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My relationship with Facebook

My relationship with Facebook

by john roman

3 years ago

It’s an interesting relationship.  Some might say it best compares to an abusive relationship.  Some might say it's a love/hate relationship.  Others might say it's a highly volatile toxic relationship.  Well, I would summarize it very simply:  It’s complicated.

When we are vibin’, Facebook is the love of my life.  Hitting ROAS (Return on Ad Spend) and CACs (Customer Acquisition Cost) that is tough to find on other platforms.  One of the easiest platforms to scale on.  Great audience targeting (even with all the options they took away a couple of years ago).  Love, love, love!

When an ad account hits a roadblock (ads getting killed for policy violations even though they are following policy 100% or worse yet a whole ad account getting shut down for the same) the relationship definitely struggles.  This is why the relationship is complicated.  Getting a straight answer is never easy, sometimes impossible, and it’s a very long process.  The fact of the matter is Facebook is such a large organization, that the people making the decisions (or controlling the automation levers) are NOT the people you are interacting with.  Facebook always sides on caution which I understand, but the process to resolution (there is not a process) is where the relationship is one-sided.  

Across all brands, I am likely overseeing $200-$300k in Facebook spend in a given month (can be higher when we find a campaign that scales or we are in a holiday time period).  You would think that would be enough to garner attention when you need help, but it is not.  I have come to the conclusion it’s only about a third of what is needed to get the relationship I desire.  We currently use Stealth Venture Labs to manage the day to day Facebook ad spend of our 3 largest brands (which is the vast majority of our FB spend) and leveraging our spend with their other clients’ spend, they can get some movement out of Facebook when the roadblocks arise.  But that movement is still nowhere near where it should be.  An ad account getting shut down for a policy violation that is completely inaccurate and false should not take over a week to resolve.  It impacts the business.  Even if it's just one of a few lead sources for that business, it still impacts the business.

So will Facebook fix the way the relationship currently sits?  Why would they?  We continue to pay for ads on their platform with the current behavior.  Much like a toxic relationship where one spouse continually cheats on the other, where the other knows and allows the behavior to continue.  The cheating continues and the relationship continues.  In this weird analogy, Facebook is cheating on me, but I continue to stay in the relationship.  Facebook knows I know about the cheating but also knows I will do nothing, so continues with the behavior.  To make this worse and harder, my relationship with Facebook is an open relationship, and Facebook is swiping’ right on every one.

Let’s look at the relationship between BattlBox and Facebook.  In 2015, we launched Facebook ads almost immediately after launching the company.  Back in the day, it was Daniel, Patrick, and myself launching and managing the ads.  We saw instant success with them getting new customers for around $4-$5.  In hindsight, knowing how much digital advertising would change in the following years, I wish we would have really scaled that initial growth to the maximum.  Don’t get me wrong, we scaled.  However, we definitely left money on the table.  Everything was great in the initial few months with Facebook.  It was the honeymoon stage of the relationship.

We were launching some new campaigns ahead of Labor Day weekend.  We had some sales planned and it was going to likely be our largest revenue weekend to date.  Around 6 pm EST on that Friday, we all received a notification that our Ad account had been suspended.  Completely shut down.  The violation?  Selling weapons.  We had previously received zero warnings and none of our ad campaigns had ever been shut off.  The worst part of all of this?  In our naivety, our business only had 1 lead source, Facebook.  99% of our traffic and in turn customers were coming from Facebook. I have spoken about this countless times on podcasts and even referenced it briefly in my TikTok famous article last week.  Getting someone at Facebook on the phone was impossible so all we could do was send messages through all of their communication channels.  Eventually, the following Tuesday, we got super lucky.  Daniel had posted in our customer forum and one of our customers happened to work for Facebook and was in the same building as the team responsible for killing our ad account.  He promised to walk over and talk to them, and we were back up and running as nothing had happened shortly thereafter.  Even though we were back on, we made other lead sources our largest priority.

This was the first time we engaged with an Agency.  The agency launched advertising on a couple of other platforms including Google Ads which would turn into our best advertising channel for several years.  The agency was not great, but they did get us to a better spot.

The next couple of years was a roller coaster of emotions with Facebook.  We would be fine and everything would be great, and then every few months we would get all of our ads shut down for a week.  They always got turned back on.  Until one time in 2018, they did not.  We were completely off of Facebook for a few months.  The agency we were using at the time was of very little help.  Again, the accusation was that we were selling weapons.  Even though all of our ads were focused around outdoor and survival gear and never showed or talked about weapons, we did include knives in some of our boxes.  This was actually a double standard approach that Facebook had.  Dick’s Sporting Goods and Wal-Mart were allowed to advertise (just 2 examples, there are dozens more).  Whether you think a knife for practical outdoor non-violent use is a weapon or not, we can all agree a gun is definitely a weapon.  Dick’s and Wal-Mart sold guns.  They were not advertising guns.  We were not advertising knives.  The difference?  They were spending a metric ton with Facebook and because of that sole reason had a better relationship with them.

We came up with a new approach.  When traffic to our site originated from Facebook or Instagram, we would create logic on our site where every picture of a knife or use of the word would be non-existent.  It was brilliant.  We gave Facebook users the experience that Facebook wanted them to have.  There was literally no way to argue that our ads were in any sort of policy violation with this approach.  We created additional Ad accounts and FB pages to completely separate the experience as additional layers to ensure there was never a doubt that we were in 100% policy compliance.   It worked.  We were back on Facebook!  

For the next 7 months, we saw no issues from Facebook.  And then, out of the blue, 1 of our 2 ad accounts following this new process was shut down.  No reason was given, no responses to our approximately 30 messages.  About a month after that, the last remaining ad account was shut down too.  We got ghosted on all messages from that account as well.  We did a post mortem on the project and tried to find any potential mistakes we could have made.  We eventually found, not necessarily some mistakes, but opportunities to create a better new version of this approach.  We also wanted to build in some disaster recovery this next go around.  We started a project with HulkApps to create what we call internally, Micro-sites.  The important piece of this project was that even though we knew we would be in 100% compliance with Facebook policy, we wanted the ability to quickly launch new microsites almost immediately should one get shut down.  We did not ever want to be in a spot where we were getting ZERO traffic from Facebook (even though we have a diversified lead source and are not dependent on them).

The end result was a success.  We launched the Micro-Site approach in November of last year and it’s still going strong.  Don’t get me wrong, we still get ads shut down randomly for literally NO REASON and even have entire ad accounts completely shut down every so often.  We do however have 3 micro sites (with accompanying FB pages and ad accounts) running at all times so that we can continue the complicated relationship with Facebook.  I wish I knew how to quit you, Facebook! (Jake Gyllenhaal voice).


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