Business Communication

Facebook has a secret weapon: making money from politics

In Greece, the media has always depended heavily on politics in order to survive.   Which is putting it very politely.  Private TV is the playground of rich business tycoons.  They pay money, to get eyeballs and influence and then use that influence in order to get big public sector projects.   We also have a public broadcaster with  thousands of journalists on its payroll, most of them doing nothing other than taking a fat salary.  They also dish out money for “external productions”…   Both of these ways of controlling the media agenda are still working, but are not as powerful as they used to be.  Not so many big projects, not so easy to give a job to your wife’s brother or whoever else you want to make happy as a politican without everybody noticing.

But this corrupt model of media financing is so powerful that everyone still tries to emulate it.   So right now, as we are gearing up for the next elections, hundreds of small or medium media people think they have the masterplan.  They set up a website, get a lot of traffic and then get business people or politicians to pay them to write whatever they need written.  At first it looks like a genuine new news portal.  They invest in building it up.   Which means getting some content from somewhere, maybe even hiring a few journalists and…

…facebook ads!  It is part of the package and at first they simply tick it off:  build website, get social media entities, email blast, google ads, facebook ads…  But then they notice that it’s the only thing that drives traffic.  Their content is rubbish, or – at best – the same as everyone else.  It takes time to build an audience like that and they don’t have time.   They try a few email blasts and then get blacklisted all over the place.  Even in Greece, it is getting harder to simply email a list you picked up from “a friend of a friend”…  So Facebook ads are easy.  They are relatively cheap.   And they bring clicks.

Because all a Greek (new) media tycoon is interested in is his ranking on   This is all this market understands so I assume it will apply to probably 80% of the countries in the world too which are even less advanced in understanding media.  So find a Facebook ad that seems to work and just plaster it all over the place.   No need for fancy targetting, just blanket position to “anyone that has a pulse and lives in Greece“.  Does it bring clicks?  Sure it does!   Do they hang around much?  Of course not!

Google has a different system.  They usually setup a mechanism whereby they have a fixed sum, something in chunks of 50 thousand Euros, and they go straight to the top of the food chain.  Much like a pimp, political parties will pay them directly for protection.  Under the auspices of a Google Ads campaign, the search giant turns the screws of the algorytm in your direction.  But a similar amount of money on Google Ads will not bring you the same number of clicks outside of the run up to elections.  People searching for information, looking for answers, don’t idly click on an advert of an article on some news portal they have never heard of.  

I proved the extent of this problem in the past (details here ) when a lazy advocate of the technique used a shortener so I could track the number of clicks.  More than 64 thousand paid clicks for an article which was bait.  What they wanted us to read were other, political, articles next to it.  It cost them maybe 7 or 8 thousand Euro to get a topic into the public limelight.  Seems cheap to me!  And – an important added advantage – it is the media equivelant of money laundering.  Nobody needs to know how much you spent.  Sure, they might see your advert plastered on the top of all ads in their personal Facebook profile, but that doesn’t prove anything.    I could have taken out an ad and paid with my personal credit card simply because I am a fanatic reader and wanted to share it with the world.  It is my favorite news portal…

A news portal of course that they probably won’t hear much about after the elections…


Business Technology

Facebook ads don’t add up: how I proved they are cheating

“So why don’t you cheat?”  It took me a while to recover.   My father has always been my moral compass.   He has stood through many decades of doing business with absolute integrity refusing to bribe anyone in a country where this is unheard of.   He didn’t fall for the trap of taking funding from the European Union or going to the stock market when all other tech companies where making a quick buck.   He is almost a saint in the way he helps everyone and anyone he meets, often without them even knowing about it.

We were discussing a recent client of mine, a difficult case.   It is still in the early phases and I haven’t quite figured out how to work my social engineering magic in order to bring them clients. What my father was really asking is “how will they know that it is real customers clicking on their website and not some click farm?”   The man is a born business person and goes straight to the heart of a problem even though he has never used Facebook or any social media.

The answer is simple.   Anyone with a slight knowledge of how to use web site analytics will see right through it.   And – more importantly – it just won’t make any business sense medium term as they will not be getting new customers and new business.   Which is what I promise them.   But this is not what Mark Zuckerberg promises my customer when he entices them with Facebook advertising.   He is simply selling clicks to ignorant business people.

