How Not to Use Facebook’s Ad Tools

To pay or not to pay?

How do you get 20k likes on a page? It’s easy. Facebook ran all the click farms out of business by creating their own. Here’s what you do:

  1. Open Facebook Ads
  2. Set up an Engagement campaign with the goal of Page Likes
  3. Target every country on earth except the ones whose inhabitants will ever engage with your content, buy your music, or attend a show, preferably where most of the population doesn’t speak the language your music is written in
  4. Add in some bands you sound like for “Detailed Interests” so you feel like you’re actually targeting people who will care (you’re not)
  5. Throw $10 a day at it for a couple weeks
  6. Voila. You’re in the 20k club

Now you can just sit back and collect the royalty checks right? Nah. Step 7 is ‘Get ready for disappointment and disillusionment’. There are no shortcuts. The result of these campaigns has been that my organic reach has been decimated. Our real fans don’t get to see the majority of our content because of how Facebook curates its newsfeed…or more specifically, your newsfeed.

How Facebook’s Algorithm Works

Facebook, for better or worse, is the arbiter of what you see in your newsfeed. It’s based on your behavior, but, when it comes to pages, it’s based on other people’s behavior as well. What Facebook does when you post to a page you manage is it shows the post to a few people who like your page, and if they engage with it, they show it to more. That’s their AI method for determining the quality of content. This has resulted in all sorts of problems, including the rise of “social media” optimization, i.e. clickbait. So if you have one or two thousand people who have found you and like your page because they actually like your music over the years, and 18k people who have no interest in your content who liked the page for…we’re not really sure why they liked the page…there is a very strong possibility whatever you post will be shown to waaaaaaaayyyy more people who will not engage with it than people who will. As a result of this low engagement level, your post gets throttled. Let me show you some examples from our page:

underperforming facebook post, low organic reach, throttled post
This is our pinned post. That means, hypothetically, that everyone who visits our page will be more or less forced to see this. So, 34 likes, 10 comments, not terrible…but…

underperforming facebook post, low organic reach, throttled post
This is much more typical. We have 23,000 page likes. This post was shown to 87. It was liked by two guys who like pretty much all of our posts because they rule. Big ups Richard and Tai. And I mean, who wouldn’t like this? It looks like an 80s postcard on LSD. There’s a fucking rubber ducky! It took me like 3 hours of tweaking to get the lighting to look right on that thing!

underperforming facebook post, low organic reach, throttled post
Same kind of thing here. BTW, this is what happens when you have multiple page admins, and one of them sees something I post and likes it in their newsfeed. Since they’re an admin, it looks like we liked our own post…which I guess technically we did.  

You get the idea. You may notice that all of these have that nice little reminder that we can boost the post for more engagement. But you know who it boosts it to? Those same 23k people who aren’t engaging with anything else they’re seeing anyway. Yeah, a boosted post will get a few hundred likes, but it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to see new email subscribers or record sales from it. 

Now hang on…

There is a right way to do this. The first half of this post was more or less a cautionary tale from my experience with doing this incorrectly. 

There is a science to this, but it does require a lot of learning to get to the point where you know what you’re doing. Naturally, when I started, I didn’t think I needed to go through any of the training available. That was a multi-thousand-dollar mistake. If it had just been the money, that would be one thing, but it has had lingering consequences as well (see above). It damaged the credibility of the page. It made it more difficult and expensive to reach our real fans. It probably damaged my reputation among more social media savvy people who could see right through what I was doing. It also made me feel stupid, and teed me right up to feel bitter and jealous of other bands that were receiving recognition and success without having done any advertising or perceivable marketing whatsoever (I later learned that they used a different approach that was the basic equivalent of influencer marketing, but that’s for another post, and hopefully an interview).

So what’s the right way? 

Well, there’s no exact answer to that question, but there are some guiding principles that seem fairly universal.

