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In a week that saw Facebook's share price take a dramatic dip, the social network is facing potentially damaging claims about its advertising platform, Facebook Ads.
It began with a bot
A few days ago Limited Run, a US-based start up that creates software for musicians, publicly announced it was completely withdrawing its presence on Facebook due to company's ongoing issues with Facebook Ads.
Tracing back the click
Limited Run explained via its soon-to-be-dufunct Facebook page how it began using Facebook Ads several months ago as the company prepared to launch. However, Limited Run claims it soon started noticing some irregularities.
"Facebook was charging us for clicks, yet we could only verify about 20% of them actually showing up on our site.
"At first, we thought it was our analytics service. We tried signing up for a handful of other big name companies, and still, we couldn't verify more than 15-20% of clicks.
"So we did what any good developers would do. We built our own analytic software," the company explained.
Limited Run's analytic software allegedly discovered 80 per cent of the clicks their website was receiving via Facebook Ads was from automated software applications, or bots, rather than real people.
Crunching the data
Tech Crunch reports Limited Run’s co-founder Tom Mango claims the majority of URL's coming via Facebook Ads were identified as “non standard user agents.”
That meant these users weren't using any of the major browsers or operating devices, often a tell-tale sign of bots.
While Limited Run does not blame Facebook for the alleged bot-boosting, Mango described the social media's response to the findings as "indifferent".
Facebook told Tech Crunch it is looking into the matter, and in the company’s earnings call last week Facebook CFO David Ebersmen said Facebook was actively working to ensure the social network continues to be populated by actual people, not bots.
A question of timing
However, the timing of Limited Run’s claims have led to speculation about a potential marketing stunt. Apparently the bots were detected months ago, but Limited Run only made its finding public this week.
When questioned about this, Mango told Tech Crunch that Facebook asked Limited Run to spend $2,000 on ads in order to change the name on its Facebook business page. That, according to Mango "was the last straw”.
Whether 'Botgate' (as some commentators are calling it) is an elaborate marketing excercise or not, Limited Run's experience may give marketers pause to look a little more deeply into where their clicks are coming from.
This article first appeared at smk.net.au.