Facebook Advertising Doesn’t Work, People!

This has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and since I’m in full marketing mode for the upcoming release of Incorporated First Strike, it’s time I put this out there. This one isn’t just for writers, it’s for ANYONE selling ANYTHING.

“The hell?!?” you say. “I’m a business owner, and I boost posts all the time. My customers always see them.”

Yes, I will reply, but how many of those people became customers because they saw your post on Facebook? How many dropped by the shop because of your boosted post? What’s your return on investment? Are you even tracking it?

I’ll put a little preface in here (seems I always do that, doesn’t it?), if you are using Facebook for customer retention and sending out promo alerts to existing customers, then you’re doing it right. But contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a good way to find new customers.

I’ll put it this way. I spend much of my life in coffee shops and bars, and I don’t do that for fun. At least, not all the time. I get a little human interaction, I sell books in some of them (Thanks B&N Fairview Heights for the support), and most of all I watch them continually fail to innovate and expand their business to waiting customers. For fuck sake, there’s people out there who already want your product and can’t find it. You have an audience of “regulars” that aren’t subscribed. You aren’t tracking who’s buying what and providing incentives to keep them coming in. WTF?

Then I hear complaints about “competition” whenever a new place opens up that is doing it better (at least in the short-term to grab an initial batch of regular customers). You know what MY competition looks like? By digging around on the B&N website, I discovered to my surprise that there are nearly 2000-5000 new books that are released EVERY SINGLE WEEK! These are the books that are listed as pre-orders, which means the people putting them out know what they’re doing. (I had a question about paperback pre-orders, might cover that next week) I have 2 paperbacks out at this moment, with a 3rd on the way. I have to compete for every single sale, and struggle to even get my books to show up.

I’m not a marketer or a salesman. I never have been, but I pick up bits and pieces here and there. When something works for me, then it can work for anyone. So why do I see businesses routinely dumping money into Facebook? The reason, whether you want to believe it or not, is vanity. Think about it, how many times have you personally bought something just because you saw a Facebook ad for it? Or any ad for that matter?

My brother’s normal response breaks in at this point, about long-term conditioning. IE, someone will see something advertised 7,10,50 times before they purchase it, but in the end, you’ll get them. That’s all fine and dandy, but as an author, I can’t keep dumping money into a long-running campaign in the hope that some of those people will find my product.

The other thing is, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars testing Facebook’s promotion. The people that I want to see my shit? They never see it. The cost per click is astronomical, and it’s hard to track who’s dropping into your funnel only to bounce out. The worst part is, as fancy as they make their targeted promotions for conventional items, the way that they breakdown targeting doesn’t do anything for authors. I need to find people who fall into three categories: 1: Avid reader with an opening in their “to read” list. 2: Willing to try a new author. 3: Passionate about the genre I’m promoting. I’m not talking Star Wars vs. Star Trek here, I’m talking about the specific genre of my book, including tense, writing style, perspective, and how much crossover into different genres. My target audience HAS to be specific, because very few people are going to try a new author on a whim. Even big publishing houses can’t sell certain books after vetting them over and over, not to mention spending thousands on design, editing, cover, and marketing campaigns. Oops, I guess I did mention it; whatevs.

Facebook just isn’t going to cut it for me. I have had success using the platform as it was intended to be used to grow interest. The difference is, I have the contact information from people who showed interest. I can shoot them a line here in a few weeks and ask what they thought about my writing. I can get them to volunteer for a pre-read. You know what it costs me? Zero! A little bit of time and engagement with my customers directly. I can chat it up with them. It’s like sitting at a booth at some author convention, except my target audience (the specific list above) sorts itself out, and those people all show up to my booth, and they are the ONLY ones who show up. That, my friends, is a targeted campaign. It’s not spending money to “boost” a post to the neighborhood. I’m not tossing up billboards and tacking fliers to cork boards. I’m not invading someone’s social media time. As Ryan Holliday says in Growth Hacker Marketing, “Not every customer, the right customers.”

My little Facebook group hack can be found here.

So if Facebook sucks, then what are you supposed to use? I’m going to give the same advice that I get: build an email list. Talk to your customers, engage them in conversation, and drop a hint. You need some compelling reason for them to sign up, right? So make sure there is a reason that benefits THEM to sign up for your list. That’s whether it’s special discounts that are only for you email subscribers, notification of free sales ahead of time (I tell my subscribers when I’ll be running free promotions ahead of time and give other stuff away, you can sign up to my author list to the left, btw, or just write me an email), give them a special discount, hand out free content, or anything to make them feel special. These are your best customers, and they should get something in return for all the money they spend to keep your lights on.

