My business Student Loan Planner has become my full time job. Millennial Moola is my fun side hustle where I get to share random thoughts about personal finance, entrepreneurship, money, and life with a community of friends and cool people. Since I launched my startup, my spending has soared along with my revenue. In the last few months, I’ve been spending $5,000 on Facebook ads.
Things were going great, and then Trump won the election and fake news on Facebook took a big part of the blame. All of a sudden, I got caught in the cross-hairs of an extremely harsh new algorithm from Facebook. Thankfully, my business survived it, but only because of my persistence fighting their automated system. I’m the poster child for why the crackdown on fake news has had a hugely negative effect for small business people like me.
Starting Off, Facebook Ads Were Great
My first Facebook ad was for a post on how veterinarians have to deal with unfair treatment under student loan policy. I spent about $80 and got about 20,000 views out of it because the extra eyeballs that came to my article caused hundreds of people to share it. I was hooked.
I spent more and more money on posts and saw awesome results. My student loan consulting business was really taking off, even though I had to compete against the bad actors in the industry touting fake benefits like “Obama student loan forgiveness.”
Then Trump Happened
All of a sudden in mid to late November, I noticed a big dropoff in the effectiveness of my ads. Something was amiss. I finally figured out why. Facebook’s algorithms had incorrectly labeled my business a ‘student loan scam’ as part of their efforts to rein in the abuses going on in their advertising platform.
There was only one problem. I wasn’t a scam. My fees are a fraction of the horrible businesses that rip people off and only file free consolidation paperwork. Furthermore, I run spreadsheet analysis for people and then do an hour long consult where we talk about the myriad of different payback options they have for their student loans. Plus, about 20% of my clients leave 5 star reviews on my Facebook page, and of those only 1 is 4 star and it’s a fake review.
So I appealed my new ‘scam’ status and a human at Facebook agreed with me. However, it was only until I kept pushing that they finally pulled me off whatever list they had me on that kept me from producing successful ads.
Then Facebook Algorithms Started Calling Me a Racist, Sexist Homophobe and More
So the first thing to know about Facebook in the post fake news embarrassment era is that they are slamming people with their non-human algorithms. I discovered after spending my first $1,000 that the Facebook bots HATE the use of the word “you.” So any ads with descriptions like “see how you can save money” makes their algorithm that approves and denies ads go nuts.
As an example, I published an ad with a seemingly innocuous description, “What you can do to save money on pharmacy school loans.” The resulting answer from Facebook’s automated system was that I was a horrible person for targeting an audience with racist language. I was very confused as to how talking about pharmacy school loans constituted a racial slur, so I contacted Facebook again and they agreed and told me about the problem with the word ‘you’ in their algorithm that sets off alarm bells. Similar words also give the automated approval system a lot of false errors.
I Spent Dozens of Hours Appealing and Resubmitting Facebook Ads
No matter how frustrating the hurdles Facebook gave me to jump through, I continued to persevere. The platform brought me a lot of clients I would never had reached otherwise. Therefore, I justified the headache as a cost of doing business.
Eventually I was able to get all of the automated judgments removed and have learned how to post an ad so that it avoids the glaring trigger systems present in Facebook’s algorithms.
All While Receiving Almost No Support
I am still pretty astounded how much money you can spend with Facebook without ever hearing from a real human. I struggled to find any human to contact when everything would blow up on me in an advertising campaign.
You have to look really hard to find the little messenger button and the bottom right of a page after several page click throughs. Those reps were helpful once I found them.
One day before I knew I had somehow gotten on their black list, I submitted, took down, and then resubmitted the same ad like 7 times as it kept getting rejected. Finally someone from Facebook reached out to me and I got like 30 minutes with them. They were moderately helpful, but the real problem lies in their algorithm’s insane level of restrictiveness, which a rep can’t change.
Who Facebook Ads Will Help
You can use Facebook to create an extremely targeted message to a small group of people, and for that reason it’s the best advertising channel perhaps on the planet for a small business. Most people haven’t figured out how to use it yet, and frankly I don’t think Facebook has it all figured out either.
My typical revenue potential for a client was about $200-$300, so I could afford to spend that amount on an ad campaign with the hope I’d get one client out of it. Do not expect to make any money or have a positive ROI for something where the revenue potential is small. I’d say each customer has to be worth at least $100 to justify spending money on Facebook.
For fellow bloggers that are curious, I’d suggest spending $25 each to boost your most popular 5 posts and see if you get some more long term readers out it. It’s fun to watch your traffic spike, and what I’ve learned is that if something is a good article, you don’t need to spend very much to get a lot of eyeballs on it. If it’s mediocre, then you’re going to have to spend a lot and even then you might not get much interest.
Here’s to Wasting More Money on Facebook, and Hopefully Getting Some Positive Results too
Despite all the headaches, the frustrations, the name calling from Facebook’s automated system that called me every horrible name in the book, I’m going to keep trying to use their advertising system until it results in a negative ROI for my business.
If you’re looking at throwing dollars at the site, just be careful because you can easily spend $300 without accomplishing much of anything. It’s a super fun experiment though if you’re willing to throw money at it.
If anybody has questions feel free to hit me up in the comments section.