Optimizing Facebook for Advocacy with the Fans and Friends Audience

New Epolitics.com contributor! Chuck Westover is the founder of Next Level Digital, where he continues more than two decades of fighting for progressive policy solutions and electing Democrats at the local, state, and federal level. He joins us today with a simple way to take advantage of social validation using Facebook posts boosted with the “fans and friends of fans” option.

With my digital marketing firm Next Level Digital, I do a lot of digital advocacy campaigns with small state-based organizations affiliated with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). These organizations have Facebook pages ranging in size from 2,000 to 20,000 fans. The FB ad ban was especially devastating to their advocacy programs because FB is BY FAR the best platform in order to drive advocacy on a small budget.

During the ad ban, we tried a number of other methods to drive actions to state legislatures — programmatic ads, patch through calls, P2P texting, Twitter ads (with watered-down language), and more. But nothing matches the low sub-$3 cost-per-action you can get with FB, and these organizations don’t have the money to burn to afford high CPA’s. (BTW, we found patch-through calls to have the lowest CPA among the non-FB options, around $7.50)

Back to the Facebook

So, it was a relief last week to have FB political ads turned back on, and we quickly set up a number of campaigns in states where the GOP is pushing their regressive policies. Here’s one example to show you how effective these campaigns can be:

West Virginia’s Republican legislature became even more Republican in the 2020 elections and now they are attempting to ELIMINATE the state’s income tax. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy (WVCBP) sprung into action, pushing an action page out on social media and using two primary audiences: (1) Fans and Friends and (2) a custom audience upload.

The custom upload uses data from The Movement Cooperative to isolate progressive activists in our key legislative districts (newly elected Republican members), which we then upload and serve ads via Ads Manager to those FB users in order to drive letters to our target legislators. We are currently seeing a $3 CPA here, which we are more than happy to pay.

Fans and Friends of Fans

But where we really get our bang for the buck (albeit in a less targeted way) is when we use organic posts which we then boosted using the Fans and Friends (FF) audience statewide. WVCBP has fewer than 4,000 fans, but the Facebook algorithm that pulls in their potentially most-interested friends allows this to expand to an audience of hundreds of thousands. Naturally, the bigger audience sends our CPA plummeting.

Fans and friends Facebook targeting

We are currently seeing a CPA of 50 cents when we optimize for engagement. My advice is to always try at least two posts — each source coded separately, of course — with one optimized for engagement and one optimized for clicks. The clicks version often wins, but when engagement wins, it usually wins big. The post optimized for clicks is getting a $1.50 CPA in this case, which is very good, but three times higher than the post optimized for engagement.

It’s also important to understand that the FF audience can ONLY be found when boosting an organic post directly from your page. This audience is NOT available when you try to target using an ad created in Ads Manager. In Ads Manager, you will see that you can target the fans of a page OR the friends of your page’s fans, but not fans AND friends. It’s that combo within FB’s algorithm that provides such a great advocacy dynamic.

Think about it — these are your fans who know and trust you best and likely have been trained by you to recognize your action pages as safe to use and an effective tool. And then, their friends are hand-picked by FB based on factors such as how many of their friends like your page and their past interests on FB, so they are also low-hanging fruit. Plus, the user experience of the ad applies social pressure when the friend of your fan sees that notice in their newsfeed that their friend “John Doe also likes WVCBP.”

The Downsides to FF? Minor:

If you are looking to get into targeted legislative districts, you would have to target by cities and/or zips, and you would need an audience larger than WVCBP’s to do it. However, for the low CPA you get with FF, you would be silly not to spend at least some of your budget here.

You also can’t optimize optimize with multiple images and headlines and post copy and such — for that, you would need to do multiple posts, which I recommend doing anyways if you are not satisfied with your initial CPA.

Questions? Email me at chuck@nextleveldigital.org

Top photo: Unexpected friends.

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