Meta’s layoffs continue to impact advertisers as the company replaces account team members with AI

Getting urgent emails from CMOs is just part of the daily grind for agency execs, but one note recently caught the attention of an agency exec more than usual.

The client was irate because their entire Meta account team had been overhauled and downsized without their say. They felt they should’ve been consulted, given their significant ad spend, which the agency exec declined to share. Once the CMO had cooled off, they confided in the agency exec that they had never even worked directly with their previous account manager at Meta. 

The agency exec’s response was straight to the point: they said that talking to a live human at Meta wasn’t necessary for every issue — just something that would be nice to have.

“They felt like they deserved that [Meta] team because of how much they spend with Meta, but had to admit they didn’t actually need it,” said the agency exec, who preferred to remain anonymous to protect their client relationship.

It’s safe to say that those 20,000 job losses at Meta last year definitely shook things up at that CMO’s marketing team, a brand that the agency exec declined to name. As the agency exec explained: “The client was really upset by the change — even though the [Meta] team wasn’t being fully automated [but downsized].”

But there’s a number of marketers who share similar frustrations with Meta; that they aren’t getting the premium service they believe they’re paying for. Meta continues to dominate the other social platforms and take the lion’s share of their dollars. Despite that, ad execs continue to encounter bugs on the platform, while teams and services are gradually being stripped away and replaced with AI and chatbots. Marketers have resigned themselves to the fact that until another platform outperforms Meta, they have to put up and shut up.

“I’d be lying if I said everyone who was on our [Meta] account team had an impact on our business,” confessed one senior marketer at a CPG business.

So, when this marketer was notified their account team would be more automated, any frustrations gradually gave way to quiet resignation.

“Our account was loaded with people who we weren’t sure what they did or didn’t respond to requests,” continued the marketer. “Now, we have a handful of execs on the account, and a chat service to get the rest of the support.”

When it really boiled down to it, sure, these ad execs were happy when Meta offered full teams at their disposal, but most of them probably weren’t indispensable. It’s a sobering realization to consider how arguably bloated these teams once were.

Pre-cuts, account teams could balloon to five to 10 people across local, regional, and global marketing divisions for the same advertiser. Now, according to execs interviewed for this article, those teams have slimmed down to just two or three people at most. Even for those marketers fortunate enough to dodge downsizing, like those at ad agencies, the pressure on Meta to do more with less is tangible. They’re well aware that their Meta account execs are being stretched thin, taking on additional responsibilities from account management to ad operations.

“At Meta we have had a lot of this happen,” said Elijah Schneider, CEO of Modifly. “Both reps being replaced and the data team. Biggest one we have seen is within their lift studies. They [Meta] automated these versus being managed by them.”

Two other ad execs backed this up. They all said it was rare these days for Meta to do anything but automate the process irrespective of the size of the advertiser’s coffers. That’s par for the course nowadays given Meta clearly wants to automate as much advertising across its ecosystem as possible — just look at the rise of Advantage Plus — the product enables advertisers to automate much of their campaign process, saving time and effort. But by doing this, advertisers are effectively handing over control to Meta, and they have restricted access to analytics and derived insights.

How AI can affect measurement

But, it’s also a sore point for those marketers who feel they’re losing control over measurement. Relying solely on AI removes the need for holistic measurement, shifting trust to algorithms. It’s a reality advertisers on Advantage Plus know all too well.

“They literally said [via email] we don’t offer that as a managed service anymore, but here’s essentially a Meta learning platform with links and from that you can download our software,” Schneider said. 

And it got worse. 

“The thing that sucks is we communicated this [product] to our clients, because we have done this in the past with them,” Schneider explained. ”We’d say, ‘OK, to solve that problem, this is what we would do’. But despite talking to our reps once a week, no one communicated that they didn’t offer this anymore. So I’m having to go back to my clients to say ‘hey, sorry’ and explain to them that Meta has just cut the service.”

