A while back, a viral video debunking the legitimacy of Facebook Ads made the rounds of the Internet. Compelling and well put together, research company Veritasium’s ‘Facebook Fraud’ gave many web marketers reason to cry foul citing multiple evidence – perhaps none more notorious than 2012’s ‘Virtual Bagel’.
Virtual Bagel was an experiment never actually designed to deliver any useful content. Inviting Facebook fans to ‘download and enjoy’ bagels online, Virtual Bagel ran Facebook advertising campaigns that targeted countries like the United States, UK, Egypt and India.
After the campaign ran its course, the majority of Virtual Bagel’s fans mostly consisted of suspicious users from developing nations. Many of these users had generic profiles with thousands of Facebook page Likes – some of which were entirely contradictive in nature. Even worse, despite hundreds of new Facebook fans, there was virtually no new engagement to speak of.
Cases like Virtual Bagel beg one essential question for marketing companies: Is Facebook guilty of using black hat practices such as ‘Like’ farming to expand page audiences? Jon Loomer of Advanced Facebook Marketers would argue ‘no’.
Loomer points out that the Facebook ads program has changed significantly since 2012. He suggests features like conversion tracking, custom audiences, lookalike audiences, website custom audiences, FBX, partner categories and Facebook’s new ad reports were either not used in the Virtual Bagel experiment or added following its conclusion. He also states, “If you still use Facebook ads as if it’s 2012, you deserve the results you get.”
As the ‘Facebook Fraud’ video indicates, Loomer reiterates link farms are prevalent in countries like India, Philippines, Nepal, Egypt and elsewhere. Virtual Bagel considered an absence of likes from countries like the United States and the UK were an indictment of Facebook ads altogether, but perhaps it only reinforces what we already knew – fake ‘Likes’ come from link farming countries, real ‘Likes’ are harder to earn elsewhere.
Loomer believes people watching the ‘Facebook Fraud’ video will walk away either spurned from advertising through Facebook entirely, validate their belief that shortcuts lead to failure or view it purely as a cautionary tale. He’s made it his aim to convince others success is possible through more intelligent and targeted campaigns.
While the jury is still out deliberating on Facebook ads as a viable means to market one’s brand, Loomer agrees with the critics that Facebook should be working to clean up the system. Loomer is also quick to note that the issue of fake appearances isn’t unique to Facebook – it’s a universal symptom of the digital age.