Limited Run: Do Bots Power Facebook's Ads?
July 31, 2012

Limited Run And Facebook Ads: Do Bots Run The Show?

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Earlier this month, the BBC performed a bit of research into the value of a "like" on Facebook and if companies stood to benefit from collecting as many of these likes as possible. They created a false company which sold nothing, called "VirtualBagel, LLC," set up some ads, and left the page alone to let the Internet's ebb and flow do what it will. After only 24 hours, VirtualBagel, a company which sells nothing, earned more than 1,600 likes. After a week, this number nearly doubled as nearly 3,000 people gave the digital thumbs up to VirtualBagel.

The BBC noticed that most of these likes came from suspicious-looking profiles from 13-17 year old Egyptians, some with similar profile information.

Now, a startup company - which sells actual products - has begun to notice the same phenomenon and has completely removed their presence from the social networking site.

Limited Run, a website which makes software allowing bands and musicians to sell their own products - T-shirts, Vinyl LPs, hubcap covers, etc - began to notice that not every click they saw on their page was human. As such, they've decided advertising on the social networking giant simply wasn't worth their money, and will be removing any presence there in the coming days.

"A couple months ago, when we were preparing to launch the new Limited Run, we started to experiment with Facebook ads. Unfortunately, while testing their ad system, we noticed some very strange things. Facebook was charging us for clicks, yet we could only verify about 20% of them actually showing up on our site," writes the Limited Run team on their blog.

Assuming the problem lied with the analytics software and not with Facebook, (home of more than 9 billion profiles) they began trying out other platforms to no avail. No matter which service they used, they were only able to verify 15 to 20% of every click they were paying for.

Suspicious, the Limited Run team decided to take matters into their own hands. At first, they noticed that in 80% of the clicks they paid for, JavaScript was turned off. According to the Limited Run team, only a small percentage of people visit their site with JavaScript disabled, leaving them ever dubious about these 80% of clicks.

"So we did what any good developers would do. We built a page logger," writes the team in their blog.

"Any time a page was loaded, we'd keep track of it. You know what we found? The 80% of clicks we were paying for were from bots. That's correct. Bots were loading pages and driving up our advertising costs. So we tried contacting Facebook about this. Unfortunately, they wouldn't reply. Do we know who the bots belong too? No. Are we accusing Facebook of using bots to drive up advertising revenue. No. Is it strange? Yes."

Limited Run posted the note on their Facebook Monday morning and since then this story has taken on a life of its own. Most news sources – including this one – opted to focus on Facebook´s apparent massive amount of bots and false profiles. Tom Mango, Limited Run´s co-founder, on the other hand, told redOrbit that their biggest complaint with Facebook was the way they handled the name-changing situation.

“There were issues with our ad campaigns that we ran over the course of about a month, yes, but our biggest gripes were the lack of customer support from Facebook about those issues and when an employee told us we could only have our page's name changed if we committed $2000+ a month to advertising," Mango told us. As a result of this story, Mango said they´ve heard comments from advertising teams with similar issues, but they´ve also heard from teams who haven´t had any issues with Facebook´s advertising.

As for Facebook, they've offered a statement to TechCrunch, saying, "We're currently investigating their claims. For their issue with the Page name change, there seems to be some sort of miscommunication. We do not charge Pages to have their names changed. Our team is reaching out about this now."

In their earnings call last week, Facebook's chief financial officer David Ebersman said they are working to eliminate the bots, saying, "We refined and improved our methodology for recognizing what we call duplicate or false accounts."

Mango doesn´t think Facebook is responsible for the bots´ existence on their site, however, saying that in all their research, they were unable to determine who is running the bots and for what reasons. Based on the sort of traffic they were receiving, the Limited Run team concluded bots were responsible for 80% of their traffic.

“Maybe they just had a bad month,” said Mango.

“They have a lot bigger customers than us that need the attention of their customer support staff. While frustrating, that's how it goes. We'd honestly rather just get back to work and move on from this.”