Research, research, research…and then do some research

If you don’t want to waste the money you spend then you will have to spend time. There is a virtual infinity of information available on digital advertising, but for the sake of music marketing, let’s stick to a few guiding principles. Who do you sound like? Who does the average objective listener think you sound like? Is there a philosophical, social, political, or artistic theme to your music? Can you articulate the what’s at the emotional core of your most popular song? Do you use humor in your videos? Do you have an outstanding live performance? What else do your current fans listen to? Don’t be afraid to ask people these questions. It’s possible your listeners will be able to articulate the answers to some of these better than you can. Write all this down. Make lists of these answers where appropriate. 

Use Facebook Business Manager’s Audience Insights

If you’re struggling to find an audience to target, that’s ok. Facebook has an unbelievable amount of data that they will let you mine for free. In fact, they don’t charge you for any of the research tools. They only charge when they start delivering ads for you. So milk the research phase for all it’s worth.

I’m not going to write you a tutorial on how to use Audience Insights (again, if you’re looking for a good course on this I recommend Indepreneur), but I will tell you a bit about it. Audience Insights is a tool inside Facebook Business Manager that allows you to enter a specific interest, associate it with a geography and a demographic, and then see what else people in that group with that interest are most likely to be interested in. There is even a chart that will tell you which other pages these people are most likely to like. This is especially useful if your music is very niche. 

Indepreneur says that the sweet spot for audience size is between 500,000 and 3 million. Facebook’s ads are self-optimizing, meaning that, like the way the newsfeed curation works, they will show your ad to samples of your selected audience and then optimize the rest of its delivery to go to those it determines are most likely to interact with it (interaction has a variable definition based on the type of ad you run because different ad types have inherently different goals). So that means that you need to give it a large enough data set that it has room to do its optimization. If you run an ad to an audience of 2000, the chances that Facebook will be able to find any sizable chunk of those people with enough in common to create an optimal delivery group are slim.

So if your music is very niche, you can use Audience insights to find other artists you may not know about that you can add into the “interests” section of your target audience to grow it to within that range.

Similarly, you can use combinations of artists to narrow down your audience if you happen to sound like someone with a following of millions. An example I’ve used is using Tool as the main interest, but narrowing the audience by saying people must also like Porcupine Tree, King Crimson, or The Mars Volta if they are going to be delivered an ad about us. We have a lot of Tool influence, but we mainly appeal to the less die-hard Tool fans who like some of the slightly nerdier prog rock.

The same thing applies to this example. When I’m trying to tell people what kind of music we play, I often try to smoosh three genres together by saying “progressive psychedelic grunge rock.” When you listen to us, it makes sense, but nobody knows what the hell that is when you say it to them. More importantly, no one is searching for that on the internet. It’s simultaneously too specific and too vague.

So, how can I convey that same thing using information that Facebook will understand, so it can reach people who are into that kind of music without knowing that it even exists? Well, people like artists on Facebook because musical taste is part of their identity. Combinations of artists liked forms a picture of taste. So are there people out there who like a combination of prog rock, psych rock, and grunge? Absolutely. How do you get to them?

Let’s start with the obvious titan of grunge, Nirvana. Despite Kurt Cobain being nearly a quarter century dead, they have a following of many millions on Facebook. But, Nirvana likes have become everything from a musical taste to a fashion statement. There is a company called R13 that makes pre-distressed versions of old Nirvana shirts and sells them $150 a piece. There are people who would be hard pressed to name a single Nirvana song, but who will buy that shirt because…I’m not really sure why. So using additional artists to narrow the focus and remove those people makes sense. If I’m going for hitting all three of those genres, it would make sense to create an audience of people who like Nirvana, but who also like King Crimson, Rush, Tame Impala, and Pink Floyd. That should narrow down the audience to a group that is still large but is much more likely to enjoy our music.

