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Facebook Advertising Experiment for Nonprofit Organizations :: The Results

March 2, 2010

Over the last few weeks I have been running a Facebook Advertising experiment for the Nonprofit Organizations Facebook Page. While the ad itself produced little-to-no results, some unexpected Facebook insights did come out of running the ad. The results are below:

1. Purchasing advertising did not increase my fan base or help my Status Updates show up in the News Feed > Top News.

The first ad only generated 21 clicks and cost $30. My fan base grew by 47 fans over the three days that it ran, but that’s average. I did not see any obvious increase in my fan base, and there is no way to know if any of those 21 clicks resulted in new fans. Facebook did not run the second ad for reasons I do not know.

Additionally, purchasing advertising did not appear to have any effect on getting my Status Updates to show up more often in the News Feed > Top News. Those Status Updates that did had lots of Comments and Likes. That’s the new Facebook. If your community likes your Status Updates, and responds to them, they will show up in the News Feed > Top News.

That said, I still think nonprofits should invest $25-50 to experiment with Facebook Advertising because:

1) Running an ad is a good tech experience for nonprofit community builders. It helps give you a better sense of Facebook and its users.

2) My ad may have been set up wrong or just didn’t resonate with the Facebook community, but that doesn’t mean yours won’t. $25-50 isn’t much to lose if the ad doesn’t increase your fan base, but if it does result in 50 new fans, just a couple of small donations from your new fans over time could easily cover the cost of running the ad.

3) Facebook has mysterious algorithms. While I could find no proof of it, purchasing advertising may help your Page show up in the News Feed > Top News (down the road) or on the right side of the Facebook Home view of your Facebook friends: “Such-and-Such-Friend-of-Yours became a fan of YOUR PAGE.” Again, no proof, but it makes sense to me that Facebook would prioritize paying customers in their algorithms.

Finally, and this is important, I don’t think it matters much that your Status Updates do not show up in the News Feed > Top News. The News Feed > Most Recent is enough to keep your Facebook ROI (Return on Investment) consistent.

2. Facebook should launch a Facebook Ads Grant Program for Nonprofit Organizations.

It’s time. Facebook has been around 6 years. It’s profitable. Nonprofits throughout the world have sent millions upon millions of e-mails, Tweets, bulletins, updates, etc. asking their supporters to “Become a Fan!” on Facebook. They have heavily promoted Facebook on their websites and blogs, at events and conferences. Essentially, nonprofits have been advertising Facebook to untold millions helping it become the powerhouse that it is today – the second most visited website on the Web today, only behind Google, and Google has a Google Grants Program for Nonprofits.

I have created a new Facebook Page called Call to Action: Launch an Ads Grants Program for Nonprofits. Hope you become a fan. 🙂 I will not have much time at all to run this campaign, so if there are any nonprofit folks out there that would like to help by becoming an Admin, just let me know. I do ask that you work at a nonprofit or have a history in the nonprofit sector, and that you maintain the page with a friendly-to-Facebook tone. I think it is an interesting experiment to be a part of, and ironically, the unexpected result of experimenting with Facebook Advertising.

3. Experiment with creating a Facebook Page for your Cause.

I normally avoid politics and religion whenever possible in my work, and folks that just don’t agree with me on politics, I hope we can be tolerant of our differences. That said, I launched a new Facebook Page during this experiment called Accomplishments of President Barack Obama. In 13 days it has grown to 6,453 fans. It has taken 22 months and lots of promotion for the Nonprofit Organizations Page to reach 8,389 fans. It’s a completely different experience to manage a Facebook Page that gets lots of activity and grows quickly without much effort. I will elaborate on that at a later date, but for now, it’s really got me thinking about how nonprofits can get more strategic in their use of Facebook Pages.

Now would be a good time for some nonprofits to expand their Facebook Page use beyond a having Page for their organization (Latin America Working Group) to also creating a Facebook Page(s) for a campaign (End the Travel Ban on Cuba). LAWG has had much more success with their campaign Facebook Page, than their organizational Page. Your organization may too.

