Episode 3: Facebook Marketing for Charities

If you’re working in a fundraising or marketing team for a charity, Facebook has become one of the platforms you simply cannot ignore.

I remember moving to Australia 10 years ago and this weird “channel” known as Facebook with a very clunk advertising platform that was a good way to quickly spend (and usually waste a lot of money).

How times have changed. Since its initial launch in 2007 Facebook has invested tirelessly in improving the advertiser experience. Most of us are, by now, probably familiar with some of the scandals surrounding Facebook and its influence in everything from election outcomes, consumer behaviour to mental health. It’s this ability to directly influence consumer behaviour in a very targeted manner that make Facebook one of the mainstays of today’s marketing arsenal.

We’re not going to discuss too many of the negative aspects of Facebook and social media more broadly, rather we’re approaching this discussion from the perspective of using Facebook to deliver social impact.

In this podcast we talk to Digital Ninja’s founder, Jonathan Dawson and our Head of Digital Accounts Katherine Shirtcliffe about Facebook ads and how to start squeezing the most value for your non-profit.

Facebook for Charities Transcript

Brendan (host):

Welcome to another award-winning episode of the Digital Ninjas Podcast. This is episode three. So, episode one we talked about the Google Ads Grant. Episode two, website tracking. And today in episode three, we’re going to take a deep dive into Facebook ads. So, I’m joined by head ninja and the founder of Digital Ninjas, Jonny Dawson.

Jonny:

Hey, Brendan.

Brendan (host):

And I’m also lucky enough to be joined by the head of Digital Success, Kat.

Kat:

Hello.

Brendan (host):

So, Digital Ninjas, if you did not know, they’re Australia’s leading non-profit agency. And they’re on a mission to maximise the results from digital for their fantastic clients. You guys have some really cool clients. I was on the site earlier today. And let me say, congratulations on serving such an amazing bunch of non-profits.

Jonny:

Thank you. Yeah, we feel really lucky to work with some really interesting causes.

Brendan (host):

Yeah. And let’s give those guys some value today. Facebook ads. So, it’s an area that most businesses have at least tested. But a question that I often get, is Facebook a free channel? Can you unpack that for us?

Jonny:

Yeah, it’s something we come across quite often. And I think increasingly, people are becoming aware that it’s probably not the case, especially for business pages and non-profit pages. It used to be when Facebook was in its infancy many years ago that you could set up a page, you could put posts on the page. And if you had fans on the page, you’d reach all your fanbase with that message. So, it was a really good way of engaging fans. But as the platform’s evolved and developed over the years, more and more users means more and more content. What they call organic reach has declined from kind of the maximum that it used to be, 80%, 90% to less than 1-2% are the common metrics these days. So, in other words, every time you make a post to your page, you’ll reach less than 2% of your fan base.

Brendan (host):

Wow.

Jonny:

Yeah, so it talks a lot about where maybe Facebook should fit in your strategy as well. Lots of businesses have, from local coffee shops through to big companies will have, “Like us on Facebook,” signs in their premises, and it’s like, well why? Because you’ve got to pay to reach that audience again. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that because there’s obviously something in the strategy that might say it’s worth paying to reach them again. And it’s another channel of communication. But you’ve got to think about the fact that it’s not a free channel. You’ve got to have continuous investment in it. You’re competing against every other advertiser on Facebook, essentially, and every other business.

Brendan (host):

And so, what do you get when you pay for ads on Facebook?

Kat:

It depends what you’re after, really. You could spend a lot of money and get not much insight and not many results or not the results you were hoping for. Or you could get some fantastic results. And I think it goes back to making sure you’re setting objectives and going from there. And you know, if you’ve never used Facebook ads before, then ask yourself questions about who are your donors? If you’re going for donations. Or who are you targeting? What normally works for your organisation offline? And start to look at who you’re targeting online and put that into practice.

