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Follow-up on Facebook Advertising: The Circling Sharks

You have seen me post on this blog about the ups and downs of being a published author. I’ve shared some excellent free and low cost resources, talked about my journey to get published, even described my foray into advertising. This is a follow-up post about the last.

The thing about any passionate endeavor, be it art, travel, culinary wonders, or business endeavors, is that in order to stay on top of your game, you have to keep improving. Keep learning, trying new things, seeking out new information, tips, tricks, inspiration, whathaveyou. I’m one of those people whose curiosity tends to rule their lives. Sometimes it’s useful, other times it distracts me from more important things I should be doing (where I would argue that this is one of the most important things I could do).

When my Facebook ad campaign failed, I wanted to know why. What follows is a long post, breaking down the psychology of (someone else’s) advertising.


As if by divine intervention, an ad popped up on my Facebook news feed for a free webinar on how to use Facebook ads to exponentially increase your book sales. Serendipitous timing, I’d say, but probably just Facebook’s algorithms at play in the background, showing me what I’d be most likely to click on, based on what I’d posted in the past. I did click, and I did register, and I did sit through an hour’s webinar on the subject. You can behold my initial gut reaction in this rant I posted directly following this webinar. **


As you can see, I was mildly annoyed. An hour of my time completely wasted on a sales pitch which was completely useless to me, since I’d previously read all of this information condensed into a 5-minute read in a free eBook, which actually gave practical information on the topic, instead of just trying to sell me something. With time and distance, however, I can appreciate the sheer marketing genius that went into this webinar sales pitch, and while I will tell you all up front: Do NOT buy into the crap they are selling! I wanted to turn this into something positive and break down the elements of both the brilliance and the insidiousness of it.

**I would like to note that all my calculations assume 100% participation, which is never the case. Mailing list stats for our industry are around the 10-12% mark. Meaning, if you have 2,000 people on your list, you are lucky if 240 of them even open your messages, let alone click on any links you have in it.

1. Facebook ad promoting a Facebook ads webinar/service

Right off the bat, you are convinced of the effectiveness of the strategy. After all, you clicked on it, right? You were intrigued (or desperate) enough to give it a go, and if you were, then there have to be hundreds more who did as well. This guy knows what he’s doing!


2. Mandatory Registration

In order to get access to the webinar, you have to input your name and email address so they can send you the link. You are now on their distribution list, and they can send you as many sales pitches as they want, until you get tired of it and tell them to stop. Of course, this doesn’t happen until after the webinar. They don’t want you to cut and run before you hear the “full story.” Before that happens, all you get are reminders that the webinar will be happening. In a week. In two days. Tomorrow. Later today. Don’t forget, it’s in an hour! We are starting, folks, join us here. I thought this was actually helpful. I get dozens of emails daily, and between registering for the webinar and it actually happening, the link email had gotten buried and I’d forgotten about it. The 5 emails I got in the two days that followed? Not so much.


3. Blind Participation

The webinar software opens, and you see the introductory slide, hear the bloopy noises of people joining in, but you never see them. There is a chat window where you can enter questions, but only the organizers get to see those messages. On the one hand, you get the sense that this is a presentation just for you, and you feel special. But in reality, this kind of setup hides the true “popularity” of this webinar, and any negative comments that might pop up. They can tell you there were hundreds of participants joining in from all over the world, but in reality, it could be a hundred, for all you know. And while you hear them joining in, you don’t hear them leaving, so for all you know, they are all rapt on the presenter, and you probably should be too. The truth might be that they all checked out in the first ten minutes, and you’re the only one actually paying attention.


4. The Host is also a Client

Again, the psychological underpinnings of perceived proven success are there. This is a guy being hosted by someone who’d become a successful full-time writer because of him. Someone who will chime in at odd times and reassure you that, yes, this really works. I tried it and you should too! Could be. Lighting does strike on occasion. But the truth is probably much more complicated. He probably did a lot more to promote his books than just Facebook ads, but if you burden your audience with too many options and possibilities, they get overwhelmed, and (more importantly) distracted from what you’re trying to sell them. Facebook is something most people do every day. It’s an easy gateway for advertising, and the clever learn to exploit this (like the presenter is doing, by exploiting others who want to use it).


5. Impressive Stats and Numbers

The presentation opens with the presenter’s own success story, and the statistics he is sharing to show you what you can achieve if you use his system. And it is truly impressive. Until you do the math and realize there is no way those numbers could ever apply to book sales. The thing is, they don’t, and he never says they do. This is his model for his consulting business, where he charges ridiculous fees of $97 per month. Technically, it’s not a lie, or false advertising. If you asked him to support this in a court of law, he could probably whip out tax returns and spreadsheets to prove he wasn’t lying. But he is misleading you into thinking this can apply to any sales in any industry, which is simply not true.


