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BONUS: What The Hell Is Going On With Facebook?

Posted by Austin Brawner on April 11, 2019


If you’ve been having issues with Facebook recently, you’re not alone.

My Twitter feed has been blowing up with people talking about the problems they’re having and screenshots of breakdowns and errors.

So in today’s bonus episode, Andrew and I provide some background on how these Facebook issues started, what changes are here to stay, and what you can do to manage your clients’ (or your own) expectations.


Episode Highlights

  • 2:42 When the Facebook issues started and the problems we’re seeing.
  • 6:07 Andrew’s theories on why this massive disruption is happening on Facebook.
  • 8:50 The 4 things you can do to help your client or team when confronting these Facebook issues.
  • 9:18 #1: Show them the data to prove you’re taking action to stabilize the account.
  • 10:18 #2: Send your client this podcast.
  • 11:01 #3: Let them know it’s not permanent.
  • 12:02 The macro trend that’s going to continue on Facebook even after the current issues are addressed.
  • 12:52 #4: Communicate the importance of quality creative and great UX both on Facebook and your website.
  • 14:08 Other channels to consider for diversification and stability.
  • 15:47 The bigger question you should be examining in relation to your business model as Facebook costs continue to rise.
  • 17:47 Why these issues actually present a great opportunity for you or your clients.
  • 18:41 The Facebook and Instagram Pro Ad Buyers Industry Group.

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Austin Brawner: What's going on everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. On today's episode, we are going to serve as your personal Facebook ad therapists. That's what today's episode is all about.

Austin Brawner: It is a deep dive into what the hell is going on on Facebook, and we want to talk a little bit about what ... just first kind of the issues related to Facebook, what those are. Because my Twitter feed's been just blowing up with people talking about issues on Facebook, screenshotting the breakdowns and broken UX of Facebook, and so we figure it's a good time to dive into it.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. There's been a lot of issues. There's been a lot of things that have been hitting home to people, and it's something we need to be talking about it. Not everyone can be crushing it all the time. Actually, it's been more everyone's been crashing. Their ad accounts have been crashing. We wanted to have a discussion on this that maybe will bring you some solace. Maybe you want to send to your clients, maybe if you're an agency or maybe you want to send to your bosses, or just to know and comfort yourself. Sort of the background of what's going on, the theory behind this, and what you can do about it. That's basically what we're getting into.

Austin Brawner: Let's kick off. When did this actually start? Yeah, give us a little bit of background on when this started and what happened.

Andrew Foxwell: Okay, so around March 13th of 2019, Facebook and various apps, Instagram, messenger, they all went down due to servers going down or being moved as Facebook has said now. In most cases, ads were still being served in a lot of cases, but the platform wasn't live. This resulted in advertisers having their accounts be charged with no real impressions being shown. Now, it's hard to prove this, but in a lot of cases people were charged money, and the platforms were down, but they were still spending. That's where we're at.

Now, this is currently under investigation by Facebook, and Facebook has said we're looking into this further. I recently heard that they just sort of resolved or solved what happened in the outage that was in the Q4. If you remember right before Black Friday, there was a number of issues, platform outages and things like that. They just figured that one out. This one they're saying is due to servers being down, but there clearly is an ad serving issue as in relation to this as well. It is not been stated whether there will be refunds given or if advertisers will have the ability to apply for refunds. This is something that we're pushing for very, very strongly right now. If you have experiences of saying, "Hey, look, this spent on the 13th. The platform was down," I'd love to see that. You can always let me know on Twitter or at

But this outage, more importantly, significantly affected performance for most accounts in the United States, and really globally. Not only on that date, but performance has been volatile since then. Things have been really, really up and down. There have been weeks of stabilization, and then there's been just really hot and cold performance. Traditional tactics aren't working as well, and there's been a lot of CPM jumps. We're talking cost per thousand impression jumps of gone from normally what they are. Like $20, sometimes we've seen $50 and $60, along with declines in return of ad spend and performance.

I personally had a client that was at a two and a half return on ad spend before the 13th basically, and they now for the month of March, we just kind of went through things, and they didn't even break even. Tried multiple things, couldn't get there. I tell you this story because frankly, it's embarrassing, but also it tells you this is really, really tough, and if you've seen this happen, you're not alone. This account was spending about $50,000 a month. That's kind of the background of what's been going on and where we stand now.

Austin Brawner: I've been hearing the same things in the membership. People have been talking about issues related to their Facebook account. Just trying to figure out how to get back to where they were at which was at a stable kind of process, or a stable return on ad spend to now being up and down. Why is this happening? Why do you feel like this massive disruption happened?

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I think theories abound on this of why this is happening. I personally think it's a couple of different things that are happening. One is the consensus in the community from a lot of the people I've spoken to, Facebook won't really talk about this at all, but different people that know people there, et cetera, it seems to be two-fold. One is engineers are changing things and there are a lot of engineers that ... Apparently, the good engineers of Facebook, the really, really good engineers are actually working on projects like Oculus and others, and they've moved on to different things.

