Tom Hodgkinson tries out Facebook advertising and finds himself trolled
I just want to say to Mark Zuckerberg: thanks for the trolls.
Now I am not an enormous fan of Facebook, because it has destroyed newspaper advertising revenue, leaving newspapers like the Guardian struggling. I predicted this in my 2008 essay on Facebook, written for that fine newspaper, which you can read here.
But I’ve been persuaded to embrace Facebook as a means of spreading the idle word. I am told that the magical Facebook can contact billions of people on your behalf – for a fee. That’s how they make their billions of profits. People pour their energy and creativity and passion into the platform for nought pounds. Facebook collects this free data and sells it to advertisers.
They know what people like, think and want. Or so they say.
So we decided to place an ad on the platform, to test it out. The plan was to promote our online course, “A History of London“, a lovely set of films by the brilliant young historian Matthew Green, which tells London’s history from medieval times to the present day. Victoria spoke to a Facebook “marketing expert” who advised us on the best way to spend our budget of £200 on this technically brilliant ad system, whose methods are so effective that it has caused thousands of magazines and newspapers around the world to close down.
It was a fiendishly complicated process. To cut a long and boring story short, we created an audience of Idler types to whom the ad would be sent, pressed the button and waited for the sales to come in. Nothing happened. We waited a bit more and then we noticed that there was a lot of activity on the Facebook post relating to the course. The bustle continued. We now had 954 “likes”, 213 shares and 93 comments! Great!
Wonderful, thanks Mr Zuckerberg. I maligned you. Your system really does work. We also got six sales which, while not dramatic, just about covered the cost of the ad.
I started to read the comments from the fine people Mr Zuckerberg had told about our online course, and who had been so enthused by our offering that they had been moved to write a few words. But as I read them, I grew increasingly horrified. Here is a selection. Please note that I have not edited them in any way. I wouldn’t want you to think that my spelling and grammar were so absymal.
Stewart Walls: “you should be ashamed of your history… coz that’s what we do now… burn London to t he ground and show remorse!!!”
Oh, That sounds threatening, though Mr Walls has clearly not taken the Idler grammar course. Also – doesn’t he mean “show no remorse”?
The coffee house wits of social media continued to drop their cutting barbs.
Sharky Talbot: “Londonistan is full of mosques.”
Jacqueline Mude: “Is there any historical sites left?”
Steve Johnston: “Great, taken on a time travel through the ages of a shit-hole, unless you were very wealthy.”
There were more Wildean sallies.
Julie Excell: “Was that before the lefties pulled all tha statues down lol”
Garry Collins: “Better Hurry up the lefty’s are smashing it up”
James McCann: “Loud noisy….And full of left wing marxists.”
As poet Murray Lachlan Young observed, “‘left wing Marxists’ as opposed to the right wing Marxists”.
Terry Hewitt: “Londonanistan should be what is called now under sadiq”
Anthony Keaveney: “Does it show the part where it turned into a third world shithole?”
David Bromley: “Destroyed in five years by Sadiq Khan. Such a shame”
Colin Webb: “Shit!! Don’t mention history…. they’ll follow you and start tearing down everything due to their new found outrage.”
Jennifer Comer: “Wouldn’t go to that hole now if you paid me.”
Leonie Berry: “would’nt go to Lndon if you paid us to its the most dangerous capital city in western world its a no go area for many that you speak to”
Hadrian Waters: “Shithole . And that’s coming from me !! Living in Bradford . Bradford is better and there’s nothing here .”
Richard Wilding: That will be nice to see. Before we opened our boarders to the third world and destroyed it !!!
Erm… can we have our money back, Mr Zuckerberg? Can we have a refund? We gave you £200 and you unearthed a bunch of savage morons and sent them to our page. Every morning I have to open the Facebook page, inspect the comments and hide them from new readers. Thanks a lot.
On a related issue, I see that it’s been a really bad week for magazines. First Time Out founder Tony Elliott died at only 73. I’m very grateful to Tony for not only giving us great advice over the years but also for buying a small share in the Idler when we raised a fund a few years ago. He also gave a talk when we had our shop. So thanks Tony and RIP. Then we heard the excellent music mag Q, owned by German corporation Bauer, had closed down. Finally I was emailed by our ukulele correspondent Cameron Murray, who has worked for various Bauer publications in Australia. “Been a terrible week for the Aussie magazine industry. Men’s Fitness, which I’ve been proofreading for about eight years, folded and Bauer Media closed eight major titles, two of which I’d worked on as a freelancer… Bauer has really wrecked what was a great business. They recently sold out to venture capitalists.” Q’s editor sent a tweet saying that it was Covid that finally did them in. But the real reason, I would hazard, seems to be a combination of Facebook and Google stealing the advertising – and greedy VCs.
These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your thoughts.
Goodness me! Were there any nice comments?
– Dr Matthew Green
I think you might need a lesson in creating custom audiences and lookalikes if you’re going to advertise on Tracebook again! Far higher quality traffic with a better chance of conversions. I don’t call “the morons” trolls, they are haters. Hide and block. Never to be heard from again.
– Robin Harford
I am not an enormous fan of Facebook. I was an early adopter when the platform was in its infancy in the US. As a whimsical exercise, I created a profile with ‘white noise’ so that I could not be ‘profiled’/targeted/pigeonholed. I had contacts and interests, globally, from all faiths, ideologies, and political persuasions, education backgrounds and professions. I never opined or ‘Liked’ anything specific. Being amorphous makes you impossible to market to. All I know is that morons tend to use Facebook, and it’s a magnet and magnifier for those with cognitive bias and those who easily obey orders. After that unsurprising insight, I suspended my account.
I just read your 2008 article on Facebook. I am regarded as a dinosaur by my friends (real ones) because I refuse to have anything to do with it. Facebook is evils’ work. But perfect for this mega narcissistic age of course…
– Annie Tunnicliffe
It is interesting to read your comments about the way the Bauer Group are decimating the magazine world. Just to say, I’m a voice-over and a lot of my work is advertising for ‘Independent Local Radio’. Bauer are decimating that, too. They have bought up a huge amount of stations, streaming content and advertising from central points; Manchester now covers Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle etc, where the people and the issues are all very, very different. Producers, DJs, Copywriters, Sales Teams all clinging on to their jobs for dear life. And of course ‘Independent Local’ radio is now no longer either of those things. Bauer??? Don’t get me started…..
I laughed like a drain at the comments. God help us all! But you should add the closed South African mags to the list. We’ve lost about 16 during lockdown. And major ones too – Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and loads of iconic SA titles. So depressing.
– Sarah Buitendach