Oh shit…more research

When you’ve got your targeting sorted, you need to figure out what kind of ad is going to appeal to them. Common sense will tell you not to deliver a mellow track to a metal audience, but there’s a little more to it than that. 

This should go without saying, but whatever content you’re advertising needs to be good. It has to have some quality that will make it stand out in the mind-numbing infinite scroll that is Facebook. You can use whatever tactic you want to get someone’s attention (there are numerous), but if you can’t hold their attention, then there isn’t much point. 

Don’t take this to mean that you have to hold everyone’s attention. You never will. But, if you’ve designed your content (music, video, whatever), your ad, and your audience with enough forethought and deliberation, it WILL grab the attention of the right people.

Don’t rely on the ads for anything

But wait a second…what the hell have we been talking about all this for then? What I mean is slightly less hyperbolic that that heading. Don’t rely on the ads to make fans. That is on you. The ads will show you to people that are likely to resonate with your music. It is your job to interact with them, treat them like human beings, and build a long-term relationship with them. It is your job to lay the foundation for this relationship. Make yourself stand out with your willingness to interact with people on your posts, in your messages, etc. 

Give me one reason to stay here

You’ll occasionally get people who are totally enamored with your work, who will take the initiative to seek out and buy your discography, recommend you to their friends, come to your shows, buy all your t-shirts, posters, physical media, and so on, but they are few and far between. Yes, you want to make sure you treat these people with the respect and appreciation they deserve, but this section isn’t about them. It’s about the majority of people who find you and like you.

Seeing an ad and interacting with it is great, but your fanbase will grow a lot slower if you don’t try to keep these people involved. Get them on an email list. Give them a piece of physical merchandise in exchange for signing up. It’s an expense that will pay for itself quickly if you’re smart about it. Create an automated email campaign to deliver content and offers (the general rule is 3 pieces of valuable, free content to every 1 offer) to everyone who signs up. Send them their merchandise. Thank them for signing up. Establish a foundation for ongoing rapport. It dramatically increases the chances that you’ll see these people at a show if you have regular email communication with them rather than just sending them a concert update after 6 months of radio silence. 

It’s a lot of work, and I’m guilty of letting nearly all of it slide at one point or another, but this is my life. If I ever hope to have the audience I want, I have to be the artist that they want. Contrary to how that may sound, that means being myself, playing what I love, and constantly improving. Like my previous article said, it may take 20 years to build an audience. But the chances of it building itself without effort on my part are minimal. 

The moral of the story: 

Don’t wing it. You’ll waste a ton of money. Take the time necessary to learn the correct way. There is a veritable universe of information out there done by marketing agencies, tech bloggers, consultants, people who specialize in nothing but pay-per-click ads, and speculative quasi-amateurs like me. The majority of it is free.

With the correct ad strategy (sometimes totally by accident) I have met people I never would have otherwise, sold dozens of records that would have sat collecting dust, and made some real connections. That part takes consistent work. It’s the hardest part for me because I do not have a predisposition for enjoying meeting new people. I enjoy conversation, but I hate icebreakers. The internet is wonderful for these sort of soft introductions. It takes a lot of the anxiety out of the experience.

I am currently taking a course and reading two books on how to optimize my efforts with this type of advertising. The bottom line, whether I like it or not, is that if the advertising isn’t resulting in either quantitative or qualitative profit, then there is no point in doing it. So I stick to my own doctrine of planning and forethought, I have shut down everything in my Facebook and AdWords accounts, and have been focusing on using Twitter to engage with new people. If you find the idea of advertising yourself totally abhorrent, this may be a better option for you to learn about. I’m guessing if you read this far, that probably isn’t you though.

I’ll be back to Facebook ads when I’m satisfied that my approach is the right one. There is way too much that they can do that I haven’t had the chance to try, and that numerous case studies have said work. Furthermore, they’re kind of fun. They require creativity, strategy, and risk. Those are all things that get me excited. I’ll keep you posted as I try new things. This is just what I’ve learned so far.

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