Brendan (host):

And speaking of targeting, Facebook obviously has over one billion users. How do we find the right people to target for our organisation?

Jonny:

Yeah, this is something that the platform has got really, really good at over the last five years in particular. The amount that they’ve invested in their advertising platform is huge. You can obviously whittle that billion down straight away by focusing on your target market, it’s a really obvious one. So, which country are you operating in? Although, you’d be surprised at the number of campaigns we come across where people have forgotten that step and then a bunch of people in the US for an Australian based course. So, you’ve got to be careful with that because if you don’t get the targeting right, you can reach a massive audience and quickly waste money, as Kat touched on. So, targeting is really important.

Jonny:

But you can go all the way down to specific behaviours, interests. We’re doing activity that’s targeting parents of newborn children. Facebook has so much data. People are on it on a daily basis. And every time they’re using it, every time they interact with a piece of content, they’re giving Facebook data on which to base their targeting algorithms. So, the targeting is something we love. It is possible to get too carried away with targeting. We’ve seen some development recently where it’s almost better to go a little bit broad within a target audience than going too specific. We’re still firm believers in layering on targeting. And I can give you more reasons, some more information on the reason behind that.

Brendan (host):

And what’s more information on the reason behind that?

Kat:

Yeah.

Jonny:

That’s a good question. So, we typically for non-profits in particular at the moment are using Facebook for one or two types of campaigns for the most part. The most popular one at the moment is probably lead generation for causes. So, trying to collect data from people who are potentially interested in making a donation to that cause. The other one is driving traffic to a cause’s website so people make a donation there and then. The latter is harder to do. And I can go into the reasons behind that soon.

Jonny:

But the lead generation piece, we like to have targeting criteria set up and target lots of different segments of people because what tends to happen is when you collect that data from people … So, you might be incentivising people through a petition. They might be taking part in a quiz. They might be downloading some information or a value exchange. Most causes that are doing it effectively will follow up with a telemarketing call. So, there’s someone on the phone that can talk to the potential donor about the cause in more details and how they can help by making a donation.

Jonny:

If you don’t have segmentation alongside your targeting, then it becomes really difficult to match back the pockets of performance. So, when you make that phone call, you may find that you’ve got a big chunk of people that are saying they’re just not interested. Maybe they’ve just had a change in life that means they can’t afford to or they weren’t that engaged in the cause in the first place. If you don’t have segmentation in place, then you can’t identify the pockets of people that are giving you that feedback and refine the campaign. If you’re going really broad, this kind of feedback loop back into the ad targeting becomes very difficult.

Jonny:

So, there’s two ways to look at it. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, where you’re looking at direct donations, quite often it becomes easier to justify targeting a larger group of people because the algorithms are becoming so good at refining the targeting within what you’re doing to optimise for that conversion. So, in other words, because the end conversion is happening on the website, and again, we’re talking a little bit about tracking here, like we did in episode two. This is why tracking is so important. That data gets fed back into the ad platform and it helps the ad platform auto-refine the targeting.

Jonny:

Whereas, when you’ve got lead generation and the conversion happens offline in effect because it’s a phone call, you can’t do that tracking automatically and you can’t feed that data into the Facebook ad algorithm easily. So, that’s the reason for having that segmented approach for some campaigns.

Kat:

And just jumping on that as well, I think it goes back, and I harp on about this, harped on about it in the last podcast, but it’s what’s your end goal? So, if you are trying to generate leads for a regular giving program, people are going to make a gift to you on a monthly basis, the stats are people tend to be in their 40s or late 30s, not younger. So, if you’re targeting people at age 18 on Facebook ads, maybe somebody’s going to sign a petition or do something and engage, but are they really going to be converting at the end? Is that just a wasted spend? Or if you’re targeting people to generate phone numbers so that you can call them, what’s your policy with the opt in, you know? How many of those leads have actually opted in and have given you a phone number, you know? Make your whole advertising focused on your end goal so that you can concentrate your spend in the right areas.

