Facebook Custom Audiences: Convert Readers and Acquire New Leads

by | Mar 24, 2016 | Social Media Marketing Tips

By Grant Perry, AIM.

Facebook Custom AudiencesWouldn’t it be great to understand exactly who your customers were…turn your free readers into paying subscribers…and to narrow down over one billion people to new audiences similar to your existing customers?

Say hello to Facebook custom audiences.

This feature of the social network isn’t new and for many digital marketers needs no introduction. But, even for those who have been using it since it’s inception in 2013, you may be surprised at some of the latest innovations or benefit from a reminder of how best to use this powerful tool.

For those that aren’t familiar with this impressive functionality, let’s take a look at the basics. Custom audiences allow you to upload your customer database and match them with people who use Facebook.

There are many ways to then use these audiences, but let’s narrow it down to a selection of key methods to consider.

Four Strategies to use Custom Audiences

1. Utilising “Audience Insights” to analyse your database to better understand who your readers and customers are.
2. To run ads to your free readers to convert them to paying customers or sell more product to existing buyers.
3. To exclude your current lists from seeing ads for something they’re already signed up for.
4. To create “lookalike” audiences, similar to existing customers, to target your ads and promoted posts to.

The last point is arguably the most powerful benefit and allows potentially massive scale. More on that soon.

First, it’s important to realise that the email or phone number you have must be the same as the one that person uses to login to Facebook. For that reason B2B businesses (who likely have a large number of work emails) will probably find a lower match rate. But most businesses should find around half of their files will synch up to FB users. In fact, as the platform has grown to well over one billion users, that rate has steadily increased and we often see 60% or higher rates. (That doesn’t mean the non-matched people aren’t necessarily on FB; they may use a different email or phone number to login).

Custom audiences also allow you to upload activity from an app (if you have one) or to create audiences of website visitors. I’ll cover that in a future article; for now I’m going to focus on uploading your customer database. And I’ll concentrate on email lists rather than phone numbers since more people use an email to login to FB and most businesses typically have much larger lists of emails.

Right, now you know how to potentially use Custom Audiences. Here’s how to get started.

Two Simple Steps to Create Your Custom Audiences

The process of creating and updating your email custom audiences is pretty simple, although still a little clunky and not entirely secure unless you use a third party application like Driftrock. (Watch this space though, AIM are developing an automated system to help).

The first step is to obtain a list of email addresses (in a .csv or .txt format). Choosing which segments of your file you want to have created is important. Advanced email marketers understand the value of segmentation and we’ll dive into that shortly. At AIM we recommend – at a minimum – you create a list of all your free email readers and another of your paying customers.

The files should list the emails in a single column. If you use Mailchimp there’s integration built in to link your list(s) directly. That’s great because it means you never have to have a file of valuable email names sitting on your computer. (Somewhat surprisingly though the list isn’t dynamic and still requires manual editing to add new email names).

Step two requires you to use Facebook Adverts Manager (or Power Editor). Navigate to Tools > Audiences > Create Audience > Custom Audience.

You’ll then see this prompt:

Create Facebook Custom Audiences
Select “Customer List” then click “Upload a file”.

Next you’ll select the file from step one and click “Create Audience”. Facebook will go to work trying to match up your list. Technically that can take up to 24 hours but typically you should see the number of FB users you have matched up to within an hour or less.

Give your audience a simple but clear name. (There’s also the functionality to provide more detail in an additional description field).

An Important Note on Updating Audiences

Your database isn’t static. Readers and customers unsubscribe or cancel. You (hopefully) continue to acquire new leads and paying customers. So, unless you’re using a third party vendor, (which typically takes a lot of work integrating with your database and broadcast system and will also have a direct cost) you will want to manually update the audiences you have created.

How often you want to do that will depend on your resources, how easy it is to obtain your email lists and your new to file acquisition and unsubscribe rates. Once a month is probably a good minimum goal.

FB does make it reasonably easy. You simply find the custom audience (in the Audiences tab of the Ad Manager), click Edit and upload the new list to add or remove.

You can find the full technical details and terms and conditions of using custom audiences, here.

That’s the heavy lifting done. Now comes the fun part; putting those lists to work. Let’s take a deeper dive into the four key approaches to leverage these audiences.

1. Audience Insights: Analyse Your Lists

Chances are you have a good idea of who your target audience is. Audience insights allows you to stop guessing and see a detailed view of your lists. You might uncover some surprising findings when you can see the exact breakdown of your customers.

The type of data you can see includes the following (it will also show you the stats for your lists compared to the average FB user) :

  • Age and gender
  • Education level
  • Job title and industries
  • Locations (top countries and cities)
  • Languages
  • Lifestyle
  • Top categories of interest
  • Pages liked and affinity
  • Level of engagement, including how often your lists click on ads
  • Device use

If you have a large portion of your list based in the U.S you can also avail of the data accessible through relationships FB has with third party providers which includes offline and off FB data, such as:

  • Household income and home ownership
  • Household size and home value
  • Spending methods and purchase behaviour

This data will likely be rolled out to other countries at some stage too. But for now you can still gain valuable insights into your lists. This can be very valuable for your business in general and also for deciding on what audiences to target your FB and other advertising to.

