Over the past few weeks, I took a few of the major social media ad platforms for a ride, to compare them and have a look at the results. To be frank, I’m rather uninspired by both. I have no idea what that photo, above, means, by the way. But, somehow, it illustrates pretty well how I feel about Facebook and LinkedIn ad platforms (at the moment). (I found that pic on the Unsplash system by typing “sad.”) Anyway, here’s why I’m not too excited about either platform at this time.
My Facebook Experience
I started on FB because it’s the social media leader. Everyone is there, and it allows decent targeting for ads. Plus, I’ve heard many other agencies rave about the ROI there, at least in comparison to non-Internet media. So, why not?
I started by setting up a handful of carousel-style ads that featured swipeable cards touting various qualities I felt were relevant those looking for a web design business. The ads were basically all the same, except the top line of text differed. They looked like this:
I also setup a video ad that animated a bunch of web-design portfolio screen shots, backed by some music. (Facebook’s tools for building that were admittedly nice, and easy to work with.) The video ad, which was targeted a bit differently at a more specific audience, looked like this (showing the mobile rendering here):
So… pretty standard stuff ad-wise. I’ll talk more about that a bit later.
For all of my FB ads, I had them go to a lead form where people could submit their name, email, and phone. The idea (quite obviously) was that people looking for a web site would indicate their interest, I’d contact them, and we’d discuss their needs. Again, all pretty simple / standard stuff.
Pretty quickly, I learned that Facebook does NOT actively / automatically send you the contact information when peope fill out a form on your ad. I was pretty astonished by this, and I’m sure any marketing professional reading this will assume I’m wrong because it sounds preposterous. But, here’s a thread on their help system from another frustrated user. I’ll paste FB’s response below:
So, you’re a business owner, and you decide to put an ad on FB where people fill out a form with their name, email address, and phone. And, when people actually fill it out? … well, they’re not going to let you know. This is the logic of the largest social media platform in existence. They’ll alert you about every other development in the universe, including what your friend across the globe had for dinner, if he/she chooses to post it, but asking for an alert on this is just too much. But, don’t fret: they “understand that it may b[e] frustrating to not be notified of leads received.”
What happens is that you have to monitor the ad performance yourself, and keep a constant eye on the “results” column (as shown here), and then download a CSV (or XLS) file and look through that to get the person’s info.
The system is so large and convouted, though (understandable as they have to cater to billions of advertisers all wanting different features), that it’s very easy to miss a lead, and for many reasons. It’s just … really sucky. But, the absolutely unforgiveable part is that they do not actively alert you when a new lead comes in.
I hope the reason that this is unforgiveable is obvious. But, just to be clear: There’s a reason that sayings like “strike while the iron is hot” exist. When a lead actively comes into a sales cycle, it’s never hotter than at that very moment. Within days, hours, or even (agruably) minutes, many opportunities can fizzle.
Now, I only let these ads run for a few weeks. I probably would have let them go longer, but I repeatedly noticed something else highly peculiar. For all six of those results shown, I (nearly immediately) downloaded the CVS file, dug out their info, and emailed them. The email was quick and to the point. Here’s an actual example:
Facebook let me know that you clicked on my company’s ad regarding web development. Thanks! Is there anything we can help you out with, or discuss with you? Feel free to reach out anytime, and thanks again for your click! :-)
— Jim Dee
Principal, Array Web Development, LLC
Not a single response came back. I found this surprising. Six upposedly actual people (Facebook and Instagram users) clicked a form, freely gave me their phone number and email addresses, and then zero replied? Was that really the kind of lead I should be paying $25.24 for?
In the end, it was a pretty small experiment on FB, I’ll freely admit. I spent about $150 for 6 “leads”, each costing me about $25. Well, that and I suppose the 2,821 impressions my company got out of it, which, granted, is also worth something. Of course, working in marketing myself, I understand that there is more to such a strategy, such as continuing to run the ads to build brand awareness over time, A/B testing, and so on. But, I just wasn’t happy.
