Facebook Q&A: The network justifies the cost of its "like" adverts

Facebook profile collage
Image caption Facebook says it uses computer programs and reports by its members to detect fake profiles on the social network

The BBC has learned that some marketers have questioned whether it is worth buying adverts on Facebook.

The concerns were prompted by evidence from one marketer that some accounts which had clicked on thousands of businesses "like" buttons had been registered to subscribers using false identities - something that Facebook's terms and conditions forbid.

An experiment carried out by the BBC found further evidence of the problem, and an executive at one of the UK's biggest companies added that it had had "very little return" on money spent on ads on the network.

The BBC put the issues raised by its investigation to a Facebook spokesman:

Is your audience really as big or as valuable as you claim?

Our global audience is more than 900 million monthly active users.

Advertisers find value when they make smart use of Facebook's advertising and marketing tools. Some of these are paid, others are free.

Like all advertising, the quality of the outcome depends on the thought and planning that is put into the campaign.

One great example is the retailer Asos. As a result of one campaign, they saw a 130% uplift in purchase behaviour on the Asos website in the four weeks following a recent ad campaign.

Small/medium sized businesses are also reaping the benefits. For example, Morphsuits is a fancy dress company set up in Edinburgh by three young entrepreneurs two years ago.

Co-founder Gregor Lawson now calls Facebook the lifeblood of the business - they share news and pictures, run competitions and organise meet-ups on the platform and see high levels of engagement from fans.

They've even used Facebook to recruit fans to manage their foreign language Facebook pages. Their business has grown from an initial investment of £3,000 to £4.4m and Gregor attributes much of this success to their innovative use of Facebook.

We've seen evidence that there are plenty of fake profiles being generated in parts of the world - or at least profiles that break your terms and conditions by not featuring real names. What are you doing to address this issue?

Image caption Facebook says Morphsuits - a firm with more than one million likes - has benefited from adverts

We've not seen evidence of a significant problem. Neither has it been raised by the many advertisers who are enjoying positive results from using Facebook.

All of these companies have access to Facebook's analytics which allow them to see the identities of people who have liked their pages, yet this has not been flagged as an issue.

A very small percentage of users do open accounts using pseudonyms but this is against our rules and we use automated systems as well as user reports to help us detect them and enforce our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

Among those accounts using assumed names, many still represent real people with genuine likes and interests and we believe it is best to educate them about Facebook's rules and the value of using their real identity.

By way of example: we are currently carrying out a campaign where we show messages to some people asking them to identify if selected account names are real or pseudonyms.

That information is used to improve the quality of our name detection algorithms so we can help those people bring their accounts back in line with our rules.

It seems that many of the "likes" on brands' pages - big companies and small - come from countries like Egypt and the Philippines, from people who "like" just about anything. That's good for Facebook - every click on an ad earns you money - but are advertisers getting a good deal?

This doesn't represent the experience of most advertisers on Facebook. The examples that you have mentioned are really unusual and seem to be the result of some bad advertising practice.

Looking at the test case you flagged - the person has, for some reason, taken a scatter-gun approach to distributing their ads, sending them to multiple countries with little or no demographer targeting.

Image caption Facebook's Page Insights service is designed to help marketers keep track of who "likes" their clients

In the real world, if you hand out flyers for a pizza restaurant in Birmingham to people in Beijing and Mexico City, then you're not going to get the customers you want. The same applies to online advertising.

With regard to your question about the number of Egyptian likes; Egypt was one of the countries targeted by this advertiser. Facebook ads are placed on the basis of competitive bidding.

Our systems balance a number of factors such as the size of the target audience in a country, the competitiveness of the market for ads at that time and levels of engagement with ads. Based on what the advertiser wants to pay - we optimise the delivery of the ads to get them the best return on their money.

It may have been in this case that sending a significant portion of the ads to Egypt worked out to be cost effective. Crucially - the advertiser said that they wanted to target users in Egypt.

However, we don't recommend that people advertise in such a broad way. It's not an effective method of using the system. The targeting tools are there for a reason, and they work.

Facebook offers the most targeted advertising of any medium.

If your business is selling alloy wheels in Manchester, then you can deliver your adverts to men aged 20-30 who live within 10 miles of the city and like Top Gear and Max Power.

That's how to make ads work for you.

If a situation develops where US and European users ignore ads while users in developing nations click randomly on them, isn't that damaging for Facebook's business model?

We don't see evidence of a "wave of likes" coming from fake users or "obsessive clickers".

With regard to the geographic origin of fans; interest in products tends to spread organically through friends and friends of friends. Often these connections will be international.

That type of fan acquisition doesn't cost companies any money.

Brands that choose to build affiliation with their pages through advertising can target which countries (and even towns) those ads reach.

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