Oh, and it’s free to run this analysis. It’s one way of using customer audiences that you don’t have to spend a cent on to benefit from.

2. Convert free readers to paying customers…or up-sell existing customers

This is a pretty simple, but potentially highly effective use of custom audiences. By creating an audience of active email readers you can target ads and promoted posts to them with the best promotion for your paid subscriptions or products. Because they’re already familiar with you they are ideal candidates to respond. (As a bonus, many of them will likely also become fans of your page, and probably be your best advocates).

You are almost certainly already promoting these offers to them via your email broadcasts. But employing a multi-channel approach can reinforce those messages and drive direct sales or help lift the results of your email campaigns. For instance, your reader may see a promoted post on FB in the morning and therefore pay more attention to the email that lands in his inbox that afternoon. That’s selective perception working its magic. There’s also a portion of your file who won’t otherwise see your email. It might end up in their spam folder or they may simply have missed it.

Similarly, you can create segments of buyers and sell them other products. In fact, typically your current buyers will be your most responsive list.

3. Un-Marketing to exclude lists

Savvy email marketers suppress current customers from seeing promotions for products or services they have already purchased when they broadcast their e-letters. You can do likewise using FB custom audiences. Similarly, you can exclude existing email readers from seeing your lead gen advertising. See Un-Marketing: The Art of Not Showing Your Ads to Lower Cost and Improve Performance.

4. Look-alike audiences

OK, finally…drum roll please…here’s potentially the biggest benefit of custom audiences. Arguably, it’s the most important feature FB have released since they launched their advertising platform.

Look-alike audiences do just what they say on the tin: they build an audience very similar to the original custom audience you created. Facebook uses everything it knows about each user and finds commonality with the segments you have uploaded.

Basically FB does the work for you so you don’t have to create advertising targets based on demographics, interests or other factors. There’s still a place for that type of targeting but for easily creating very large lists of people who are just like the people already on your database, you can’t beat the power of “look-alikes”.

And creating these lookalikes is even easier than ever. In fact, when you first upload your original email list you will be promoted to create a lookalike also. Otherwise you simply return to the “Audiences” section in the ad platform and click the “Create Lookalike” button.

You’ll see a prompt like this:

Create a Lookalike Audience

In the “Source” box select the custom audience you want to create a lookalike from.

AIM TIP: Start with your list of buyers first. If the list is large enough you’ll create a list of people who are most like your ultimate target market. We’ve noticed that even the most experienced of marketers can make the mistake of casting the net too wide, by creating look alike’s of their ‘free’ file. We want to hone in on lookalikes of our buyers… not our tyre kickers.

Next, select the country you want to target. If you want to reach customers in more than one country you’ll need to do this multiple times.

At the top you’ll see a link in blue to show “Advanced Options”. (The screenshot above shows the advanced view). This is a latest enhancement. You have always been able to use the slider scale to make larger lists which are similar but not quite as closely matched. FB now allows you to create up to 6 different audience sizes at one time.

Click “Confirm” and your audience will soon be ready and waiting for you to start running promoted posts and ads to.

AIM TIP: create multiple lookalikes but when you choose which ones to target your ads to, start with the smallest, most closely aligned list. If that works well, scale out to a larger audience.

Conclusion: Harness the Power of Your Own Database with Facebook’s Ad platform

The sustained growth of your business depends on finding and acquiring more paying customers. Whether you do that via a two-step method (lead generation to convert to paying subscribers) or one-step (direct sale) chances are you’ll find those people on Facebook.

In fact, with over one billion users on the platform I guarantee your customers are using FB. But don’t take my word for it – you can easily see for yourself using the audience insights feature of custom audiences.

And once you’ve uploaded your email lists and created custom audiences you can target those existing readers to convert to paying subscribers or increase the lifetime value of your current customers. Additionally you can ensure you supress these lists from seeing ads for offers they have already responded to.

But perhaps most importantly you can create “lookalikes” of your customers in order to reach like-minded similar audiences to grow your lists.

There are a large number of other methods for using these audiences too, really only limited by your imagination. That might include re-engagement campaigns to non-active email lists…renewal efforts hitting soon to expire subscribers…and introductory offers to new to file readers. Whatever list segmentation you’re doing with your email broadcasts you can probably mirror with your FB advertising.

The Facebook specialists at AIM have been putting these ideas into practice over the last three years and are seeing fantastic results. If you’d like help to do likewise to grow your business, please get in touch.


Grant Signature

Grant Perry
Marketing Director, AIM

P.S. Don’t forget to connect with us on our FB page and share any experience you’ve had with Custom Audiences. We look forward to hearing from you.