How A Small Nonprofit Effectively Used Facebook Ads

Placing ads on Facebook provides a targeted advertising strategy because Facebook knows the demographics and interests of its millions of users.     If you want to get up to speed quickly about the ins and outs of using Facebook ads, Andrea Vahl, co-author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies, has written this terrific free e-book guide for Hubspot.    The guide provides an easy to understand introduce to how the ads work, how to set up tests (which is critical to success no matter how small your ad purchase or sample size is),  how to create ads and who to target.

Facebook ads are similar to Google ad words in that there is a bidding system.  On Facebook you bid for likes and interests on people’s profiles.    You can advertise an external web site or something within Facebook like your brand page, an event, place, or application.    In general, it is better to advertise your Facebook page than external sites, but there are exceptions.   Facebook has “sponsored stories”  which can increase visibility in newsfeeds as well as “engagement” ads that let people click and like your brand page.

Most nonprofits that I’ve seen using  Facebook ads are focusing on getting more fans (see scenario #3), but if you read through this post from All Facebook you will see there are many creative ways to use Facebook ads to get engagement or increase visibility.     My colleague, Zan McColloch-Lussier has observed some create ways to use Facebook Ads.   He notes, “On February 13, moments after my Governor signed a marriage equality bill I saw this ad on Facebook. It went to a landing page for the Democratic Governors ( where they could start ID’ing voters. I haven’t seen a campaign this swift on Facebook before & thought it might be a good model for some nonprofits to follow.”     He wrote a blog post about this here.

Again, now matter what your goals, if you’re not  testing, tracking, and revising your use of Facebook ads – either the targeting or the creative – you won’t be as successful.

Ah, that’s a lot of work you must be thinking.  Or, why test with such a small sample size.

I caught up with Christy Thomas, Marketing Administrator, and Annika Nonhebel, Education Director from Axis Dance Company, a participant in a capacity building program I designed  called “Becoming An Arts Networked Nonprofit.”      They’ve put together a strategy for Facebook ads to recruit new fans using testing and targeting.

1.)    Tell me about AXIS Dance Company? (Mission sentence or two and budget size/staff numbers).

AXIS Dance Company is based in Oakland, CA. AXIS creates, performs, and teaches “physically integrated dance”— a contemporary dance form that evolves from the collaboration between dancers with and without disabilities. We have a small staff of four and have seven dancers in the company four of whom have disabilities. We are considered a midsize dance company with a budget of half a million.

2.)  What’s your objective for social media?

Recently, we realized that while we have a great following on Facebook, most of those followers are non-local. This is fantastic as Social Media is an ideal way to keep audiences all over the world engaged; but, since we are based in Oakland, CA, it’s also really important that we grow our local followers, who can attend our local performances and classes as well. Additionally, as AXIS is one of the few companies that does the work we do, Social Media helps us to broaden our audiences – reaching places we couldn’t otherwise.

3.)   Why are you testing FB ads?

We are experimenting with FB ads to see if we can reach even more people and to grow our followers. Since one of our goals is growing our local Facebook fans, we figured we would start there. We created an add with our AXIS avatar and the slogan “Change the way you think about dance forever… “Like us” on Facebook”. Since it is our fist time working with FB ads, we decided to start small. If this is a success we want to promote our new website, as well as an upcoming show in May. Regarding the performance in May, Facebook Ads may be ideal as our show will be in San Francisco instead of Oakland and we may decide to target San Francisco.

4.)   Tell us how you tested?  What techniques?
We began with two ads targeting people in a 50 mile radius of Oakland. While the ad themselves are the same, the first ad targets people who like broader categories: such as #dance. #disability, #ballet. # theatre etc… This ad had a much larger reach. The second ad targets people who already ‘like’ specific companies such as Joe Goode Performance Group or ODC or San Francisco Ballet.  This ad had a much narrower reach. We set a small budget to run for 2 weeks: $5/day for the general, $8/day for the specific and decided to go for pay/click because we wanted to them to click through to our AXIS Facebook page and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

5.)   Results

We have seen an enormous spike in Reach and Page Views over this week of testing. We launched the ads on Friday afternoon and on Saturday we had 67 Page Views and 28 Unique Page Views. And within a day we had 17 new likes 10 of those contributed to the ad. It’s really amazing and so fun to see what Facebook ads can do to your reach and likes.We have run it for one week now and decided to stop the general ad, because we had a much higher CTR on the specific ad. We’ll continue to track the specific for this weekend and save room in our budget as we brainstorm our remaining ads.
6.)   Lessons Learned, Advice

It’s so fun and easy. We were a little hesitant at first and didn’t know where to start, but Facebook makes it really simple to start small and go from there. We also could have decided to test multiple ads at once, but we really just wanted to compare these two differences so that it wouldn’t become too overwhelming. And the good thing, if you don’t like what is happening you can stop it right away. You have really a lot of control over it. We can’t wait to run our other ads and to see what it will do for our ticket sales!

Has your nonprofit experimented with testing Facebook ads?  What did you do and what were the results?