You're left in a lot of cases with engineers that are more junior working on the ads product. Which is normal I think in a company that goes through this, but I think that's what's happening, causing some performance instabilities where you have people that are trying different things or trying to mess with different things, and it's causing outages or causing things to break. If you've noticed buttons breaking or you've noticed things not ... you'll get errors out of the blue on stuff. There's been a number of these things in the month of March, and going into April as well that people have been dealing with, and I think that's a big part of it. Even since the beginning of the year.

The other thing that I think is happening is messing with the algorithm, and engineers and Facebook, in general, are messing with the algorithm, trying to find more inventory. I think that there are some changes that have been taking place there of trying to basically find how can we serve more ads because ad load is really, really, really high. We've seen a lot better performance on all placements for example than we have on just selecting the Facebook or Instagram newsfeed as we traditionally used to. So, that's kind of why.

Austin Brawner: You gotta remember also that just diving into just Facebook in general. For many years, their motto was "move fast and break things." That is, not to just pile on Facebook 'cause a lot of people piling on Facebook and their data policies and that sort of thing. But when you think about a motto of "move fast and break things," sometimes things break. That seems to be what has happened, right? People coming in, making changes without really thinking through the fact that you've got millions of dollars being spent every single day on this platform, and people come to expect a certain type of return, and then when it changes people get upset.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, absolutely. It's basically what can you do from here? What do you say to ... the main question is what do you say to your clients when this happens? What do you say to yourself, or what do you say to your boss when this takes place? There are a couple of different things I'll say here. There are four things that I go through with, and I've been talking to a lot of agencies and a lot of brands about this because as these problems have persisted, I have had an increase exponentially in the inbound communication that we are getting, Gracie and I are getting, from people around the world.

First of all, you have to show the data to your clients, and when I say your clients, again, it can mean whatever you want that to mean. You can be your own client. But you have to prove what actions you've taken to recover performance and help stabilize the account. Show what are the things that you're doing, what are the tactics you're using, what are the different experiments that you're trying to run. And you have to set the expectation clearly that the goal is to basically try to stabilize things right now. That's what you're saying. I'm starting these experiments for an effort of stabilization.

Then, show them those audiences you've used, the creative changes you've made, and you can also show the rises in CPM and CPC to prove to them that you're not crazy. Show that data. Basically, show what actions you've taken. That you're not just sitting around and not doing anything with it, and showing I'm really doing everything that I know how to do at this point in time.

The second thing that you can do is send them this podcast. Send and listen to me, somebody else, who, I run a group of advertisers that spend about $30 million a month on Facebook and Instagram, and I've spoken to probably at least 100 different advertisers about performance lately. Everybody is really in consensus. If they need external validation, this podcast should help with that. There's even a Digiday article that covers this decline in performance that's also a good thing to send. I've actually had agencies, I've had three instances now of agencies that have hired me to come in and speak to their clients about this. Sometimes having that external person can be helpful.

The third thing to do is you can let them know or let yourself know that it's not gonna stay like this forever. Is Facebook getting more expensive and Instagram getting more expensive? Absolutely. Is it getting more competitive? Of course. But it's not gonna be locked in like this for all eternity. Already, we've seen things turning back around for many advertisers, and accounts are becoming a little bit more stable. There's an account that was, a big account spending about $150, $170K a month which is a huge account, and they were at about a 1.3 for the month of March. In April, last seven days, it's already looking at there about a 1.6, 1.7. Things are becoming more stable on the platform, but know that it's not gonna be like this forever, and they really need patient is a big part of it.

Before I go to the fourth one, any thoughts on those first three?

Austin Brawner: Well, I would say that ... you touched on this. Is it getting more expensive? Yes. Is it more competitive? Yes. That's a macro trend that's going to continue. It's gonna continue to be more expensive and more competitive. The thing to realize is that it's not gonna be at this specific rate. This was an anomaly. A big jump. It's not like, oh, it's broken forever. They're going to continue to keep it as inexpensive and as return inducing, I don't know the best way to describe this. They want to make the platform as good as possible right now, and just because there was an anomaly doesn't mean it's gonna stay like that forever. But macro wise, it is getting more expensive. It is getting more competitive. Just not this quickly.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, absolutely. To combat that competition and the rising competition, and the kind of things that you're facing, the fourth thing here is to communicate the importance to yourself or to your clients or to your bosses of "thumb-stopping" creative, your site conversion rate. Facebook now has a new relevance score that they're breaking down and they're actually looking at the landing page quality, and they're looking at the landing page experience. Site conversion rate and your site matter a lot. Then, the diversification of channels, and overall patience. Let's go into these a little bit.