Kat:

I think sometimes people can get a bit carried away with the “This lead only costs me X.” But by the time you come to actually segmenting it and whittling it down to who are the people you can contact and who are the people that gave you the outcome you were after? Maybe it’s actually better to have a higher cost per lead, but a higher quality lead from the offset. And I think people can get concerned, you know? My cost per lead is this. Look at your cost per return on ad spend and your outcome, cost of acquisition.

Jonny:

That’s a really good point, yeah. It’s lead quality over quantity or cost per lead.

Brendan (host):

Yeah. And can you tell me about a time when one of your clients you’ve worked with on setting up a Facebook ad campaign, it could have led to lead generation or maybe traffic to the website that resulted in a donation? Can you just talk us through an example of someone that’s done this successfully and what their outcome has been?

Jonny:

Yeah, we’ve done it for a number of clients, large and small. Probably one of the more well-known ones in Australia that we’ve done it for would be the Flying Doctor Service where we promoted a campaign that was all about snake bite treatments. So, there’s a quiz component and then there was a download treatment guide at the end. And we help them with end to end optimisation of that campaign and it was a fundraising campaign that went to true scale. They were feeding an entire call centre with leads every day of the week for 12 months plus, and generated a huge number of regular donors. It’s a really good return on investment. So, that’s one example at the bigger end of the scale.

Jonny:

We’re doing similar campaigns with UNICEF across Asia Pacific, where in some of the countries they’re operating generating tens of thousands of leads a week, which is really exciting. Like, huge scale behind some of these campaigns. Then all the way through to smaller organisations that might be running fundraising events of their own, or sometimes piggybacking off the back of established events like City to Surf. So, lead doesn’t have to be someone who’s making a donation there and then. It can be somebody who’s interested in participating in an event like the City to Surf. And there’s a number of different ways of approaching those people and making your organisation appealing for them to get involved in.

Kat:

And something I’d say as well is, we’ve taken campaigns in the past, which Jon mentioned which perhaps weren’t actually working so great from the offset, you know? Maybe we’ve inherited them or maybe sometimes even if somebody is … if a charity and organisation hasn’t done much in the advertising space, you’ve got to work to find out, who is your right audience? What’s going to work for you? What type of ad and creative is going to work? How is your messaging feeding in? And that can take time.

Kat:

I think sometimes … Like, Facebook is awesome in terms of if you want quick insights, you know? In comparison to SEO. And even Google ads, I find slower to build momentum than Facebook. Facebook can be pretty quick insights, which is one of the reasons why I love that channel. But sometimes people then marry that thinking, “I should have instant success.” But success with anything comes time, it comes with learning, it comes with refinement. Obviously, you don’t want to keep doing something that’s repeating something that’s not working and providing the end goal. You want to optimise it and change it for success. But that does take time. You need to have a plan of action and stick to it. Like, don’t give up on something just because it didn’t work from the offset. It’s working out what element’s not working and what’s not right.

Jonny:

We sometimes call it the valley of death when you’re in a campaign that people will want to launch a campaign, particularly digitally, and expect it to just go and be a straight line incremental result.

Brendan (host):

Hockey stick growth.

Jonny:

The hockey stick growth.

Brendan (host):

Up and to the right.

Jonny:

Yeah, where you’re just going through the roof. And in reality, that happens to very few campaigns. Like, pretty much every digital campaign you run involves a cycle of optimisation and iteration, be that optimising the messaging, the targeting, even the proposition or the user experience. There’s a whole heap of different things you can tweak to improve performance. And we call it the valley of death because quite often what will happen is you launch a campaign, and rather than the hockey stick, you almost get the reverse hockey stick and things go through the floor. And then, at that point, quite often if you’ve not put this in your planning, people will panic. They’ll spend $10,000, $5,000 and turn things off and go, “This isn’t working for us.”

