in comments to the mix without saying so.

Here are the two graphs for you to compare:

Thompson's Facebook graph
Thompson’s Facebook graph
Newswhip's Facebook graph
Newswhip’s Facebook graph

The next pair of graphs are for Twitter. Thompson’s say they are for Twitter mentions, whereas Newswhip’s graph is for “tweets and retweets of articles”. This time, Thompson’s figures appear to be about the same as Newswhip’s, so must refer to both mentions and retweets.

Thompson's Twitter graph
Thompson’s Twitter graph
Newswhip's Twitter graph
Newswhip’s Twitter graph

Thompson then goes on to take Newswhip’s total article count for each publisher and use it to calculate the total shares per article on each platform. Upworthy‘s article count is just 225, so its shares per article is ridiculously high compared to every other source. Even TwentyTwoWords, which is in second place after Upworthy, has significantly more shares per article than other, bigger sites.

That’s a big red flag for me, indicating that something odd and statistically dubious might be going on. Looking at their Facebook pages gives you a sense of how many shares, likes and comments their articles are getting. Upworthy’s are highly variable, from 51 shares, 322 likes and 10 comments to 11,934 shares, 32,800 likes and 1,260 comments. TwentyTwoWords timeline posts vary from 2 shares, 17 likes and two comments to 75 shares, 66 likes, and 15 comments. So what we’re looking at, as one commenter on Thompson’s piece says, is a few runaway hits pulling up Upworthy and TwentyTwoWords’ figures.

Thompson gives us the mean recommendations (shares/likes/comments and tweets/retweets) per article, but to draw more robust conclusions we would need to know the median number of recommendations for each site. We also need to see the range, so that we can see how runaway hits are statistically skewing the distribution.

But still, given the meme-y nature of their content, it’s no surprise that Upworthy is popular. Pointing out that internet meme-based content is particularly popular with internet audiences isn’t an insight, it’s a tautology.

Thompson concludes his piece with a huge non-sequiteur, that “Facebook is huge. Much bigger than Twitter. […] Even the biggest sites on Twitter are much, much, much bigger on Facebook.”

Well, duh! Anyone who didn’t know that Facebook is bigger than Twitter has to have been living in a cave for the last few years. Facebook has 1,189 million monthly active users whereas Twitter has 232 million monthly active users. More users means more potential for sharing. We would expect Facebook’s activity to be some five times larger than Twitter activity but we don’t, we see that it is ten times larger. That is at least in part because Thompson is comparing apples and oranges.

Facebook likes, shares and comments are not equivalent to Twitter tweets and retweets. It’s not even clear to me that it’s meaningful to compare them, because of the different levels of engagement required to complete each action. An original posting to Facebook or Twitter is about equivalent in effort, because usually these days it’s just a matter of clicking a button on the original source post or copying/pasting an URL. Resharing that within Facebook is more akin to retweeting on Twitter, and neither liking nor commenting on Facebook has an equivalent on Twitter.

In order to properly compare activity types on Facebook and Twitter, we need to compare similar behaviours, so we can compare originating posts, or sharing or retweeting, but have to cut out likes and commenting on Facebook. Newswhip’s numbers don’t allow us to do that.

What this data does tell us is, however, much more interesting than Thompson’s  analysis might lead us to believe. Knowing what kind of content plays well on Facebook and Twitter gives us a fascinating insight into the tastes of their users. Facebook likes polarised, outrage-inducing or meme-y content, and is rather uninterested in sports. Twitter likes non-partisan news, tech news with a bit of polarised news, a few memes, and a lot less of the outrage. Twitter is also not massively keen on dedicated sports sites.

And if the shares per article data has any grounding in reality – which at this point I don’t have enough data to assess – then you can also see how well highly partisan, fringe content plays on both platforms in comparison to those sites’ sizes. Russia Today, Breitbart, Alternet and The Blaze are far from being balanced or neutral news outlets, but their bias allows them to punch above their weight compared to more moderate sources such as The Atlantic, CNN and the New York Times. That too is fascinating as it points to very vocal, politically partisan subcultures within both platforms.

If we wanted to, we could look at the demographic research for all these sites and get a much deeper insight into the psychographics of users than you can get from the usual Twitter/Facebook analyses. However, that takes a bit more effort than is required to chuck a few graphs up and draw superficial and suspect conclusions from fuzzy data.