My LinkedIn Experience
So, I thought to myself, “You know, maybe FB is the wrong platform for a web design company, anyway.” After all, I’m not really oriented toward consumers; rather, I’m oriented toward business people. Granted, FB has business people, too, and FB’s targeting technically can identify that segment. But, many of those FB business people are actually surfing the platform in personal mode, so to speak.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is much more focused. It’s the kind of social media that middle and upper management is more used to partaking of *while at work* (at least IMHO). So, I reasoned that my lead quality might improve on LinkedIn, and immediately shut down my FB ad account (after that admittedly ridiculous $150 test), and rebuilt the same content on LinkedIn’s ad platform.
As you can see, the LinkedIn ad preview was basically the equivalent of FB’s carousels:
So, I decided to carry on w/ LinkedIn for another $150 or so, in order to compare the two. When I reached the same number of leads, I shut it off in order to compare stats.
The LinkedIn numbers are quite similar to FB’s: LinkedIn showed 2,431 impressions at a $24.15 Cost Per Click — times 6 clicks = $144.88 spent. It’s funny how things work out just about the same, no matter the platform, isn’t it? I highly doubt that’s coincidence, as we’re working with two mature platforms — platforms that understand what they can get away with charging, no matter how much some small player like me criticizes aspects like the overly complex, confusing interfaces, utilities, and practices involved.
In the end, LinkedIn was perhaps an insignificant amount less costly than Facebook, and possibly (arguably) offers a bit better targeting. I did particularly like how LinkedIn allowed targeting by title. Each platform had its plusses and minuses, but struck me as largely the same. As far as recommendations for clients, I’d say it would depend more on what you’re marketing — although if your budget can stand it, multiple-platform campaigns probably make sense.
The Bottom Line
I’ve been in marketing for long enough to not have any grand expectations when it comes to advertising. Markets have an organic way of maximizing costs for client / customer acquisition. Whatever the profitability of your product or service, the markets adjust acquisition costs upward as high as possible. So, for me, as a web agency owner, to expect to be able to actually land even a mid-range client worth, say, $10–15k in exchange for spending a total of $300 on an advertising experiment … well, that would be unrealitic because far too much money would be left on the table by the ad platforms.
Where that magic number is, though, I’m not sure — at least not for my own market, as I’m (very fortunately) primarily a word-of-mouth agency, and have luckily stayed quite busy via referrals, blogging (like this), and other means aside from ads for the past decade.
Ad platforms, though, are indeed sure of these numbers. They may not know the exact profitability of a web design / web development client per se, but they know the average value of obtaining one, from the perspective of web design companies willing to compete for that ad space. And that, I suspect, is particularly driven by larger web development companies where the jobs are usually higher-cost.
So, as I was getting at, part of the problem with this experiment may well be the targeting itself. If I’m competing with web development companies looking to sell $80,000 web sites, that could be one reason I’m coming up empty. (I’m happy to do $80k sites, btw. :-) But, typically, the ones we do are much less costly!)
Also, the ads themselves could be the issue. I’ve included some examples here, just to indicate that they were, in my opinion, at least not unprofessional or ugly. They strike me a pretty standard, but perhaps did not pop enough. Certainly, ad quality must be part of one’s self-asessment.
Budget could be the issue. As stated above, success might also come after persistence. If your ad is seen by 5,000 people once, and you get nothing, that’s one thing. But, if those same 5,000 people see it 7 times, what’s the result then? Am I (or are you as a busines owner) willing to transform a $300 experiment into a $2,100 one in order to find out the answer? (Peronally, I was not, at this time. But, it’s a serious consideration!)
At the end of the day, though, after everything, I’ve not actually communicated with a single lead from either platform! Granted, there were only 12 total. But … how many human beings must react to an ad before it at least turns into, maybe not an outright closed sale, but at least a workable lead?