Jonny:

Whereas, in reality, what’s happening is the algorithms are learning in the platforms. You’re learning based on the targeting tweaks you’re making on the tracking data that you’ve got coming through. You’re making all these changes to the campaign. And then, eventually, you see the hockey stick curve back at the bottom of the valley of death and you climb back up out of the valley into the performance. And then you get the proper hockey stick growth. And it’s having that understanding that you need to go through the pain barrier of seeing some initial loss and optimising through that to get to the growth phase. Whereas people will, especially when they run these things in-house, will put $10,000 into something. It doesn’t work, they report that back to the board. And then future investment gets blocked. So, it can be really, really difficult if you approach things like that. You need to approach things for the long term.

Jonny:

It can be challenging if you’ve got a limited budget. So, if you’ve only got $10,000, maybe you stretch it out over a longer period of time to give yourself time to optimise out of that. You reduce your targeting criteria, you make sure you’ve got as much data as possible going into it, so you’re well-positioned to optimise out of the valley of death quickly.

Brendan (host):

So how do we keep non-for-profits out of the valley of death? So, we’ve talked about identifying your organisational objectives, we’ve talked about how to get the right target audience. What comes next? Do we need to work on the messaging and the hook of the Facebook ad?

Jonny:

Yeah, the messaging and the hook is really important. But the valley of death is something that you may end up in, no matter what your planning looks like. You’ll see probably some kind of dip in performance early on. It might not look good. You might launch a campaign where you want a $2 cost per lead. And you might launch it and in the first two weeks you’re getting a $10, $20 cost per lead. And people panic at that point and go, “Right, turn it off. It’s not working.” But the reality is you build on the data you’re getting live and you can make all those tweaks at the same time. So, you’ve got to be agile about how you approach things. You can’t just go, “We will only change the audience targeting.” You may get away with just changing your audience targeting, but you’re not guaranteed. So, you’ve got to be open to changing every part of the campaign, add creative messaging, so the hook that you talk about, making sure that’s compelling enough.

Jonny:

Hopefully, early on in the campaign, you’ve spent time planning the audience segments that you want to reach, the hypothesis behind why you want to reach them. But then, importantly the message that you think will appeal to that segment based on the proposition that you’re pitching. So, for example with the snake bite proposition, if you’re promoting that to people who like camping and outdoor activity versus people who are maybe more city dwellers, there’s obviously a very different angle to how you’d pitch that. And again, families with children versus families without children. The way that you talk to them about snakes and the impact on their outdoor activity might vary. So, quite often when you sit back and think about the proposition you’ve got, there’s many different ways you can package the same thing to maximise the appeal to different audiences.

Kat:

But with messaging and hook, that’s definitely also another area that is important. And I think testing that and testing different messaging and different hooks because, at the end of the day, you’re competing against a crowded market, you’ve got to catch people’s attention. Testing also where you’re asking what. So, a lot of the time in your ad copy, people may wait until the end to put what it is they’re really wanting and what action they want people to take. But actually, try mixing it up and putting that in front and as the eye-catcher.

Kat:

So yeah, that’s incredibly important because it could be that you could spin the same thing in several different ways and something is going to work a lot better than another ad copy or an image is going to work a lot better than another image. And you can often see that quite clearly when you do tests of different images, same ad copy. If you’ve got kind of a bit of a rubbish image, it does make a massive difference. Facebook is visual at the end of the day. You need to grab people’s attention. So, if you’ve got some grainy old photo that doesn’t really say much, people are probably going to scroll right past the text, you know? You need to have something that stands out, that is eye-catching, that makes people stop and look, definitely.

Jonny:

I think Facebook refers to it as stopping the scroll, don’t they? Because you’re there flicking through your news feed, there’s all these different posts from friends or funny videos that you’re looking at. How do you grab someone’s attention when they’re in that mindset? And it’s got to be something that really grabs them usually.