That point about communication — or the lack thereof — is a salient one. Ad execs have consistently raised it as an issue, from not having sufficient help in place to assist marketers in adapting to these changes to not even effectively communicating them. It’s left advertisers feeling that the way Meta has handled these cuts has been, to say the least, insensitive.

Here’s an example, courtesy of an agency exec from earlier: “One U.S. brand, which spends low nine figures on Meta, has seen their rep change seven or eight times in the last year and a half alone. Every rep email and advice is about awareness and engagement ads.”

Changes like this and the resulting challenges for advertisers are indicative of a platform continuously striving to optimize itself to maximize ad revenue opportunities at any given moment.

“We haven’t seen any sort of material change in how our clients get treated, and the level of support they get” said Kevin Goodwin, vp of performance marketing at New Engen. “What we do see is that those people are helping us more with the big, strategic areas, and hand us off to general support for tactical needs.”

How AI has exacerbated Meta’s support issues

For years, Meta’s account teams have been in constant flux, repeatedly restructured, sometimes as often as twice a year or quarterly, to keep pace with the company’s push for greater ad revenue. Gone are the days when these teams simply handled customer support tasks like troubleshooting system bugs or campaign issues. Now, discussions center on strategic ways for advertisers to optimize their investments on Facebook and Instagram. Automation has been steadily taking on more responsibility, and its role is set to expand further as Meta seeks to strike a balance between costs, profits and investor satisfaction to maintain a strong stock price.

“I think a lot of people looked at what we [Meta] were doing [laying off staff and replacing them with AI and systems] as if it might have been some kind of short-term thing, which that’s never really our focus,” Zuckerberg continued on the recent earnings call. “The part about making the company leaner, I think, is the more important part to take forward, because obviously, we’re in a place now where the business is performing well.”

Having hordes of dedicated account teams are no longer conducive to that balance. It probably never was, to be fair, but it’s an issue that no doubt became more acute once Meta got a renewed taste for operational efficiencies, especially given how its ads business is wired. The growth of it is predicated on the longer tail of smaller and regional advertisers, not the fortune 500s. To be able to service those smaller clients and not the largest advertisers, Meta has to turn to automation and AI to make its ads business more profitable — irrespective of how marketers feel about the service they get in return. 

“This is something where you first take insertion orders for large advertisers and you don’t have any self-serve model,” said Jeremy Goldman, senior director of marketing of commerce, and tech briefings at Insider Intelligence. “Then you have a self serve model because you open that up too and then you try to move more and more things into that self serve model you improve upon it. Nobody’s goal is to have bad customer service, but you want to make it more efficient.”

On this note, it becomes clearer why some marketers have felt the impact of these changes more than others. The main differentiator? Usually, it boils down to the amount of money spent. Those who have seen their account teams shrink are often the ones who have reported reduced or missed spending commitments with Meta over the last year or so. That’s not to say that these issues won’t ruffle more marketers sooner or later. Remember, Meta’s long-term goal is to automate as much of its ads business as possible. This is just the latest step in the long, winding road toward it.

Last year was dubbed by Zuckerberg, as the “year of efficiency” as the company reduced its overall headcount by 22% to 67,317, per the recent earnings report.

“Everyone is saying it was the year of efficiency, but it’s the year of right sizing,” said Schneider. “If a business only needs 40 people and you have 70, but nothing has changed in your business, it’s just the growth slowed down because of macro factors, you need to right size it otherwise it’s not healthy. When you look at a company of their [Meta’s] size, 90% of the revenue is automated.”

As Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it on the company’s recent earnings call: “Last year [2023], not only did we achieve our efficiency goals, but we returned to strong revenue growth, saw strong engagement across our apps, shipped a number of exciting new products… and of course established a world-class AI effort that is going to be the foundation for many of our future products… Now moving forward, a major goal will be building the most popular and most advanced AI products and services.” Meta advertising revenue reached $40.11 billion in Q4 2023, according to the company’s most recent earnings report.

Meta declined to comment on this story.

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