Feb 17, 2023 | Growth & Scale

Social media ads stopped working. What should I do?

Q. Dear Zenagos,
I’ve been running a business for a few years, and I spend a good amount of money on social media advertising. Lately, I’ve noticed that I don’t get anything from my ads. I don’t know why. Any idea what’s happened and what should I do about it?

You’re not alone. As social media sites update their features, they often affect businesses in unanticipated ways. It’s not unusual for an advertiser to go from a steady stream of leads to nothing in days, or even overnight. Social media sites change their algorithms all the time, and nobody ever knows how an update will affect who interacts with your page or your ads. Our entrepreneurs tell of sudden changes in social media activity, including stories of how their content has occasionally been mistaken for misinformation or otherwise banned.

Domino Effects
Not all of the changes are created by the social media companies themselves. For example, in April 2021, Apple released iOS 14.5, which included a new privacy tool called “App Tracking Transparency” (Chen, 2021). This change – which enabled iPhone users to prevent apps from tracking their behavior – threw social media sites into chaos. Vox recently reported that Meta’s Chief Marketing Officer Alex Schultz admitted, “Meta is still ‘at the whim of Apple’,” referencing the App Tracking Transparency feature, which made it harder for Meta’s Facebook app to target ads — which is critical to its business model (Ghaffary, 2023). The effect for small business entrepreneurs – as described to us by several entrepreneurs – was that social media advertisements that had brought in steady streams of leads for years suddenly dropped to a trickle, or nothing at all.

What You Can Do
Unfortunately, you can’t protect yourself from any specific change that a social media app might make, or from major shifts in the industry. Here are some things you can do:

Diversify your lead sources
When you are receiving a steady flow of leads from one source (such as a particular social media app), it’s easy to become comfortable with that lead flow and let other sources drop off. Unfortunately, it’s not wise to rely on one source of leads. Even though it is more expensive to keep other advertising channels open, it’s important to do it, so you always have multiple sources of leads. If you already have a secondary lead source open and operating, you will be able to pivot more quickly in case of a sudden change in your primary lead source.

Diversify your marketing mix
Even within the same lead source, it’s important to keep experimenting. Don’t just make posts. Try boosted posts and video, carousel, and story ads. Digital advertisers need to constantly be testing new ideas and measuring their effectiveness. You never know when something will change.

Consider hiring an expert
In the world of social media, marketing experts are responsible for staying on top of the minute details of each platform’s algorithm changes. If you can afford to hire a channel-specific expert, you may get some warning of upcoming changes, and you will probably be able to adapt to significant changes more quickly.

Be a student of the field
Even if you can’t afford to hire experts, you can follow their blog articles and social media posts. If you stay on top of the experts’ feeds, you will learn important tips that may help you.

Success in small business marketing is about setting up a disciplined process of testing new ideas and tracking your results so you are always learning. When it comes to marketing and social media, there is no way for a small business owner to “set it and forget it.” Your success depends on committing a consistent portion of your time to maintaining your marketing expertise.




Chen, B. X. (2021, April 26). To be tracked or not? Apple is now giving us the choice. New York Times. Retrieved on February 16, 2023, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/26/technology/personaltech/apple-app-tracking-transparency.html
Ghaffary, S. (2023, February 15). Leaked memo: Meta executive warns employees they’re still “at the whim of Apple.” Vox. Retrieved on February 16, 2023, from https://www.vox.com/recode/2023/2/15/23599734/meta-facebook-stock-apple-competition-tiktok-mark-zuckerberg-alex-schultz


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