Brendan (host):

Yeah, I was talking to Tim Doyle who was the previous head of marketing at Koala Mattresses. They were talking about their testing strategy, 150 tests sometimes on a daily basis. And then they took the learnings from Facebook and eventually developed the whole Koala brand, copy, and identity based on these tests as well as converting customers and selling mattresses. So, there’s definitely a lot of value in testing not just one or two different aspects, but across the entire board.

Jonny:

Absolutely. And I think Koala are a good example who’ve … They’ve got a very established Facebook marketing program. If you’re just starting out and you definitely want to test. You probably won’t have the budget to test 150 variations. So, keep it in moderation in line with your budget. You don’t want to spread your budget so thin that you never get a significant result from your test. But you’ve got to be testing all the time.

Kat:

And on that testing, actually, is a discussion that Jon and I were having the other day. And I have stolen this from somewhere else, but I think it’s a really good guideline with your spend, you know? Put 70% as to what you know is working and where, to know your key audience or you’ve already understood the basics or what messaging works. But have another spend available for testing purposes. So, look at your budget, dissect it as to where are you putting the majority of your spend? If you’ve got the tried and tested methods, put it in there. But keep experimenting, keep doing new things, because also it’s what worked once isn’t necessarily working now. Things change all the time. And also, within Facebook itself, if you’ve been on Facebook ads for a while, it was quite a clunky ecosystem, to be honest, and platform. It could be a bit frustrating at times. Whereas, now it’s a lot slicker and you can be a lot more creative without being a creative designer, etc. They give you a lot of free tools you can use to work on your proposition and other elements.

Jonny:

They really do. I think Facebook have realised that a lot of businesses maybe don’t have design capacity or don’t have the will to invest in design themselves just to try Facebook ads. So, they’ve made it increasingly easier to do that design yourself and very professionally from within the platform, which is a really exciting development, particularly for small businesses and small charities. You can have a really slick looking ad very quickly and very easily.

Kat:

Yeah. And I think that’s a really key point about being agile and nimble. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have the perfect creative and spend a lot of time slogging over how is this going to look? You can quickly test things and put them together … Like Canva, the free tool as well, where you can make great creatives. Facebook itself, as I said, has some brilliant tools now. You shouldn’t have to spend a lot of money on your assets. Like, a key quality picture is good enough. And then, from that you can create a video from a number of stills, you know? Video can catch attention. But we actually find, though … I don’t know, do you agree with this, Jon? For a lot of things, video’s great for capturing attention. And it also depends on what your goal is. But time and time again, I find actually a simple single image ad often outperforms either a carousel ad or video ads.

Jonny:

Yeah. I think generally it does depend on the campaign.

Kat:

It varies, definitely.

Jonny:

Yeah. Like, videos that use kinetic text where it’s not subtitles, but it’s text that’s moving across the video as maybe there’s a voiceover in play or even without a voiceover because lots of people view their news feed on mute, can be much more effective than a video without kinetic text. So, that’s something to really look at. If you Google or YouTube kinetic text examples, you’ll see a lot of really great work on that front. And it gives you some good ideas on what you could do in that area. But definitely, you don’t have to get overly complicated to begin with. If you’ve got limited time, limited investment, you can get a long way with a single image ad.

Jonny:

The other point you were making there, I think, about getting to market quickly and not over-investing in campaign development I think is key. One of the approaches that we’re seeing working really well is using Facebook as almost like a market research tool. So, you think as a team, what propositions could we go out there with based on our objective if we’re raising funds if we’re trying to generate engagement with something? And let’s put a number of different messages out there, a number of different creatives and test what our target audience responds to before we go and even develop a landing page.