Brick and mortar stores are horrible about this. Even if they have punch cards and coupons, the employees forget to remind customers about them. They fail to establish a rapport. I have never, ever been asked for my email address by a bartender, EVER. If you own a bar, this is what you do. Start a FB group for the bar, and invite every customer to join the group. Use it to post upcoming bands, special promotions, discount deals, or just fun snapshots and videos through the night. YOUR CUSTOMERS, the ones that already know where you are, will see most of the updates, even if a $20 boost might reach none of them, and if they’re with friends, they’ll spread the word. They can stay informed and invested. They can interact with the bartender in real-time (maybe not so much on busy nights, but when things are slow, there might be a few that will drop by to keep the bartender company, and of course buy a couple of drinks). And it doesn’t cost ANYTHING to run one of these groups. So why do I see nobody doing it? Why do I get weird looks when I mention it?

Here’s why. It’s a lot of work. It’s more work than tossing Facebook a 10-spot and saying, “there, you go tell my customers.” At least it seems like a lot of work. If you’re busy, then you don’t need to pack more people in. If you’re dead, you have plenty of time where the bartender is going to be shuffling about on social media anyway. Make it personal, make it real, and I guarantee you will get more people walking through the door on a slow night than you would boosting ten posts.

Authors should take note of this too. My little group, Flash Fiction Phenomenon, never really took off. My author group, another bust. But like I said, books are about the hardest thing in the world to sell, especially fiction books by a new author. I did manage to get 100 sign-ups in a couple weeks for FFP, but the idea didn’t really catch on, and people lost interest.

I’m pointing this out because you are going to fail. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to come up with what you think are great ideas, and they just never take off. That’s fine, it’s part of the process. But before you toss Facebook advertising another dime, think about this.

  • How are you going to track sales and clicks? I recommend not trusting their numbers after some investigation, use Bitly or a landing page that you control.
  • What specific action do you want someone to take, and is the boosted post going to accomplish that?
  • Have a plan in place to ask customers (storefronts here) how they found you, and compare how many sales you are getting from each post.
  • Be ready to innovate. Find the right customers, and spend your time retaining them. This is far more important than getting them to “walk through the door.” Treat your best customers like they are made of gold. They’ll repay you in kind by talking to other people about how awesome their experience was. Sometimes certain B&N Cafes will sneak me free coffees. Don’t tell the manager, though 😉
  • Always measure ROI, and be willing to do something different or more than the 10,000 other places using the same advertising metric.

Now. My little yellow non-fiction, Finish the Damn Book!, has taken on a life of it’s own. I use Amazon’s advertising, which appears to earn back just enough to cover the cost. Cool. If you’re advertising is paying for itself, then that’s always a good thing. If it isn’t, then drop it like a bad habit. There was also a whole slew of work that I put in on that book, including giving it away free to libraries, making the first 6 chapters into a free pdf that bloggers could link to, and sometimes just sending a free copy to a struggling author. I actually sent one to a Viral Spark advance reviewer by mistake, lol. And in November, guess who’s there sending out daily tweets and FB posts to NaNo groups? (none of which contain so much as a link to the book itself)

It continues to sell a few copies here and there without me doing a damn thing to push it, because the initial readers liked it, became fans, and told their friends. Those friends read it and told their friends, and so it goes. I’m not selling millions of them, or even hundreds, but it continues to sell, based on a small initial batch of 100 readers. And when NaNo comes around this year, I might get a boost as they tell their fellow NaNo-ers about it. I only advertise it for three months a year (not counting the AMS thing which is like $3 a month): October through December, when it’s relevant and the entire customer base is in one place. Basically, I try to put it in front of only people who would benefit from reading it, and appreciate that it’s a cheap, short, inspirational solution for what they are trying to accomplish in November.

My other books? Still a work in progress. I’ll keep posting updates as I get them, but I might have to fail about 300 more times before I get a system that works for me. Go out there and do the same. Don’t rely on anyone else’s system, make your own waves, find your customers, and focus your energy on keeping them happy and engaged. Optimize, retain, and reward. That’s how you create real buzz, and real buzz is the only truly effective advertising over the last 5000 years. 😉


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Author: spottedgeckgo

Writer. Making my living on my pen, and working to turn a raw chunk of land into a future homestead.

5 thoughts

    1. I hear that it works for some people and certain niche markets, but it’s mostly blasting advertising like radio and TV. I actually talked to a friend of mine yesterday and he said they’ve stopped using it for their business.

  1. There’s so many of these gimmicks to increasing your followers, Facebook advertising being one of them. I’ve never been convinced. The problem being is there are so many bots out there following people on social media. Your numbers might increase, but are you reaching real people? I’m not even reaching the people who have followed me on Facebook because people have to constantly interact with your posts or it stops appearing on their news feed even though they’re still followers.

    1. Right? It’s funny, my first musings with FB were to grow an audience for my old webcomic, and they limited me out at 1000 friends. That’s pretty much a metaphor for my entire history of experience with them 🙂 You’re right about the other thing though. More followers doesn’t necessarily mean anything, something I still needed to learn back in 2008.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have found Facebook to be pretty useless for my service. I haven’t tried adverts and can see the futility of it clearly. Thanks for sharing, I appreciate your candor. I put most of my time into Twitter, not money, and am building a good base. Clients are coming in slowly, that is good. I am not getting rich, I don’t expect to. But I get to read some good books and get paid for it.

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