Creative's more important than ever. On Facebook, square video link posts are still the main vehicle for a lot of advertisers and believe it or not still are the square photo posts with that old Bitly link. Those things still work. Social proofing still matters. Communicate the importance of this, and of the best practices that you've heard on this podcast that you've gotta make sure that you're combating it with trying different pitches and different hooks and different types of creative so you can get in front of people and try to convince them that what you have is something that's really special.

Austin Brawner: One thing that we've been seeing is Instagram stories have turned into a good middle of the funnel, bottom of the funnel area, and it's also shown a little bit of promise on top of the funnel. What have you seen top of the funnel that's been exciting about Instagram stories?

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. It's something that we haven't seen a lot of stability on previously, and we're starting to see more stability on both the serving and in terms of the return on ad spend that you're getting from Instagram stories. I think giving that a shot and see how it works is worth it for you because it's gonna try to diversify what you're doing.

Now, if we take that even further. If you've created something for Instagram stories, you can definitely diversify that channel, and try it on SnapChat. SnapChat, the ad interface looks a lot like Facebook's. It's not that hard to sign up for it. Your audience might ... you think it might be too young, but I've actually heard and seen a lot of instances where SnapChat's audiences aren't as young as you think. It might be worth giving a shot too. But the bottom line on this is diversification of YouTube, SnapChat's not a bad idea.

But the one thing, the digital market press for some reason loves to talk about the death of Facebook and Instagram ads. But guess what? Millions of people still use these every day. It's not really that the death of these platforms is here. You may need to think about diversification, but you also just need to think about the death of bad ads, bad websites, and bad offers or debt. Don't confuse those two, and know that if you're putting out a quality ad with a quality website, you're in the right shape, and you're doing the right things, and you will see success. It's just right now there might be a little blip on the radar in terms of performance.

Austin Brawner: No question. As it gets a little bit more expensive, you need to look into your business model, and start looking at unit economics, and figure out is there a way we can increase lifetime value? What can we do on our end to build a better business because all Facebook advertising is just fuel to drive growth. That's it. If it becomes a little bit more expensive, well, you may need to rethink a little bit of your business model. The businesses are gonna continue to succeed and thrive with paid social are the ones that have strong unit economics, and can pay to play. At this point, just be patient. It'll turn around. Like we said, it's already turning around. But this is also something to remember for the future when this happens again. Remember that the death of Facebook is not here. It's probably not going to be here anytime soon. It's just a slow change towards higher costs, more competition, and if there's a ...

The same thing happened with SEO as well. I don't know if you guys have been following this Florida update, but everybody freaked out because last year in August or September, a bunch of people lost traffic because they changed their algorithm, and then they changed it back. It's like Google almost rolled back the beginning of this year in March, and a lot of the people that lost blog traffic gained it back this March. Ultimately, what it comes down to is they want to make it successful for you guys to be able to advertise 'cause that's their bread and butter in terms of profit. Just be patient, and it'll come around.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, exactly. Patience is a really big part of this, but know that you're not alone, know that if you go through and show the actions that you've taken, and you look at the data, and you can prove that you're not alone in this, that's a really big part of it for your sanity and for proving it to your clients. Sending them this podcast is a big one. Let them know it's not unusual, and know it's not gonna stay like this forever. It's a good time to go back and look at everything from scratch. Look at the ads, look at the things you're trying, look at the way you're pitching it, look at the creative you have, look at the website. This is a good time to go through and really, really get that dialed in so that you can be prepared for, as Austin said, the next time it comes and for turning performance around. But it's never a bad idea to start to think about the diversity of channel either. But hopefully, this gives a little bit of an update of what's happened, and what we know right now, and what we can do about it.

If you're interested in staying up to date on this a little bit more, or really diving into the weeds and getting into a community of Facebook and Instagram ad buyers, we started a free group called the Facebook, it's on Facebook of course, it's called the Facebook and Instagram Pro Ad Buyers Industry Group. The idea of this group that my colleague David Herman and I put together is basically to put something out there that people can join that we can talk about the things we would like to see as an industry, and go to Facebook and say here are some things that we'd like to know. We'd like to know about product updates that are happening, we'd like to know about outages, we'd like to know about more information directly from engineers. That's really the goal of what we're trying to do, and kind of to level insanity to let us all know that, hey, we have some solidarity between us here. That's something if you're interested.

Austin Brawner: Links will be in the show notes. We'll make sure to link it in the show notes so you can go and go check out that group. But hopefully this is helpful, and yeah. If you guys enjoyed it, go write us. We would love to get a review on iTunes if you've been listening for a while. That's one of the ways we grow the podcast. It's been growing month over month, and we need your help. Love to hear a review from you guys. Thanks for listening, and we'll talk to you in the next episode.

Austin Brawner: What's going on everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence Podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. On today's episode, we are going to serve as your personal Facebook ad therapists. That's what today's episode is all about.

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