Finally, what this data doesn’t and can’t tell us is whether Facebook is driving ten times more traffic to content sites than Twitter, given that content is being recommended ten times more often than on Twitter. Indeed, it’s well known that people are happy to re-share content without clicking on the links, and in my own experience, there are differences between how willing people on different platforms are to click on links and the dwell times and bounce rates for traffic from different platforms. On one project, oddly, LinkedIn provided the best traffic with dramatically longer dwell times and lower bounce rates.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if Upworthy has ten or a hundred times more shares on Facebook than Twitter if that doesn’t translate into traffic and revenue.

Where are your Facebook privacy settings?

Just in case you have lost track of where all Facebook’s privacy settings are hidden, the New York Times has crated an awesome infographic to shows just how well they are squirrelled away in different corners of the site. It illustrates beautifully just how difficult it has become to manage your privacy in Facebook, showing all 50 settings – which have over 170 options – spread over 10 different pages. Apparently, the company has had an emergency company-wide meeting to discuss the problem. Fingers crossed that some common sense prevails.

Is Facebook dying under the weight of its own complexity?

I’ve never been a big fan of Facebook, not just because of their cavalier attitude towards their members’ privacy, but also because the UI stinks. Thomas Baekdal takes a detailed and interesting look at the reason he thinks Facebook is dying. Some key excerpts:

Facebook is really big, it has a ton of features. But, it is also turning into the worst case of complexity overload the web has seen in years. There are so many inconsistencies that it is hard to believe – or even to keep track of.


On top of the complexity and inconsistencies, we have a growing problem of privacy issues. Facebook has a long track record of ignoring people’s privacy. As I wrote in “The First Rule of Privacy”; You are the only one, who can decide what you want to share. Facebook cannot decide that, nor can anyone else.

But, Facebook seems oblivious to this simple principle, and have started sharing personal information with 3rd party “partners” – continuing a long line of really bad decisions when it comes to privacy.

If you are on Facebook with a personal profile this is a must read. If you’re on it for business reasons, you might want to read it even more closely and pay particular attention to the various privacy changes Facebook have made. And on that note, the EFF has some great advice and information about Facebook’s now very confusing privacy settings and interface changes.

LinkedIn gets a little bit more social

LinkedIn is one of those tools that I almost always showcase in my social media workshops and which often makes an appearance in the strategies I write. It’s a tool that, used cleverly, can go well beyond simply allowing people to build a professional network and can help businesses form relationships too. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn has always had a bit of an old-school feel to it, which is not in itself a bad thing, but it’s good to see them now providing more sophisticated functionality around sharing news items. This video explains all:

(Via Adam Tinworth)

Designing for real world social networks

Paul Adams has a great post on how our social networks are comprised of a vast variety of people, but we mainly restrict our interactions to people we already know. Yet most social tools fail to treat these groups – our intimates and our acquaintances – differently. Paul then splits our relationships out into three types:

  • Strong ties: People we care deeply about.
  • Weak ties: People we are loosely connected to, like friends of friends.
  • Temporary ties: People we don’t know, and interact with temporarily.

and goes on to examine what these groups mean for social interaction design. These insights are just as relevant to business social networks as personal ones, yet I’d wager most people designing internal tools aren’t thinking in this much detail about the types of networks they are designing for.

Anyway, this is a really interesting post and well worth reading.

(Via Joshua Porter.)

Collecting behaviours

Christian Crumlish write a too-brief post on tags as collecting behaviour and says:

Tagging and other forms of collecting are also an example of social design patterns that mimic game dynamics. Collecting objects is a core “easy fun” activity in many games, and similarly these extremely lightweight social interactions around gathering or tagging objects enable a form of self-interested behavior that creates aggregate value and potentially richer forms of engagement.

Tagging is one of those incredibly flexible ideas that can be implemented in a multitude of ways and contexts. What innovative uses of tagging and collecting behavoiurs in enterprise are you witnessing?

How Twitter makes us more productive

Brendan Koerner writes over at Wired about How Twitter and Facebook Make Us More Productive. He says:

Last year, Nucleus Research warned that Facebook shaves 1.5 percent off total office productivity; a Morse survey estimated that on-the-job social networking costs British companies $2.2 billion a year.

