The ten things I've learned after spending over $15m on Facebook (part one - one to five)

19th November by Deniz Hassan

Published on


School blackboard

Just the other day I decided to have a bit of fun and work out exactly how much cold hard cash I'd spent advertising on Facebook. From my first account where I managed a spend of around $15/day all the way to spending $150,000/day; from the hard (sometimes expensive) fails to unearthing those unicorns; from the 2020 gold rush to the IOS14 shackles... I've been through almost anything Facebook can throw at you. And here's some of the things I've learnt:

1 - It's not a silver bullet

It's damned hard so anyone going in under-prepared and hoping to press a few buttons, slap up some creative and get something back is going to find themselves on the sharp end of a hiding to nothing.

And it's not just about knowing how to use the platform. You need to know your trade. You need to know how to market things. Without all of this, I guarantee you, you will lose money. And you might not even realise it. You might think "I'm getting some donors in, that's great", but in a year's time you'll realise that all of those donors you spent $200 on getting were actually worthless. You actually just lost money.

So plan it. Think it through. Learn the important things that you need to know for every fundraising appeal. Don't just have a go and waste your money.

2 - It's hard graft

If you go into an appeal thinking this is a 'fire and forget', you'll be eaten alive. This is a living, breathing creature and you need to feed it continuously. You need to get over the whole idea of waiting for an appeal to end and then evaluating the lessons for next time. You'll want to be doing that at least twice a day. 

I took a look at a window of 3 months' worth of activity recently and saw I'd made over 3,000 changes across ad copy, creative, optimisation, bid strategies, audiences, budgets etc.

This is why large media agencies often struggle. The amount of time and responsiveness needed just doesn't add up for them so they try to do a 'set and forget' combined with some automation, checking in once a day or so. It just doesn't work.

Similarly when small teams don't resource properly and just tack it onto the comms officer's job without carving out the necessary time... it just leads to failure.

3 - Test, learn, evolve

I guess this is probably a subsection of 'it's hard work' but the more time and structure you put into your experimentation the higher your chances of success. Facebook doesn't like you to stand still so don't make the mistake of finding a unicorn ad and popping your feet up.

With so many variables, it can feel daunting to know where to start which is why you need a structure. Frankly, it doesn't matter what you test first, be it creative or audience or anything else. Just be consistent and apply your learnings.

Yeah, there's a bunch of Facebook best practices (which your lazy global media buyer will quote at you) but they don't always apply. What works for you won't work for someone else. You need to test it and log it.

You never know what's going to work. Some incredibly 'stupid' ideas have come up trumps for me on more than one occasion. So be curious. Be stupid. But structure it. And build your own 'best practice'.

4 - Persist

One of the most regular complaints I see on the various internet forums I'm on is around Facebook and it's approvals. So many people demand to know 'a contact at Facebook that can tell me why my ad is disapproved' and to get it fixed. Firstly, that's not how it works. You don't want to hear this, but for 99% of us, Facebook doesn't care. Your appeal launch date isn't their business. So you're best off understanding the beast with all of its limitations.

First of all, understand the policies. Make your ads comply as closely as possible and expect them to get turned down to begin with. This sector is still very new to Facebook and they're learning. There's lots of organisations advertising and we can't expect the tech to understand everything. It will get it wrong.

And when you feel it's wrong, persist. Keep making microchanges. Keep submitting ad changes. Keep submitting reviews. Understand the policies and make it easier for the approvals team to understand why you think your ads comply by quoting the policy. And keep going. I think my record of back and forth was around 20 emails before eventual approval.

And yes, this could also be another subsection of 'it's hard work'!

5 - It's not all about the ads

It's natural... people have a fixation on the pretty things in life. And in advertising that means creative. But I've lost count of the times where people have spent hours fixing creative when they're directing their ads to an awful donation page that looks like it was built in 2003.

But a Facebook campaign is about more than that. If we consider the ranking factors of an ad, we'll note how important conversion rate is. The better an ad converts, the better your chances of a lower CPM and a lower CPA.

So make conversion rate optimisation (CRO) a baked in part of your campaign strategy. Make sure you know exactly where the problem is before fixing things that might not be broke.

So that's your lot for today's instalment. Parts six to ten to come as what will undoubtedly be your favourite Christmas present. I might even dress up as an elf for those of you that might enjoy it.

On another note, the AAW Group are expanding their digital team! If you're a digital mastermind and are interested in helping shape the futures of some of the finest NGOs and charities then please check out the role.


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