For example, I think a Facebook Page called “Save the World’s Remaining 3,000 Tigers” would grow much faster than a  Facebook Page for a small wildlife conservation organization. Just an idea. If you do decide to launch a Facebook Page for a campaign, I think it’s a strategic and kind gesture to also promote other organizations working on the same issue. “Favorite” their Pages and periodically promote their content in Status Updates. Social media is so much like Karma. The nicer you are to others, the nicer they and others are to you in return via Status Updates, Tweets, etc. It will benefit your campaign to have a diverse body of content and allies.

And just so you know, you can’t create a Facebook Page with the word “Petition” in it. I tried. Thus, why I went with Call to Action: Launch an Ads Grants Program for Nonprofits.

So, that’s it. That’s my Facebook Advertsing experiment. Overall, what I got out of it was a deeper appreciation for the power of Facebook and its role in social change and democracy. I still think nonprofits should be a bit cautious about putting so much effort into a site they have no control over (meaning your communities can be deleted), and that Facebook should return the favor of all that free advertising over the years from nonprofits, but overall, I am more of a fan of Facebook than I was one month ago.

Related Webinar:
How Nonprofit Organizations Can Successfully Use Facebook and Facebook Apps

24 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 8:20 am

    I had a different experience with a Facebook ad. The Boston Wagner Society has a Facebook page and we had about twenty followers before we ran the ad. In the course of about a week we picked up another eighty followers at about a dollar apiece.
    More details: we paid for clicks and got about twenty clicks per day from 20,000 impressions per day. More than half the clicks turned into fans.
    For a small group like ours, with a local focus, the Facebook ad was very effective.

    – Paul Geffen
    Marketing Director for Boston Wagner Society

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 2, 2010 8:37 am

      I thought about you actually… I was wondering since your page was new, were you simultaneously promoting your new Page to your supporters and Facebook Friends for the first time while also running the ad? Also, since you could target folks in Boston… and your nonprofit’s name has “Boston” in it… I think that is a best practice… putting the city name. Take note of that small nonprofits. Glad you had success! If you do it again after your page has been live for while and promoted on your website, e-newsletters, Twitter, etc… please let us know the results. Thanks.

  2. Sorel permalink
    March 2, 2010 8:52 am

    I think it is a great idea to experiment with ads. I have been running a campaign recently for a for-profit client, and it definitely has taken testing to determine which combination of message, image and targeting was most effective. Did you notice that if you go a couple layers deep into the stats, you can learn not only “Clicks” but “Actions?” I found that for every 5-10 people who clicked through, another one or two became a fan directly from the ad. If you didn’t look at this, you might want to look back and see how many (if any) you acquired that way.

    I do question this statement:

    >3) Facebook has mysterious algorithms. While I could find no proof of it, purchasing advertising >may help your Page show up in the News Feed > Top News (down the road) or on the right side of >the Facebook Home view of your Facebook friends: “Such-and-Such-Friend-of-Yours became a >fan of YOUR PAGE.” Again, no proof, but it makes sense to me that Facebook would prioritize >paying customers in their algorithms.

    Many of the pages I see in that upper right corner clearly are not paying customers — they are often pages that technically violate TOS — i.e., they are not businesses (for example, The Final Comma in a Series). I think that without any evidence, we should take Facebook at what they say — the feed shows posts that they have determined to be of value to you. It is based on which pages and people you interact with most often, as well as whom you have most recently connected with, and of course, whom those people interact with as well.

    Thanks for sharing your results. It is very interesting to hear what others discover.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 2, 2010 10:09 am

      Hey Sorel… thanks very much. Would you mind telling me where I could find “Action” stats? I have clicked and clicked and clicked… can’t find it. Thanks.

      Also, the language in Facebook’s Help Center is vague, but they hint that Pages with ads do show up on the Home view of your friends. It’s hard to tell… they call it a “Story” and don’t clarify if it is feed activity, or a “Suggestion”:!/help/?faq=15332!/help/?faq=14657

      Hard to tell… this is very interesting though:!/help/?faq=13670

      Now I can actually watch and see if any of those show up in the feeds/suggestions, so far, none of those… but I bet none of my friends are fans of those pages either. You are probably right, but a big part of me is critical of large corporations that want to take over the Internet, whether it’s FB, Twitter, Google, etc. :0 Not even sure critical is the right word in this case… I wouldn’t fault them for prioritizing Fan Pages that pay for advertising…. that my friends fan. Anyway, I have been trying to figure out the mysterious algorithms for months now… mostly why Status Updates with no comments or Thumbs Ups show up in the News Feed > Top News. An impossibility. I give up.

