Before we get started, I want to make one thing clear. I hate social media. I despise it. I’m the biggest believer that most social media marketing is voodoo BS, only existing because it’s the new “in” thing and older folks don’t really understand it yet. So when my coworker and I were assigned to do a Facebook ad campaign, I was completely ready for it to bomb and send us back to our boss on our knees.
Quick Background: I work for the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance. We’re a small non-profit in NYC dedicated to a Practical Cure for type 1 diabetes. The catch? We don’t take donations. To make a long story short, diabetes charities only put 3 cents of every dollar they raise toward a cure. We think that is wrong (particularly because they fundraise with the message that the money is going to end this disease) and we exist as a liaison so that if you give money to them, we make sure that it goes to cure research.
So basically, we’re one hell of a complicated sell.
And what were we selling? State of the Cure, a 15 page report deconstructing each charity, what they are failing to, and how we could change it to get more money put to a cure–not exactly selling candy to kids.
Anyway, we were told to pull together a Facebook ad campaign for it’s release. The goal? Get people to spread State of the Cure and gain more members to our Alliance. How’d we do? Well, our members doubled. Then tripled. And suddenly, in the course of a month, we grew at such an intimidating rate that we had to start figuring out what we’d do with all these new people suddenly itching to get in on the fight for a Practical Cure.
How did we get there? Here are the steps:
1 Think Small. Like, Seriously Small.
The space for a picture in a Facebook ad is barely an inch. Because of this, most of the photos you’ll see are shitty stock photos grabbed off Google, or complicated images shrunk into a blurry mess. Facebook gives you an extremely limited space to work in, and it’s very easy to become lost in an audience’s periphery with a poor image choice.
How do you avoid this? Keep the image as simple as possible. In fact, keep your focus on something that will stand out from the clutter on Facebook, and less about how it looks. The words can do the heavy lifting, the picture just needs to make people stop and stare. Ads are white noise on the site, pushed to people’s periphery and ignored. The MOST IMPORTANT goal of the picture is to leap off the page.
Make something that can’t be ignored.
2 When People Say You’re Wrong, KEEP GOING
Warren Buffet gave one of the best pieces of advice ever:
“If everyone is doing the same thing, do the exact opposite.”
When we began our campaign on Facebook, they set us up with an advisor to help guide us through the best practices. Our advisor said that the images that perform the best in the non-profit world are families and women, and suggested we do the same. The problem? EVERYONE else was doing it. If I looked at the ads on my feed, the amount of smiling children staring back at me was almost uncomfortable. Doing the same thing would mean blending in, and not breaking through.
I said no kids. Then I took it a step further and said no picture. You know what would stand out? Words. One word in fact.
Here was the ad we used:
It’s simple, rudimentary, and was made in barely 5 minutes. But it jumps out. Chance are nothing on your Facebook wall looks like it, so you notice it when you scroll past it.
Despite both Facebook and our own staff saying this was a poor idea, we went ahead with it.
3 Words That Work
Where Facebook gives you little space for a picture, it more than makes up for it in the amount of words you can…oh wait. It doesn’t. 79 Characters for a title. 140 for the body.
Here’s the finished text:
“What’s halting the progress of a t1 diabetes cure? Read State of the Cure to find out.”
It’s hard to give specific advice on this, but we’ll try. Firstly, move broad to specific. This sounds intuitive, but if you look at the majority of Facebook ads, it isn’t. The picture makes them stop, the title gives them a gist, and the description makes them click.
The audience experience reads like this.
Sees Picture: “Cure? Cure for what?”
Reads Title: “Cure for type 1 diabetes? Is there progress?”
Reads Description: “There’s a problem? What is it?”
Each line continues the story, and leads to them clicking through.
4 Location, location, location
With the ad just about wrapped up, we were left with the problem of where to send people. We were in the unfortunate position of having a website that was, in a word, embarrassing. It ran like a 16-year-old Chevy and looked just as good. We could send them directly to the PDF of the report, but then they had no simple way to join our organization from it.
My coworker had the bright idea of embedding the report in our Facebook page, and bringing the clicks there. This simple feedback loop became integral to the campaigns success, as every click through added to our sponsored stories, attracting more people (we’ll get to this in a little while). However, we knew on it’s own the report was too dense and negative for anyone to read. So what did we do?
5 Gaining Trust
No one likes somebody pushing their beliefs on them with barely an introduction. It’s much easier to convince someone to agree on something if they know you, if they trust you. If you make an attempt to do so without that trust, you might as well be talking to a dog.
How does this apply to us? Well, while our goal was to get people to read State of the Cure, it’s a dense 15 page report that basically says the charities you’ve been trusting aren’t doing their jobs. By just having people see this, we could ensure the failure of the campaign. We’re underdogs, nobodies, and pests to them. What gives us the right to say what we’re saying?
So, during the same period the ad went up, we started a small event with our current members—send us a picture of yourself and a line about what a Practical Cure means to you, and we’ll post it on Facebook. It worked like a charm. Now anyone who came to our page would see faces of adults, children, friends, and families, along with what a Practical Cure meant to them. This HUMANIZED our message, and made our report easier to understand.
Remember, you need to gain someone’s trust before they’ll pay attention to whatever you have to say. By balancing a hard-sell with a soft-sell, you can greatly expand the amount of people who will listen to you message.
The last thing that ensured our success was simpler than you’d expect—sponsored posts. Whenever someone clicked through the ad and liked our page, their friends saw it appear on their wall. They could then jump to our page with a click, and see a place filled with friendly faces and important information.
This feedback loop allowed the ad campaign to snowball rapidly, giving us the great boosts in numbers and participation that it did. The more people who joined, the more people that saw us on their feeds, which brought even more people to us.
These steps may seem simple, but removing any one of them would’ve doomed our campaign.
Have you ever used Facebook ads for your business? What worked for you?
Nick Masercola is a Freelance Writer based in New York. To check out some more of his writing, visit https://nickmasercola.contently.com/. To learn more about the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance, go here: www.thejdca.org.
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