Originally Facebook was all about the people in your life. You could get a window on their lives that was quite satisfying to absorb. What they were interested in, where they went, how they spent their money, etc. Then after a few years it all began to change and the things that were appearing in your personal feed started including the lives of people you didn’t know but were connected somehow to those you did know. For example, if a friend of mine liked a photo or status update of somebody I didn’t know, suddenly that information was in my feed, even if I had no idea who that other party was.

That was when the lines became blurred and Facebook became less about the people in your life and more about a larger, inter-connected network of people you didn’t necessarily know. Why did this happen? Because doing this was the only way Facebook could effectively monetize their platform and bring into your feed the activities of people who would pay for the privilege of being there.

When Facebook introduced their “Pages” feature, it gave businesses a chance to get on your radar, because here was a simple way of putting a brand in your Facebook feed without them having to buy banner ad space (which invariably gets blocked by Adblockers in a web browser). The content from the brand would appear just the same way that posts from your friends would appear. Win for the brand, win for Facebook’s revenue streams.

When they were launched Facebook Pages for business sounded amazing for marketing because your posts could reach your highly refined target market in ways that traditional “above-the-line” marketing simply couldn’t, especially if you boosted them. At the height of the Pages hype I embarked on an experiment to see if advertising on Facebook would make any difference to a business I was involved in, namely selling space on photography safaris to persons aged above 40 in countries such as the USA, Canada, UK, Germany and Australia – all of which made up the business’ ideal target market.

What happened next perplexed me.

I spent a fairly sizable chunk of money on boosting posts I had made from my Facebook page to this audience and I noticed that the amount of likes on that Facebook page increased by a large number (some 500% over just a few weeks) but when I looked at the profiles of these people who were liking my page, none of them were even remotely close to being a part of the target market I had spent money trying to reach. They were mostly from places in Asia where English wasn’t even the major language, yet they were liking the Facebook page and the posts I was making there. It didn’t make any sense to me at all.

Looking at the website analytics from both Google and my own web server also revealed that apparently none of these people who liked my posts were even clicking through to my website to see what was on offer, yet they were apparently very socially interested what I was doing. How could this be? It made no sense to me so I simply stopped advertising on Facebook because none of the advertising resulted in a single, genuine inquiry about the safaris.

We all know about the infamous Bell Pottinger PR agency and the way they set up legions of fake profiles to influence public opinion on various sensitive political matters. What’s to say that there are not also large colonies of fake profiles set up by Facebook themselves to mislead page creators into believing that their messages are being seen by a larger audience than they actually are? Given the outcome of my advertising experiment on the platform I truly believe that this is definitely the case. As they say, if it walks like a duck…

The past few weeks has seen even more alarming news emerge about Facebook and their nefarious activities that reinforces my view of them corrupting their own systems. Cambridge Analytica were able to access the personal information of over 50 million Facebook users by creating an app that Facebook not only knew about, but saw no issue with them having while managing the Donald Trump presidential campaign. It all points to a very rotten smell emanating from the woodshed and I think there will be a lot more to come out of this story than we are currently hearing in the news.

So, where does this leave us on the question of whether or not it is worth marketing on Facebook?

Apart from some very niche personal service businesses where it is possible for the advertiser to tag real people in posts and thereby have them seen organically by that larger network of people we are all connected to, I haven’t heard of a single authentic Facebook marketing success story that I can verify for any business. Obviously there are big companies using the platform to gain brand exposure, but they do this everywhere anyway. It usually forms part of a much bigger OTL campaign. If any of them are saying that advertising on Facebook has bolstered their bottom line I’d be very surprised.

My advice to any business looking to advertise on social media is that they need to have proper tools in place to verify the effectiveness of their campaign. This can be a link tracking software package or even something you set up yourself, such as Google Analytics or the AWstats that comes with your cPanel. It all comes back to managing your own website as the centre of your online marketing. It is on your website where your marketing message should be at its most prominent not on a Facebook page that you have very little control over.

Social media should be used purely as part of an awareness strategy, not as a sole message delivery mechanism. It should be used to drive traffic to places where you can accurately assess that traffic for its market worthiness – i.e. actual sales. If you’re relying entirely on Facebook to deliver a message from your Facebook Page and tell you how effective that message is at reaching your market, already you are in their clutches and they can tell you anything they want to about how well (or not) your campaigns are doing. That’s a recipe for disaster.