But for knowledge workers charged with transforming ideas into products — whether gadgets, code, or even Wired articles — goofing off isn’t the enemy. In fact, regularly stepping back from the project at hand can be essential to success. And social networks are particularly well suited to stoking the creative mind.

Brendan makes the point that surveys like Nucleus Research’s or Morse’s, assume that all Twitter/Facebook activity is wasted, but in reality it is not. He then goes on to discuss the human creative process, highlighting the “need periodic breaks to relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform — pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking.”

Regular breaks, it turns out, are important for our brains to process information and the “conceptual collisions” that occur when we see nuggets of unrelated information can prompt us to make mental connections that we otherwise would not have. Twitter and Facebook are, of course, great at exposing us to unexpected information.

I’d add two more points to explain why Twitter, used well, isn’t a de facto waste of time:

Firstly, Twitter is amenable to sporadic checking, which means that users can check Twitter in otherwise dead moments, e.g. waiting for a web page to load, a file to save or a phone to be answered. Quite often I check Twitter whilst I’m waiting for my computer to do something else. What else would I do with that time? Stare at my screen and wait. So net win on the time saving there.

Secondly, Twitter saves me time by connecting me to people who have answers to my questions, including some questions I didn’t know I needed to ask. I get a lot of ideas for blog posts from links that my friends post to Twitter, for example. I also often get my answers from Twitter faster than Google can manage and those answers are often higher quality and contain insight Google just can’t provide.

These productivity research companies really do need to get a clue when it comes to Twitter and produce something a bit more nuanced and less scaremongery!

Social network overload?

Are we getting swamped by social media? David Armano thinks so. I think that it’s a little bit more complicated than just trying to amp up the signal in the noise and has to do with a whole bunch of issues involved in, well, just being human:

1. We’re all interested in status

Actually, we’re all obsessed with status whether we realise it or not. Social networks make status explicit in some way, or at least they seem to. Number of followers on Twitter is a very bad proxy for our status within the different communities we inhabit, yet we can’t stop our status-obsessed brains from over-interpreting it.

2. We’re all interested in success

Status and success are two sides of the same coin: If you have success you probably also have status, although it very much depends on your definitions of success and whether others share them. We often don’t define success and can’t recognise it when it happens, so we use apparent status as a proxy for it. If you believe that in order to prove to yourself that you are successful you also need to have high status within your community, and your community is online, then you’re looking for high status there too… which means you’re looking at numbers which are a proxy for a proxy. Great stuff!

3. Phatic communication is as important as informational communication

Social media makes a lot of phatic communications, i.e. that stuff you say to show the world you’re not dead yet, explicit whereas we are used to them being almost unnoticeable. Those little grunts, sighs and snarfles you normally make to tell the people around you, “I’m still here” become “Making a cup of tea” on Twitter. Because we’re use to the written word containing useful information we get frustrated when it contains phatic information and fail to realise just how very useful that info actually is.

4. We’re completists

We evolved in a world where it was possible to know everything everyone else knew: Where to hunt, where to gather, how to cook, who’s in charge. Now there is so much information in the world that we can barely learn a tiny fraction of it, yet it feels like somehow we ought to know it all. Our dopamine system rewards us for seeking and there’s no end to what we can find. There is no end to the internet, so the seeking just goes on and on and on.

5. We’re stretching our wetware

Armano is right that we’re using tools that allow us to shatter Dunbar’s Number into tiny bits, and this is causing us some problems because we are trying to treat everyone as ‘friends’, instead of accepting that some people are closer than others. In actual fact, then number of close friends we maintain remains at around ten, or less. It’s the number of acquaintances that’s booming, and we’re not quite sure what the social etiquette is for our interactions with all these people we my well like but barely know.

This is problematic, to be sure. The technology is evolving faster than we are figuring out how it fits into our social natures. Manners and etiquette vary wildly between communities and society has not settled on a common ruleset. But I think a few simple guidelines can help us all:

  1. Don’t try to be everywhere
  2. Don’t try to know everyone
  3. Feel free to ignore content and people
  4. Don’t be offended if someone ignores you or what you write
  5. Accept that your brain is not the size of a planet and you can’t know everything. Yet.

Of course, all bets are off once the Singularity occurs.