  3. March 2, 2010 10:37 am

    OK, here is where I found the “Actions” info:
    I went to Ads & Pages, of course. Then I clicked on the campaign name to go into a campaign.
    From there, I clicked on the name of a specific ad.
    The chart I see there reads (from left to right):
    Date/Impressions/Clicks/CTR%/Actions/AR%/Avg CPC $/Avg CPM $/Spent $

    Are you able to find it?

    For the ad I am currently looking at, I see for yesterday 28 clicks, for a CTR of .05%, and 8 actions, for an AR of .02%. I am spending about 0.56 for each click. (I believe actions are a subset of clicks, so really I had 20 click-throughs and 8 people became fans, for a total of 28).

    Hope this isn’t too confusing!

    As to the other question, here is what I understand. In facebook terminology, a “story”: is something that shows up on your newsfeed. It could probably also be a suggestion — I am not sure there is a real difference. Suggestions are like Top News. They allow you to see things you might have missed when you weren’t logged on. Facebook also has collaborative filtering information. For example, it knows that if I am a fan of Page A, I am more likely to be a fan of Page B, based on what other similar people do. If I am a fan of Beth Kanter, then I am more likely to be a fan of Nonprofitorgs, etc.

    So let’s say a friend of mine became a fan of your page, I might see that story in my newsfeed. If a lot of my friends became a fan, it would be that much more likely to show up in my Suggestions. Or if it was a page that Facebook thinks I am likely to be interested in, that also could place it there.

    I am not sure there is a huge benefit to Facebook to prioritize advertisers. Certainly, there is nothing in the advertising materials that suggest it. I worked with one of my clients on premium home page ads, and again, this wasn’t offered as a value-add. Facebook works pretty hard to be upfront about how they use data, so I would be surprised if they were doing things they don’t spell out somewhere. (Not that I am trying to protect Facebook here! This is just the way it looks to me.)

    Finally, those people who show up in your Top News with no comments or likes? Are they people you tend to respond to? My friend Eliza always shows up in mine, because I often respond to what she posts. Or have you edited your NewsFeed options to show more of certain people? That will do it too.

    Ok, I have gone on long enough. I think about Facebook way too much. Hope this is helpful.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 2, 2010 10:50 am

      THANKS so much… and that is very interesting. I do not have the Actions/AR%. Just:

      Date/Impressions/Clicks/CTR%/Avg CPC $/Avg CPM $/Spent $

      Maybe it comes with running numerous campaigns or spending a certain amount… or maybe there were no actions to report, so it doesn’t show up, but like you, I am on FB overload at the moment and don’t feel like researching it.

      As far as the feeds… I just don’t know… I see all my friends in the News Feed > Most Recent… most in News Feed > Top News… and only Status Updates from Pages with 6 or more comments or Thumbs Up on average In the Top News feed… and then a random Status Update from a Page with no comments or Thumbs Up. I have come to conclusion it’s futile to try to figure it out, because then when I log into my husbands page to compare… it’s a whole different story. So as long as Status Updates from Page continue to show up in News Feed > Most Recent, I am happy.

      If you ever want to share any success stories of nonprofits client using adevertsing, just let me know and I’ll blog about it. Nonprofits are pretty curious about this. Take care.

      • March 5, 2010 6:38 am

        Another way to see your Actions is to go to Ads and Pages and then on the left hand side to click on the Reports link. You can then get an advertising performance report for each particular campaign or campaign and even specify the date range. This can be exported into a csv file to be played with that way. It’s some great information – almost overwhelming to try to pull any trends from though until you have a few campaigns under your belt to compare and contrast (and even then still difficult).

        We have done several different campaigns and different types of campaigns for Blood Centers of the Pacific. In general we have averaged about 50-60 clicks per day and about 10-15 actions per day (out of an average 150,000 – 250,000 impressions). The most difficult thing I’ve found is that our CPC has increased so much since we started and at times is very unpredictable. We have had to set our bid very high to even be considered some times – especially around holidays. This may be because we are in a more expensive geographic location with more competition pricing wise (Bay Area, CA). For this reason alone (and of course many others) it would be great if Facebook would start a grants program or at least let nonprofits have a separate pricing structure.