Most of my customers have already used Facebook ads before I start with them.   They are all perplexed. “I saw a big spike in traffic but then…nothing.” It isn’t just that the traffic disappears the day you stop paying for FB ads, it is that all that traffic seems to amount to …nothing.    Are you paying $50 a day?   Funny how you get a completely stable amount of hits during those days.

This bothered me on a methodological level initially.   “What if my customers’ budgets are all spent on ‘early morning’ type people?” I worried.   So I begun to set up experiments. I split the day into particular time segments that seemed to make sense to me based on experience with status updates, Likes and such.   I am the Greek Dan Zarella after all.     Women checking Facebook between 6.30 and 8.30 are quite a specific bunch.   Organized!   Men online between 11 and 12.30 another.   Lazy!   I have even discovered a niche of females that do a “facebook lunch break”.   So all I had to do was set up the same advertisement and shoot it out to different demographics.   And then monitor it every hour to see what is happening.   (Yes, you need big monitors to handle the big spreadsheets without getting dizzy!)

It was amazing.   “Boy, these guys at Facebook must have some really clever algorithms” I mused.   They somehow seemed to be spreading the clicks around the day.   It made no sense.   Humans are highly unlikely to be so consistent.   As the day closed the clicks trickled and everytime by midnight Facebook had managed to get the campaign to the exact daily target.   “Wow, hiring all those geeks from Google must have paid off” I thought.    “They have build something that even Google AdWords can’t do.”

And then, somewhere near midnight, in between stats, being more online on Facebook than I think is healthy because of this project, it appeared.   Right there, in front of me, on top of the other adverts was one of my test ads.   I left the tab open and scrambled to the summary to triple check.   Yes, this one was clearly targeted to men aged 45-64.   I double check my profile.   Yes, Facebook knows very well that I am male but only 41.  So what is it doing?

It is bending the rules! If “The social network” showed the whole world something is that someone who cheats and lies once, will probably do it again, given the chance.    The people at Facebook know that it is extremely unlikely that anyone would discover this trick.   After all most people only have one profile.   Unless you specifically set out to prove them wrong, your website analytics will be hard to monitor for such small variance in age of visitors.   And all too many advertisers on Facebook are only using it to funnel people into their Facebook page where the analytics are even worse.

I have criticized Facebook advertising on many levels, ranging from the pathetic demographic information they provide (outside the US it is much worse) to the kind of clicking you usually get from it.   But this is different.   They are wasting what can soon become a powerful tool by rushing to capitalize on it by cheating.   Judging from their rate of improvement in search they have the brainpower to do a proper job.   They have the network to make something more powerful than GoogleAds.   They should just focus on what is unique about this new advertising medium rather than trying to bolster up the numbers to impress investors.

10/3/2011 Just discovered an even worse thing Facebook is doing.   There are charging above the set limit!  (Article and screen grabs in Greek here.)

Business Communication

A practical way to sell services

I realized that the way I chose to help publicize a service is a rather good model to follow in many cases. is a company that does reputation monitoring.   It is a great service, heck, it is the only service that works in Greek really!  (Best voice recognition in this language matched with good interface and intelligence.)

You can try and buy some Google Adwords around the topic.  So, assuming someone searches for you via Google, they will find your website.   Which may, or may not be the best sales pitch.   That seems a rather small and ineffective net to throw into the ocean of potential customers to me.

So instead, I am using the technology to do something you couldn’t do without it.   Case in point a blog about media coverage of the local elections in Greece.   More particularly Thessaloníki.   Because if it was too broad a topic you couldn’t explore the depth of the interactions between TV, radio, blogs, social media and the web.   Is this the best way to find customers?  I think so.   I will be most impressed if at the end of the two month project most major and minor league politicians haven’t heard of reputation monitoring.   Better still they will have understood many of it’s elements.   And even better they will be familiar with the particular product and predisposed to assume that the particular company is a market leader.

We can do another project after this for marketing executives, though many have already figured out that politicians are simply products with unusual parameters most of the time.   Maybe another one for an international audience.   It works with Google too of course because it produces a cluster of knowledge around a particular topic.   No SEO required!   (Though I do optimize the content sometimes or pay attention to cross referencing from other sources to help this along.)

Good, relevant content, provided for free to a particular audience.  State of the art return to simple principles!