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Think you know who you're targeting on Facebook? Think again

Published: July 16, 2013

Author: Sean Quadlin

The most prominent of Facebook’s selling points to advertisers is that of specificity. The prevailing wisdom is that you, as an advertiser, should be advertising on Facebook because you will be able to reach exactly the people you want to reach. There are a lot of options for targeting (that have been covered well elsewhere on FBPPC), and they are all great.
Except for when they’re not.
I’ve been doing some advertising on a new account of ours that is targeting users in a specific location with a specific education level.  Only there’s a problem: I’m getting all sorts of users who aren’t in that location and who don’t have my desired education level.
Here’s the deal: Facebook says that they know a user’s location based off his or her IP address. Google Analytics says that they know a user’s location based off his or her IP address (while admitting that city locations aren’t always correct on mobile devices). Since both engines are identifying a user’s location the same way, the numbers should be pretty close, right? I’ve got some bad news – that’s not always the case.
Within analytics in my own accounts, I’m seeing about 12% of desktop clicks and 25% of mobile clicks come from outside my target region. I understand that there are going to be some errant clicks here and there (within AdWords, the geographic report on the dimensions tab can have all sorts of crazy business). And while I also concede that analytics visitors do not always equal PPC clicks, a 25% variation seems pretty high.
I can get past some out-of-area clicks sneaking through to my accounts. That stuff happens. What I have problems with, though, is that Facebook’s Responder Demographics report is telling me that 100% of my clicks are coming from my targeted region. 100% flat.
There’s not any admission whatsoever that mobile clicks are coming from out of the targeted area. The fact that targeting, particularly on mobile devices, can be a bit fluid is no surprise. What is surprising, at least in my view, is that Facebook is acting as if it isn’t happening. What else could they be hiding or obfuscating in their at-times-frustrating reporting center?
Oh, I know what else they could be hiding or obfuscating! College graduates.
The targeting options couldn’t be clearer:
facebook education targeting
I do not want just anyone. I want college grads. I clicked a little button in the Power Editor saying as much.
However, here is how the education levels break down across all of the leads that we’ve generated:
High School/GED – 9.5%
Some College/Incomplete – 36.1%
Associate’s Degree – 24.0%
Bachelor’s Degree – 27.1%
Master’s Degree – 5.1%
Ahh!!! Are you guys a bit spooked? I am. Over 45% of my leads from college graduates on Facebook haven’t actually graduated from college.  After looking at the stats, I’m considering petitioning Facebook to change that option to “College Grads.”
Here’s where I think the disconnect is: college graduations are self-reported (at least that’s my education guess). There’s nothing in the Facebook help section describing just how they determine college graduate status. Facebook isn’t doing an analysis of your face in a graduation gown on commencement day or something like that. There really can’t be another way than comparing a student’s listed graduation year with the current year to determine who should be done with college. But it’s not really news to say that a fair number of students aren’t graduating within four years.  Anytime a student doesn’t update his or her profile to reflect the extra time spent in school, it means wasted money for advertisers interested in college grads alone.
I fully recognize that these are very specific instances of Facebook targeting run amok and that they may not matter to everyone, but they’re also some of the only ways that we have to double-check what Facebook is telling us to be true. I’m all for a healthy dose of skepticism (which is why I’m such a fan of double-checking everything), but enough of these little nicks erode the credibility of Facebook’s targeting.
In your own accounts, find ways to verify what Facebook tells you it’s doing. It’s not just for the purposes of snark and pointing out how Facebook can be wrong; it’s also about setting appropriate goals. I now know that not all college graduates have actually graduated from college.  As a result of that, I can recalibrate my expectation and reestablish what each lead is truly worth to my client and me.
Facebook’s targeting is great and powerful and all-knowing, but it only knows what the users of Facebook tell it. One only need watch the first eight minutes of any episode of Catfish: The TV Show to know that people lie on Facebook. Recognize that in your targeting and adjust your expectations. It’s still a great place to advertise, but not every user is who they claim to be.

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