Jonny:

So, you can do a single post. You can see what the engagement rate is on that post. So, making sure you’re using the right metrics to measure success, not just the number of engagements, but the engagement rate. So, of those that see it, what proportion engage with the creative. And then you can get some insight into what appeals to people before you even invest much time in building out a whole suite of landing pages, emails, whatever it is you’re going to develop. You can get all this market research done from within Facebook without paying a market research agency. You’re interacting with real people. You don’t have to ruin your brand reputation or mislead people because these should all be things that you do as an organisation. You’re simply testing different messages and different images against your target audience on a really, really low budget. You could put $100 into each iteration and get some really good insight on what works.

Kat:

Yeah, and I think also, you touched on a good point there, Jon, with landing pages, you know? You have to have a good landing page if you’re wanting conversions, depending on what you’re looking to do and depending on what your journey is, you could maybe get a lot of people going through to your site, but they’re not taking the action or making the conversion that you want. So, you’ve got to stop and ask, is it that you’re funnelling the wrong people to the page? So, actually, it’s to do with your audience that you’re targeting. Or is it that actually, this page experience isn’t good? And all those things, it can’t be looked at in silo. You’ve got to look at the full journey is really my point. And I think that often gets forgotten.

Kat:

I see this, I know this is a Facebook focus session. But in other channels as well I see it, where people are like, “We want this to happen.” And you could have the best ads going, but if the where people then click through to isn’t a good experience, that, A, is going to hamper your overall quality anyway as an ad and the algorithms are going to start to say, hey, people aren’t doing what they’re wanting. So, we’re not going to show this ad as much. And that’s something that I think can often be forgotten as well.

Kat:

So, as Jon said, if you’re keen to just test on propositions, etc., it could be a post, it could be using some of the Facebook lead ad forms or something, you know? Take time to look at that first and then ensure to build out the full journey.

Jonny:

We could do a whole session on user experience and landing page experience, I think.

Kat:

User experience.

Brendan (host):

Yeah.

Jonny:

Because quite often, you go through to the donation page and it’s like, you see 20 fields, name, address, date of birth. Like, why do you need my date of birth? Why do you need my postal address? And you don’t necessarily get that feedback because people just abandon it because they can’t be bothered. But you’ve got to really think end to end once you start scaling your campaign about the journey that you’re sending people on.

Brendan (host):

Yeah. Kat, Jon, thank you so much for enlightening me and the audience today on Facebook ads. Super exciting stuff. Is there anything you want to say to the audience before we wrap up? And how can people find out more about Digital Ninjas?

Jonny:

My only addition to what we’ve spoken about would be, I think lead generation, one of the things we didn’t touch on in too much detail … We talked about lead quality. But also, as part of that, figuring out the intents of a person. So, we are doing lots of activity on Facebook using what Facebook calls, Facebook Lead Ads, where you can collect people’s data from within Facebook. So, name, email, and phone number are typically the most common data fields collected. And typically, they’re pre-populated when you go through a lead ad in Facebook because people have already put that data into Facebook, it pulls it in and it makes it really easy to submit the data to the charity in question.

Jonny:

The downside of having that ease of use is that it can be almost a bit of a mindless action. People are not really thinking about what they’re doing when they’re going through the process. And that can have negative impacts on lead quality. So, generally, the data quality is really good. You get valid numbers, valid names, valid emails. But the intent might not be there. So, increasingly, we’re starting to experiment between lead ads and sending people to a properly optimised landing page. So, it’s just one important piece of information that I think is good to close with, thinking about the intent of the user. And you can make things almost too easy for people to click through and they don’t really remember what they’ve done. And when you follow up and phone them or email them, it’s kind of long forgotten because they’ve done so many other things that day or that week on Facebook. So, that’s my closing comment. But no, I could talk about this subject all day, so thank you.

Brendan (host):

And you guys can find all of the resources, case studies, and you can also find the transcript at digitalninjas.com/podcast. Kat, Jon, it’s been fun. Thanks for coming in.

Kat:

Thank you very much.

Jonny:

Thank you.

You can find out more about our social media campaign services for charities here.