The curious case of Facebook advertising

I’ve been using Facebook advertising for close to two years now. It has improved in certain aspects by leaps and bounds. The introduction of a specific interface to manage your sponsored content was a welcome change from having to tediously manage every page’s advertisement separately. Also welcome was the improved data parameters I’ve been provided with.

However, all these great features have been relegated to bells and whistles which serve no purpose when the main product itself is flawed. As an advertiser, my first priority is to be able to advertise the products and services I manage for my clients. And that calls for a certain modicum of flexibility and creativity I need to exercise, to make this content more appealing to my target audience.

This is exactly where Facebook starts to really test my patience.

First up, is the dreaded 20% rule of text. Put simply, you cannot have more than 20% of your image’s area devoted to text. That shouldn’t be a problem you say, the creative aspect of this form of communication should be able to address that you say, and things become even more easy with Facebook’s text checker tool, you say. You would be very wrong. This rule is applied with such blind fervor, that you can’t even use logos with text in them, which happens to most corporate logos in the world. So I was faced with the ridiculous conundrum of having a client showcase post, without any clients showcased in them.

However, this isn’t really a deal breaker. We can find alternative workarounds to this especially after Facebook so graciously and considerately (rather late in the day) introduced the much needed carousel feature. But we are only getting started with what’s wrong, so don’t get your hopes up too high. Next up, is the objective structuring. While rather admirable in its intent, it really doesn’t help that we have no idea about what is and what isn’t permissible in posts that are setup using a specific objective, (for example, getting clicks to your website). You can’t for example use two punctuation marks in proximity (a rule which ensures that you don’t slyly get to make the best use of your ad expenditure by inserting a link in the text description).

Perhaps, you are someone like me who desperately wants to believe in the potential of Facebook advertising and make it beyond these parochial restrictions. You admirably persevere on. The next stage is perhaps the only aspect of this entire dismal process which isn’t broken. The self intuitive setup wizard allows you target your audience on the basis of demographics and budget while outlining a time period for your promotional activity. It fills you with hope that what lies ahead isn’t going to make you want to visit your shrink frequently.

We are almost there. This should be the easy part, you tell yourself. I’ve my creatives, all optimized according FB’s image standards, even conforming to the dreaded 20% rule. All I need to do now, is to upload the images and pay for the campaign.

Erm, that’s what you wish would’ve happened but doesn’t. You first have to upload your images onto Facebook (and in proper order if you are using a carousel).

The heavens help you, if you intend to use a video, for the fun really starts to pick up then. You need to have uploaded the video onto Facebook to be able to use in your creative, and it needs to be only between 3 and 60 seconds long if you want to take advantage of FB’s complimentary Instagram feed adverts. Now for small companies like mine, we are hard pressed as it is, what with all the multiple creatives and outsourced video content, but this is like stepping on a nail with a broken ankle. The added bonus, is that the feature is so buggy, that if you are uploading more images after video and have selected a video cover image, none of the other images are available for you to use as an image for carousel. I made the mistake of trying to drag the image into the designated drop in space, but that had the wonderful effect of resetting the and essentially destroying the entire setup I had so painstakingly created until then (there’s no intuitive save features available during the entire cycle, happily for me).

Maybe, you’ve finally succeeded. Huzzahs all around. Pat yourself on the back and sit back. The images have been uploaded correctly and you’ve made your payment, your ad should go live once it’s approved. But that just you fantasising without FB’s permission. Your ad will often go through a dual approval process, where it might mysteriously get approved initially, only for it it to be disapproved later. You’ve spent all of 2 dollars in running your week long campaign for two hours and reaching 40 people before losing that window of opportunity and getting nothing back in return. Back to the drawing board and pointless explanations to clients as to why your once approved ad, was deemed a bio hazard and dumped unceremoniously by FB.

There’s a very strong reason for this tedious and complicated process. This entire circus is being orchestrated by FB, with the aim to make all content endemic to the FB platform. In other words, you cannot insert a YouTube video (which would allow me the freedom to show content from select moments in the video) or use a Pinterest plugin or use any other external content source that allows me greater flexibility in how I structure my sponsored content.

Essentially, not only I am paying Facebook to run my ads, I am also helping them further their own marketing by preventing me from making use of the length breadth of the internet. I really wouldn’t have complained much if the tools FB offered, provided me a viable alternative, but it’s so broke that I am really beginning to reconsider my decision to recommend it to any of my clients. At this rate, FB is going to kill the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg, in it’s greed to become a self contained content hub.

A good SharePoint community with open access might well be something worth investing in, if this trend continues.

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