        Thanks for letting us know more about your experiment and definitely your hard work to encourage Facebook to start a grant program!

  4. March 2, 2010 11:30 am

    You are very welcome. No stories to share yet, but hope to have some soon.

  5. March 2, 2010 3:37 pm

    Thanks for all the helpful information on advertising on Facebook! One of the biggest questions we’ve kicked around here ( is “What is a Facebook fan worth?” it’s a question we haven’t yet been able to answer. Will having 10,000 fans over 1,000 mean more gifts? I’d appreciate any feedback or stats on what your experience has been along these lines.

  6. March 2, 2010 5:00 pm

    I’ve followed this with great interest. I do not administer any FB pages but want to share this with those who set up the page for my church. I really appreciate your effort and thoughtful analysis. Thanks!

  7. March 3, 2010 1:47 am

    Thanks for this great post – I really appreciate the learnings, and am intrigued by the advice that nonprofits create facebook pages for their causes – great idea, and I can see intuitively that a cause page can generate more interest on Facebook than an organization page.

    I also set up a little “trial” Facebook ad for Kabissa. I am spending roughly 50 cents a week on it, and the only reason I have kept it is that some of my contacts have been letting me know offline that they appreciate seeing Kabissa ads instead of the typical useless ads that one just ignores.

    I like the feeling that I am putting the Kabissa logo in front of my friends eyeballs while they are doing what they are already doing, where they are, even if they don’t click on it or visit my page because of it. This is worth money to me, though I agree that it’s time for Facebook to offer free ads at this level (really, how much benefit are they getting from the $1 they book off my credit card every two weeks?)



    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 3, 2010 5:49 am

      This is a great idea! Kudos.

  8. March 3, 2010 11:54 am

    I have been in charge of our Facebook since its creation. Over this 10 month period, we have had obvious results with the ad function. We have spent just over $3,000 and received over 4,300 clicks and have added over 1600 new fans. One of the ads run was an ad promoting our website while the other two were promoting our FB page. These two aspects are probably the most important to consider when running the ad. When promoting the FB site, the feature “so and so’ is a Fan” and “Become a Fan” is active. Promoting your website does not offer these options. While which type of ad to run is up to the specific org, we had higher CTRs when promoting our website.
    As far as ad placement, you have to “bid” for your spot. FB has a recommended range displayed based on you ad; bidding higher gives you better placement. Recently, these recommended bids have fluctuated with the life of the ad.
    Just some feedback! Happy to answer any questions!

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 3, 2010 12:34 pm

      Great data… thank you. Very useful. Will likely follow up with you at a later date.

  9. March 4, 2010 9:12 pm

    Did you do any A/B testing?

    Anyway, here’s a case study of an organization running an experiment with Facebook Ads

    I experimented a few years ago and found the same thing – sort of waste for those of us who want to reach people who work in nonprofits – a niche market — probably better for us to hang out in Fan Pages of other nonprofit technology providers

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      March 5, 2010 5:16 am

      Hi… I tried, but Facebook wouldn’t run the second ad. They wanted more $$$ than in the first bid. At that point, I decided to just can it. Shouldn’t be that hard to throw money at FB. Another environmental group mentioned that they had to use cheesy slogans and sex to get the ads to work. I just don’t think advertising results in much for nonprofits on a $50 budget. On the other hand, the Obama page… all I can say is wow. I personally find the ROI from Facebook to be very low compared to other social networking sites, but the Obama page has made me look at Facebook in a new way. If you already have a well-known brand, can tap into a well-known brand, or create a page that’s timely and desired, then FB is amazing. Quite a different experience, Fast growth, lots of thumbs up, comments, and diversity. Nice change. I’ll dig into your studies over the weekend. Thanks much. Hope life is the Bay Area is going well.

  10. April 16, 2010 11:37 am

    If anyone else out there has figured out fan pages on facebook pleae let me know. Am I midssing something? I still can’t see the great value of them. I like how they had groups much better.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      April 16, 2010 11:40 am

      90% of the power of Facebook for nonprofits is the News Feed… Groups no longer get News Feed activity. That’s the most important difference.

  11. November 28, 2010 6:46 pm

    We’re with you in your support of a Facebook Grants program:

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      November 29, 2010 6:28 am

      Thanks. I need to spend more time promoting that page! 🙂


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