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April 20 2011

Build your Facebook fan base, increase online action

In four weeks, ICL grew their total Facebook audience by nearly 67% and increased online actions through FB and Twitter.

Idaho Conservation League is the go-to group for clean water, wild places and quality of life in Idaho. They’ve been doing some fantastic work with Facebook ads that we are excited to share with you. We think it’s a perfect example of a basic Facebook advertising strategy that nearly any environmental group can easily run to build up their social media audience and the base of their Engagement Pyramid.

Before we dive in, here’s what you need to know about advertising on Facebook:

1)  Facebook, like Google, makes it very easy to buy advertising in small amounts and with really precise targeting.

2) In a Facebook ad, you can ask the user to “Like” your organization, RSVP for an event or simply click through to any URL.

3) Liking is one of the easiest and best actions to offer, since it’s a single click that effectively adds the person to your Facebook audience, and lets them start receiving messages from you via Facebook. It’s pretty much the Facebook equivalent of someone adding themselves to your email newsletter list. 

The Strategy

ICL has an Engagement Pyramid that they built with Groundwire.  Level 1 of their Engagement Pyramid is “followers”--people who have raised their hands and said, “Yes, I’m interested in hearing more about ICL’s work!”  ICL has some pretty aggressive goals for building up this base level of its Engagement Pyramid, so it has a large enough pool of people that it can work to move up the pyramid toward deeper engagement.

As Sara Arkle, ICL Communications Associate and Chief Facebook Ads Wrangler puts it, “We felt that there were folks out there in Idaho who share our values but we hadn’t yet spoken with. We wanted to let Idahoans interested in conservation values know that we exist and that we have a forum for them.”

Is this by itself a killer social media strategy? Nope. But it’s low-cost, low-effort, low-hanging fruit that we think it makes a ton of sense to harvest. And, as a bonus, ICL has the opportunity to get some real data about which messages resonate best with the exact people they’re targeting.

The Tactics

ICL decided to take advantage of Facebook’s ad-targeting features to focus in on the people they most wanted to have: adults in Idaho whose Facebook interests intersect with ICL’s issue work. “We targeted Idahoans because we are a statewide organization in Idaho,” says Arkle.  “Beyond that, we were looking to reach the people who had self-identified with the issues we’re working on. To build our targeting profile, we tried to imagine our archetypal supporter and played trial-and-error with the available Facebook interest tags.”

ICL also kept their ads focused on the Facebook friends of people who were already connected to ICL, under the assumption that people tend to be friends with people who have similar interests and values. In addition, when you target friends-of-friends, Facebook shows which of their friends are already connected with you, which adds a powerful “trusted endorsement” that Facebook believes can boost conversion rates.

The precise criteria ICL wound up using were:

  • live in the United States
  • live in Idaho
  • age 18 and older
  • are not already connected to Idaho Conservation League
  • friends are already connected to Idaho Conservation League (e.g “friends of friends”)
  • like bicycling, conservation, cross country sking, energy efficiency, healthy living, hiking, politics, public health, snowshoeing, sustainability, water or wildlife

According to Facebook’s targeting tool, this ad can reach a pool of nearly 15,000 people. That’s a pretty good-sized pool of extremely well-qualified prospects! 

ICL decided to test two ad messages:

1) A broad, values-focused message with the copy “Does Idaho make you smile? We work to protect you from toxins and to preserve the land you love. Love Idaho? "Like" us.”

ICL Facebook Ad 1

2) A message focused on ICL’s work in the state legislature with the copy: “Clean water, clean air, wildlife, wild places. ICL is your voice for conservation at the Idaho Statehouse.”

ICL Facebook 2

What was the rationale behind these two different messages?  “We wanted to find out whether people would respond more to our work in the state legislature or to a more general statement of shared identity,” says Arkle.

ICL ran the ads for about four weeks, with a maximum spend of $50/day and a maximum bid of $0.88 per clickthrough. This was near the low end of Facebook’s recommended bid range of $0.77 - $1.12 per click.

The Results

ICL started the campaign with about 2100 Facebook Likes. In four weeks, ICL added nearly 1500 Facebook Likes, growing their total Facebook audience by nearly 67% to just under 3500 Likes. The campaign has cost them under $1200, so the total cost per new fan is well under a buck. 

Increase in online actions spreading through FB and Twitter. “For the first time, we saw one of our online actions go viral on Twitter, “ reports Arkle.  “This resulted in almost twice the number of signatures we would have otherwise expected, spread out over a longer time.”

The campaign also delivered about 4.6 million ad impressions. If we assume those impressions were distributed over an audience of about 271,000 (per Facebook), that means each person saw the ad an average of 17 times. While it’s hard to measure the bottom line results from this, we think there’s gotta be some value in building name recognition in your target audience at such a low price.

Two weeks in, ICL found that their values-focused message was getting about twice the click-through rate as their statehouse/policy-focused message, so they dropped the latter and focused all of their resources on the former. They also found that their clickthrough rates were dropping down, and theorized that it was because they had actually reached the saturation point on their ultra-focused target audience of 15,000. So, they backed off the interest targeting and expanded the pool to about 271,000 Idahoans.


We think this kind of low-cost Facebook advertising strategy is a very simple, cost-effective way to build your Facebook audience with highly relevant people. It could easily be adapted by almost any local or statewide environmental group. The vast majority of such groups we’ve looked at have Facebook fan bases that are much smaller than ICL’s so we think there’s considerable room to pick up these "low hanging fruit."

Here’s how we think a typical environmental organization can put the power of Facebook ads to work:

  • Target appropriate states or cities, people over 18, and focus on friends of friends who are not already fans. Use Facebook’s estimated reach numbers to widen or narrow your reach if you are finding too many people or not enough.
  • Use interest targeting. Figure out what kinds of things your target audience members are likely to have “liked” or expressed as hobbies/interests.
  • Test out various messages. Expect that a general message that connects targeted interests with organizational values will work better than a wonky issue-specific message. Remember that Facebook Likes are about expressing interest and identity.
  • Avoid the temptation to modify the creative or targeting of a running ad; this will make it hard for you to tease out useful comparison data at the end of your ad run. Instead, copy the ad and modify it.
  • If you are in a small market, use interest targeting until you see your response rates dive toward zero, which indicates that you have saturated the current market, then back off and target all friends-of-friends in your target geography.
  • Budget in chunks of a few hundred dollars, run ads up to about $50/day.
  • Your initial goal should be just building your Facebook fanbase. This about building up the bottom of your engagement pyramid.

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