By Jemima Gibbons, Social Media Strategist, AAB Engage

Am I the only one who gets annoyed with Facebook ads? As a woman of a certain age in a long term relationship, Facebook seems to have decided I can only be interested in two things: looking younger and losing weight. Actually, neither of those things really bothers me. I’d much rather know about new music or somewhere cool to go on holiday.

But it seems that Facebook doesn’t know that because instead of picking up keywords from my conversations (as Google does with AdSense), it all too often resorts to the blunter algorithm of age + gender. A quick survey of friends found that they get anything from “massages, weight loss, senior cruises and poker” (50-something man) to “festivals and deodourant” (22 year old woman).

To be fair the fault lies with the brands and businesses using Facebook, not with the platform per se. The interface for creating an ad on Facebook is deceptively simple: advertisers can target users based on a number of factors including location, gender, age, relationship status, job title and workplace. You can seek out people on their birthday by sending them an ad containing birthday wishes plus an exclusive offer (even I have to admit, that’s quite cute). Since March this year, you can even align your ad with key words in real time as they are entered in status updates (read more: Facebook Testing Ads Targeted At Your Status Updates).

But it seems far too many of Facebook’s advertisers choose not to break down their audience this way, preferring a more expensive scattergun approach. Despite having some very sophisticated technology at their fingertips, advertisers seem phased by the sheer weight of choice. Faced with something approaching the semantic web, it’s a shame they plump for a very un-semantic, old school way of doing things.

A ComScore report (see: U.S. Online Display Advertising Market Delivers 1.1 Trillion Impressions in Q1 2011) released earlier this month shows that nearly a third of all online ad impressions come from Facebook. As social media specialist, Steve Allan points out:

That is almost three times as many as Yahoo and a whopping 15 times that of Google. Considering there were over ONE TRILLION ad impressions measures during Q1 – that is a darn significant amount of presence. Not a bad bang for your advertising buck.” (Source: Do social media ads really work?).

Impressive maybe. But page impressions are not the same as click throughs. Does anyone ever click on a Facebook ad? More importantly, do they ever buy the products or services advertised?

Facebook is a Ponzi scheme” says Joseph Perla, VP of Technology at Stickybits (a barcode-scanning community where participation can lead to discounts, not dissimilar to foursquare). Perla’s argument is straightforward: Facebook ads don’t work, but the platform’s 500m strong member-base is such a Holy Grail that there will always be new advertisers queueing up to use it:

Because of Facebook's presumed success, many small, medium, and large businesses individually and in turn experiment with Facebook ads,” writes Perla. “They spend hundreds or thousands or more on Facebook ads. At the end of the first run, they see bad ROIs (return on investments). They tweak the ads and spend more money and try again. Nothing. So they stop, understanding that Facebook ads are worthless...but not everyone has bought Facebook ads yet.

But Perla’s theory is not backed up by the evidence coming from a host of small and medium-sized businesses. Take, for example, Artifact Gallery, a museum and art gallery in San Francisco. In March 2011, Artifact took out a series of Facebook ads to promote an upcoming show. The featured artist worked for animation studio Pixar and the ads targeted an extremely narrow niche audience: Facebook users working for that same company.

The campaign was a resounding success. Not only was the click through rate exceptionally high (0.75% - high in CTR terms), around half of the people who clicked on the ads actually went on to buy tickets.

The lesson to be learnt here is yes, advertising on Facebook can work, but make sure you do your research and make the most of the platform’s sophisticated technology before putting your ads together. Facebook makes it extremely easy to create an ad, don’t be tempted before you have a concrete strategy in place.

Brand awareness is all very well, but your ad need to be targeted. The last thing you want to do is annoy people. As for Acai Berries and non-surgical facelifts, I’m unlikely to be trying them any time soon.

Email: jemima@aabengage.com
Twitter: @aabengage
Facebook: AAB Engage
Website: www.aabengage.com

Watch the video below featuring Jemima Gibbons of AAB Engage discussing how social media can positively impact your business