Take the money and run? I tested X’s paid-promotion model, and it was woeful | Gene Marks


I run a small business. My company sells customer relationship management (CRM) software to other businesses. I’m always in search of leads and will try just about anything to find new clients that we can help. To that end, I recently wrote a book about CRM and created a landing page on my website where people – clients and prospects – can download it. How to promote my new book? Why not X?

I know the X community – and its famous CEO – may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’ve been a longtime active user and I’m sure there are many other Xers who would enjoy reading my book. So I decided to conduct an experiment and create a post with a link to my book’s landing page and promote it on the social platform. Not a big promotion. Just 50 bucks over five days. A pittance. But, for me, what happened is a cautionary tale.

By the end of the promotion, X informed me that my post received about 29,000 views and about 230 “engagements” (likes, comments, etc). Interesting, but not very important. I was looking for leads, remember? When I set up the campaign I specifically told X that my goal was clicks to my book’s landing page. And, according to X, it delivered: almost 350 “clicks”.

To me, 350 “clicks” means that users saw my post, were interested in my book and clicked through to my landing page to download it. Exciting, right? Three hundred and fifty leads would be amazing. Even half that amount would be fantastic. I was excited. But not for long. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a discrepancy. During that same period, according to Google Analytics, my landing page received fewer than 10 views. And how many of those views came from X? Zero.

I asked a few social media “experts” I know about this anomaly and they all offered similar responses: bots. You know, those non-human software robots that proliferate everywhere. Few, if any, of those clicks were actually human, they said.

Who’s actually auditing this data? How do I ever find out if any real people clicked? Is anyone independently verifying these numbers? I don’t know these answers. No one does.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’ve been down this road before. I’ve tried advertising on Facebook, Google and YouTube with equally underwhelming results. These services routinely take their advertisers’ money and deliver little in return. It’s why “ad fraud” reportedly cost businesses more than $61bn in 2022 and is expected to grow to more than $100bn over the next few years.

This doesn’t mean that a business can’t successfully advertise online. Many do. How? I’m not sure but I’m thinking it’s a combination of luck, perseverance and – spoiler alert – spending lots and lots of cash. Sure, I only dropped $50 but do you really think it would have been very different if I dropped $500, $5,000? I suspect that if I were forking over millions of dollars to X, Facebook or Google, the wizards behind the curtain would pay special attention to helping me draw clicks from users who possess actual beating hearts and working lungs. My “luck” would certainly improve.

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But, sadly, that’s not the case. The world of online advertising is not a world for small business owners like me. I certainly don’t have the resources to attract the attention of the powers that be. I’ll always be outspent and outsmarted by the big brands. This is the lesson I’ve learned. Not bad for $50.


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