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How to use Facebook Ads to test your comms strategy

25 May 2018

You might think that Facebook Ads are only useful for testing your big budget creatives, driving donations for an annual fundraiser, or for gaining reach for your flagship awareness raising campaign of the year.

But Facebook Ads can be used for a whole lot more, especially if you are looking to test a new comms strategy or get ideas and insights for future comms activity.

From testing new audiences to getting feedback on a change of creative direction, or even launching a new service – if the messaging that goes with your campaign strikes the right tone, Facebook ads can be a cost-effective way to gain valuable insights for a wide range of tests.

The beauty of using Facebook Ads is that you don’t have to spend a lot to get useful insights. Even spending just £50-£100 on a set of ad tests will get you plenty of feedback – and you can always add more budget if you want to find out more from the ads you’re running.

Facebook ads let you test it all, but now that you know just how many possibilities there are, it’s even more important to constrain what you test. They don’t call it A/B testing for nothing!

To help you focus on the key elements to test, here are four key ways you can use Facebook Ads to test whether your comms strategy is hitting the mark.

1. Test different creative

You can test those all important creative ideas using Facebook ads to see what clicks with your supporters, and what makes your supporters click.

What works better: video, images, GIFs or a carousel? Does the image featuring close up of the woman you’re using for the case study perform better than the more striking image you’re using for the main campaign? Does that square social media video with subtitles – optimised for mobile – work better than the traditional long form 16:9 video?

For example, this Christmas campaign from the Book Trust compared different creatives – real photos against illustrations, girl vs boy – to see which ones would resonate most with their audiences.


2. Test out new messages on your existing fans

Your core Facebook fans will naturally be receptive to the content you’re showing them, but what if you have a new campaign coming up and aren’t sure if the message will strike home?

You could publish a few organic posts to your Facebook Page to test the new message, but this will be seen by only a tiny percentage of your current fans and you have limited control over the demographics and location of where this content is shown. This is especially true with Facebook’s recent changes to its newsfeed, which sees organic reach diminished even further.

By promoting those organic posts – with a simple “boost” directly on the page or by using Facebook’s ads manager – you’ll be able to better target the posts and even show different messages to different audiences to see how they react.

3. Test different audiences

The very nature of Facebook Ad Groups allows you to split the same ad creatives between different well-defined audiences.

The range of targeting options are extensive: existing fans, friends of fans, age, gender, location, income level, mobile vs desktop, people who have given to charities, people who love Ed Sheeran – the possibilities are near endless.

It’s almost enough to put you off sharing your personal life on Facebook, but Facebook’s audience targeting options are fantastic for charities looking to reach new audiences.

4. Test a new product or service

Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup has long been heralded as a bible for startups looking to test their ideas for a low cost, before they spend vital time, money and energy on bringing their vision to life.

While charities may have been slower to take up Lean Startup methods, several charities that we’ve worked with at Montfort are experimenting with one of their pivotal strategies: creating landing pages for new products and services.

Rather than creating those products and services before you understand how your supporters will receive them, you create a series of landing pages with different headlines and offerings, then use Facebook Ads to send traffic to those different pages.

When combined with Google Grants (which gives charities $10,000 in free ad spend per month), you’ll be able to generate a lot of traffic to your different landing pages and see which gets the most signups.

Depending on which page gets the most interest, you can get a lot more insights and analytics into which product or service might actually be viable. Think of it like focus groups, but online, cheaper and with much more hard data available.

Of course, this is harder for smaller, more specialised organisations, such as health charities, who will have smaller audiences to work with. To get around this, it can be useful to build up custom audiences using the Facebook Pixel. Facebook has a great guide on how to set this up here: Custom Audiences from your Website.

How testing links to your comms strategy

To ensure that these tests help your comms strategy, make sure to set out clear objectives from the start for what insights you are looking to gain and how these tests will help you – otherwise, you’ll never know when you’ve done enough testing. By setting clear objectives way, when running tests, you can make sure that they’re beneficial for your comms strategy.

If you’re looking for guidance on how much to spend on testing, we’d recommend you spend up to 10% of your Facebook ads budget testing what works. It’s best to start small, so you can work out what’s working well with audiences, then scale up with what’s working well. Any less than this and the insights are likely to be tested on too small and audience and be less useful.

There’s also a challenge in testing too much at once. Make sure you constrain a test to only a few variables, for example one advert tested to two different audiences, or three different creatives tested against one audience. This will help you control the test and make the outcomes more obvious.

Once you’ve tried some of the tests, you can look at the results to see which have generated the most engagement from your audience. You can then use that data and insight to iterate your comms strategy and make sure the messaging and creative you’re using elsewhere resonates with your target audience.

Finally, it’s also important to remember that insights gathered from running Facebook ad tests will need to be balanced with data from other sources, such as your email marketing activity and website analytics. Only a proportion of your supporters will be on Facebook and this is just one part of your insights, so should be brought together with other data to create a holistic look at your audiences.

Image: Tim Bennett on Unsplash

Read more:

Why charities should be active on LinkedIn

Ben Matthews

director, Empower

Ben Matthews is a director at Empower, a digital marketing agency for social good, whose clients include UNICEF, UN Refugee Agency, Amnesty International, The Wildlife Trusts and The Jo Cox Foundation. Montfort set digital marketing strategy and run digital marketing campaigns, including social media, paid ads and email marketing, for charities big and small.