On Monday afternoon, Amanda Orson, head of digital strategy for W2PY, had her day turn into a nightmare. The reason: Facebook Ads Manager was down. For Orson, who handles ad campaigns for political candidates at a small agency in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, being cut off from how ad campaigns are performing just a week before the midterm elections was disastrous. On Monday, starting around 12 p.m. ET, she had no insight into what was happening with those ads. Facebook Ads Manager looked like this, according to a screenshot she sent at 4:40 p.m. ET:
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“I am freaking out,” she said. “This is way too close to the goal line to not know what’s going on. I’m going to give it until tonight and if it’s not back up I have to shift the rest of our dedicated budget elsewhere.”
Orson wasn’t alone on Monday. Brian Young, digital director of PNC who was also running political ads on Facebook, tweeted his frustrations:
According to Olson, Monday’s outage might not last long, as she was told by a Facebook rep it would be resolved soon. Olson said it was back up around 8 p.m. ET, meaning she did not have access for about eight hours. Young said his access to Facebook’s system was restored after a six-hour outage on Monday. A Facebook spokesperson told Digiday the company doesn’t have an official comment on the matter beyond tweets sent by Facebook’s vp of ads and business platform Mark Rabkin on Friday.
Friday’s event was the longest outage in recent memory, but unreliability with Facebook’s ad management tool is quite a common occurrence, according to media buyers.
David Herrmann, director of advertising at Social Outlier, said the tool has been down for a few hours at least once per week over the last month. He also expressed concern over specific tools within the system. For example, the tool for value optimization didn’t allow him to make a minimum-bid request last week.
Of course, other self-serve ad platforms have their own problems. (Google has its own reliability issues.) But media buyers, who work across digital platforms, said Facebook has been the most frustrating system. Inconsistencies are especially concerning media buyers whose clients are pushing money into Facebook ads.
“Facebook is an increasingly frustrating experience for ad buyers. The site goes down, auctions are inconsistent and hitting ‘publish’ can be a crapshoot,” said Betsy Hindman, a digital marketer for business-to-business clients. “Surprisingly wonky for such a powerhouse.”
Duane Brown, founder and head of strategy at Vancouver-based agency Take Some Risk, said Facebook’s outage last Friday was the first time he had seen a blank screen and couldn’t do anything on the platform. But it’s far from the only problem he’s had with Facebook.
“Maybe Google’s platform has gone down for five minutes here and there but never for hours on end with no clear fix in sight. Over the years I’ve had Facebook issues where I can’t upload an ad or campaign. Come back an hour later, and it’s working fine,” Brown said.
When Facebook Ads Manager is down, these media buyers don’t simply twiddle their thumbs and wait. In the aftermath, they check Twitter or one of their Facebook Groups to see if it’s just them. Brown said he informs his clients and then does other work for them in Google’s system, replies to emails and spends time on other big-picture work.
“I worked at agencies where the internet goes down for hours. You always have other work you can do, unless you’re Facebook-only agency I guess,” Brown said.
Buyers said they don’t usually shift budgets when events like this happen, which may explain why the problems persist.
“Most projects have strict budgets so this means when it comes back online I got to figure out how much money we lost then fix it. It’s always on us, not Facebook. I’ll try and ask Facebook for ad credit for their screwups,” Herrmann said.
But while there are other platforms for agencies to work with and other tasks to do, Facebook being down remained worrying. Troy Osinoff, co-founder of digital agency Juice, said a brief downtime isn’t a big concern but extended periods, like last week, is problematic since his team cannot see dollars spent and results.
“The beauty of digital marketing is the ability to get instant feedback and respond on the fly. When you are limited from the feedback, you lose the advantage,” Osinoff said.
When Facebook’s systems are down, Osinoff said his team will monitor other platforms, like Shopify and Google Analytics, to measure traffic and conversions. They don’t typically shift budgets in the immediate aftermath since every platform serves a different purpose for his clients, he said.
Herrmann said he emails every client to share that his team is unable to make any changes on the platform and “will do our best to get things up and running as soon as we hear from Facebook it’s working again. [Clients] just respond with cursing Facebook. The issue is so many brands have left Google. They are dependent on Facebook,” he said.
Facebook is the second biggest digital ad player next to Google so an influx in activity can lead to issues managing scale. And it’s not like Facebook isn’t aware of the problems. Herrmann, who frequently shares his gripes with Facebook’s tools on Twitter, said that many members of Facebook’s ads team follow him on Twitter.
Facebook’s vp of ads Rob Goldman and Facebook’s director of product Rob Leathern both actively use Twitter to communicate with buyers.
Herrmann also said his team is part of a private Facebook Groups with the company’s developer team.
“They are very quick to get to us there. They are finally at least acknowledging the challenges for us, which makes me feel something internally is happening,” Herrmann said.