Facebook’s Small Advertisers Say They’re Hurt by AI Lockouts

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  • Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Facebook’s Small Advertisers Say They’re Hurt by AI Lockouts” – below is their description.

    Small advertisers that rely on Facebook to spread marketing messages are up in arms over the social network’s automated ad systems, complaining that inflexible account blocking tools and a lack of customer assistance are hurting business.

    One digital marketer, Chris Raines, was setting up an advertising campaign on Facebook last week when his account abruptly stopped working. Raines uses his account to manage ads for clients’ Facebook Pages. Without it, he couldn’t do his job.

    The lockout was a nuisance, but then Raines noticed something more concerning: A $3,000-per-day ad campaign that he’d set up for a client before his account was locked continued to run even though he could no longer manage it. Raines was spending his client’s money without any way to control how.

    Raines tried to confirm his identity using Facebook Inc.’s automated systems, but received an error message. Eventually, he called the advertiser and asked if they would make his wife an administrator to the company-owned Facebook Page. Using her account, he was finally able to log in and manage the Facebook ads, which includes adjusting details like who sees the ad and how much to spend.

    “The actual injury, especially for advertisers and marketers, is immense,” said Raines, who runs a digital media company called Bullhorn Media. “Had I not had that workaround, my business would have went away.”

    As he investigated solutions, Raines started hearing about other ad buyers in the same position. Harrison Kugler, an independent digital media manager in New Jersey, was similarly locked out while running ads for his client, a local comedy club. It took him 26 hours to get his account back, during which he estimates he spent $200 in Facebook ads without his usual level of oversight. In New Zealand, marketing consultant Sam Frost was frozen out of his account, and there were no other administrators linked to some of the Facebook Pages running the ads. He spent “a couple hundred dollars” before he was allowed back in.

    “It’s not a king’s ransom, but it’s more the fact that to some businesses that might be a huge amount of money,” Frost says. “I don’t see any other business that would be able to get away with it.”

    As Facebook has increasingly relied on automated tools to help rid its service of bad actors and inappropriate content, many rule-following users are complaining about being caught in Facebook’s net. Last month, some small business owners were shocked to find seemingly innocent holiday ads caught in Facebook filters, hurting their business during the most important time of the year. Users have created a number of Change.org petitions over the years asking Facebook for better customer service, including one started this fall that now has more than 800 signatures.

    Unlike buying a TV commercial or a billboard, Facebook ads require more hands-on attention. Many campaigns may include a number of ads with different images or language depending on who is being targeted. That specificity is the core benefit of advertising with Facebook. The company’s immense trove of user data enables advertisers to tailor messages to very specific audiences. If one ad is performing poorly, a plugged-in campaign manager might pull money from that ad and funnel it to a different one that’s getting a better response.

    That’s impossible to do if you can’t access your Facebook account. “Would you be comfortable with someone having your credit card and the ability to spend on that credit card without any insight into what’s going on?” Frost asked.

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    In This Story: New Zealand

    New Zealand is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of two main landmasses—the North Island and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands, covering a total area of 268,021 square kilometres.

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