Facebook Advertising: You Might Be Doing It Wrong

By Saleem Barnard on
Facebook Advertising: You Might Be Doing It Wrong

“Facebook doesn’t work for us."

As a digital ads specialist, I hear this a lot. Just like people corner dentists at parties to talk about dental issues, entrepreneurs and small business owners seek me out to tell me their woes with Facebook ads.

Admittedly, Facebook is constantly changing the way it does things, and if you’re a time-strapped business owner with a limited budget, it can be easy to give up on the platform -- unless you see results.

My advice: stick it out. Facebook’s targeting and ad options are second to none, the audience size is huge (1.44 billion monthly active users and counting), and I find that Facebook trumps other ad networks more often than not in generating positive ROI on small business advertising.

I recently worked with Dan, a friend of mine who runs a tour company, to tweak his existing Facebook ad campaigns. Helping Dan was a great exercise in scaling back, starting over, and working with a scrappy budget. I want to share the tweaks I made to Dan's approach to Facebook advertising so you can take advantage of them for your business, too.

To follow along, you’ll need access to Ads Manager (the dashboard where you launch, pay for, and monitor your Facebook ad campaigns) and a beginner-level understanding of how online advertising works.

Create Custom Audiences

In the past, advertising on Facebook was overly simple: you created a small sidebar banner ad and promoted it to your ‘fans’ (people who liked your business’s fan page).

Facebook has since realized that it’s more effective for you to advertise to people who are already familiar with your business (e.g. customers you already know, or users who have previously visited your business’s website).

To help you reach these people, Facebook now allows you to create, upload, and target custom audiences: lists of people (customers, subscribers, visitors to your website) who you’d like to have see your ads on Facebook.

Promoting to custom audiences is simple, but most people aren’t aware of how it works. All you have to do is gather and upload the contact information of at least 20 people to Facebook. Once Facebook verifies this list as a custom audience, Facebook, you can then target these people with your Facebook ads. (For a step-by-step walk through of how this is done, check out Facebook’s detailed instructions on creating custom audiences here.)

I was able to compile custom audiences for Dan using customer contact information from the following sources:

E-newsletter Subscribers: The list of contacts on Dan’s e-newsletter list were the perfect custom audience. If you use Mailchimp for your business e-newsletter, check out these instructions on creating a custom audience in just a few clicks.

Customer Email Addresses: We collected Dan’s customers’ email addresses, listed them in a .csv file, and uploaded them as a custom audience.

Customer Phone Numbers: When Dan only had a customer phone number on file (i.e. no email address), we uploaded customer phone numbers to Facebook. If Facebook was able to match the phone number we provided to the customer's Facebook profile, that customer was included in Dan's new custom audience.

We could then target any and/or all of these custom audiences with Dan’s Facebook ads.

Create Hyper Niche Audiences with Targeting

If you sell gifts or flowers, you might want your ads to be seen by someone who just got engaged. If your services relate to travel in Central America, it could be advantageous for your ad to reach someone who just came back from the countries in that region.

Thanks to the sophisticated targeting options on Facebook, it’s entirely possible to get this granular when deciding who will see your ads. Targeting a hyper-niche subset of your customer base with tailored ads is a hugely effective way to make your ad stand out, but I've noticed that it’s one of the features small business owners tend to undervalue.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with Facebook’s ad targeting tutorial, identify a handful of niches you’d like to target, and create tailored ads that speak directly to each niche.

Dan told me that single travelers made up the bulk of his customer base, so we used targeting to identify audiences of single travelers between the ages of 25-35 whose birthday was coming up soon. We then targeted this niche with headlines such as: “Single and looking to travel?” and "Go somewhere fun for your birthday," and some enticing travel photos we found for free on Unsplash.

Jump on New Ad Formats

Once you know who you’ll target (custom audiences, hyper niches), you need to decide what types of ads you’ll use. But remember: there’s a lot going on in a Facebook user’s news feed. Every post and every advertisement is vying for attention in a sea of noise.

Because people are more inclined to notice and click on something they haven’t seen before, versus an ad format they’ve seen (and learned to disregard) in the past, it's advantageous to start using Facebook’s new ad formats as soon as they become available.

Here are two of Facebook's newer ad formats I suggest you try:


People engage more readily with video ads. They auto play in a user's feed, and a moving object on the screen helps to draw people in. Also, video ads are still relatively inexpensive to use when compared to other ad formats (a video ad campaign I ran for Dan’s tour business cost around 2-two to 10 cents per view).

It's ideal if you're able to invest time and money into producing high quality videos to promote your business. But, if budget and time are limited, you can have a video ad for your business developed on a website like Fiverr for under $50. Groove’s rundown on creating a product explainer video contains a good step-by-step process you can adapt and follow to produce your first video ad.

Once it’s ready, upload the video to Facebook and use it in a ‘Video Views’ campaign.

Carousel Link Ads (Multi Product Ads) 

Why circulate a single advertisement when you can circulate five? Carousel Link Ads let you display multiple ads in the same real estate. They’re highly effective if you have multiple products or services to promote, or if you’re trying to create a narrative (people love stories).

Here’s an example of a carousel link ad I recently created for Bench:  

For Dan’s tour company, I was able to create an ad for each of the tours that he runs,  and promote them in a single carousel link ad.

Carousel Link Ads also allow you to perform basic A/B testing of your products or services. Think about it like this: within a single carousel link ad, people can click on one of five options. If one of the five options receives more clicks than all of the others, it’s clear that people are most interested in that type of product or service.

In Dan’s case, if he uses a carousel to promote five different tours in different regions, and he notices that most of the clicks are going to all of the tours in Europe, it’s a good indication that he should start offering customers more trips to Europe.

Move Fast

It’s cheaper to advertise on Facebook when there are fewer companies bidding for ad space. And when a new ad type gets introduced on Facebook, it often takes larger brands (the guys with the big wallets), a longer time to adapt to the changes to ad types.

The quicker you jump on new advertising options, the less expensive your campaign rates (cost per click, cost per view) will be. So be bold when others are being cautious.

The big players will make their move eventually, but at that point you'll be onto the next best thing, armed with a bigger audience, a growing business, and a flourishing brand.

If things ever start to get overwhelming, or if you don't see immediate results, just remember that it takes constant effort to get a Facebook ad campaign to the point where it’s fully optimized and producing a great ROI for your business.

If you have any questions about using Facebook ads, post it in the comments below and I’ll get back to you with an answer.

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