6. Graphic Examples of “Successful Ads”

Any good sales pitch has this. A picture says a thousand words, after all. The webinar attendees were presented with three or four ads very pleasing to the eye. They had several elements in common, almost carbon copies of each other in some cases, and the presenter explained why these were good. But he never shared how these particular ads performed in terms of getting sales for his clients. Because he can’t. The best he can do is show how many people clicked on the ad and signed up for a mailing list. What influenced people to purchase these books after that is anyone’s guess. Because the truth is, you can run a hundred ads and get no sales from them, and then have someone namedrop you at a conference, and suddenly your sales skyrocket. And if the two events happen at the same time, you can easily mistake the causality.


7. The Escalating Sales Pitch

Another psychological trick well worth noting. Essentially all marketing campaigns work on this principle. How it works is you start small, a basic offering at a reasonable price. In this case it was, “I am offering you the chance to make thousands of dollars per month from your book sales, but I’m not asking anywhere near that. It’ll only cost you $97 per month.” You compare the numbers, and it’s no longer what you stand to lose with the $97, it’s about what you could possibly gain for that same amount. Then it amps up. “But if you’re really serious and want to make this your long-term strategy, I will give you a discount for a one-year subscription. Only $997.” Now you’re thinking, whoa, that’s a bit steep! So the presenter tells you all the awesome perks you get along with it, including all these “bonuses” valued at $200 or more. It’s about value now, not cost. And if you’re still not convinced, or thinking you could probably make a fortune doing what this guy does, he anticipates you and throws in this little gem: “After trying this system, I get a lot of people asking me how they can get involved and become a Facebook ad consultant. For those people, I offer a system of making it your business to help people just like yourself. It’s a year-long training, which includes one-on-one sessions with me and brainstorming sessions with your peers. You could build your own 6-figure business for only $3,000.” I believe the experts call this escalating commitment. You’ve already come this far, why not invest into an even greater venture? You probably won’t ever make that much money selling books–this could be a perfect side-business.


8. The Follow-up

As I mentioned, I received 5 emails following this presentation. They reiterated the offerings, the bonuses, the great opportunities, then relayed questions that had come up during the blind Q&A (which I didn’t stick around for), reinforcing the idea that this was a really great turn-out, a very popular service, and well worth investing in. The timing of this was ingenious. The first emails summed up the webinar, and provided the link to the recording for those who’d missed it. The next few brought up the questions, not only playing up the popularity, but also rebuilding your interest, which might have waned after you came down from your high of learning something potentially life-changing and started losing impetus to try it out. Meaning, after you actually thought about it and, consciously or not, realized you didn’t actually learn anything useful. With renewed excitement come more chances for you to take the bait and sign up.


Summing Up

The best marketing campaigns take advantage of human nature. People want the Next Best Thing. They want to be successful, and will take any opportunity to make it happen. Just like during the Californian Gold Rush, however, the people making the big bucks aren’t the ones following their dreams of making it big. They’re the ones offering those dreamers the indispensable tools, supplies, and services required to achieve their goals–at ridiculously inflated prices, of course, but if you have no other choice, you really have no other choice… right? Look at any industry, any grand endeavor, and you will see this pattern replicated to a T. Because dreamers don’t have the time or desire to crunch numbers or analyze people’s motives. They are too busy trying to do everything in their power to get where they want to go. Be it the top of Mt. Everest, or the decidedly more difficult to surmount top of the NY Times Bestsellers list.

So what is the best way to sell your books? From what I can gather, it boils down to this:

  1. Have an indispensable, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, must-read story
  2. Package it in shiny, eye-catching wrappers with lots of stars and rave reviews
  3. Make people feel like they will die if they don’t read it right-freaking-now!!!
  4. And then offer it to them for the low cost of go-broke-or-go-home.

In some ways, my books are a whopping success. They have been downloaded and read tens of thousands of times, by readers all over the world. So why am I not a bestseller yet? Because pirate site downloads don’t count toward that lofty title. The books have to actually sell in order to be best sellers. Unfortunately, this is a problem among writers more common than you would believe. So here is my sales pitch to close out this post:

If you like an author, please support their efforts to bring you more of what you love to read. Purchase their books, don’t pirate. Leave a review to increase their visibility. Tell your friends and encourage them to check out the newest book you loved.

This post brought to you by 4 years of college business classes. Whaddayaknow? They actually did come in handy!

Until next time!

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