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Brown School of Public Health   The Rockefeller Foundation

running a social media ad campaign

Social media ads are a powerful tool you can use to amplify important messages about COVID-19 testing. Advertising can also help you connect with audiences who are not already part of your network. Keep in mind that not everyone is on social media and more traditional advertising methods —such as print and TV ads — may be more effective in reaching this group, but, for the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll be focusing on social media ads and specifically Facebook ads.

The Facebook Ads platform is one of the easiest to learn, and, because it includes Instagram, has the ability to reach a very broad audience. For helpful links on how to create ads for other platforms, such as Twitter, see the bottom of this page.

when to use social media ads

Because most organizations have limited funding for marketing, paid advertising of any type should be used selectively and with clear objectives and measures of success in mind. Social media ad campaigns should always have a budget and run time, to ensure the ads stay relevant to your audiences and so you don’t forget to shut them off. Ideally, Facebook Ads are one of several outreach tactics you’re using to reach and motivate your audiences. However, if you have a limited budget, Facebook ads—and social media ads in general—are one of the most cost-effective strategies available to communicators (compared to print, TV, or radio ads, for instance).

Here are some examples of when to use social media ads:

  • You have a high-priority message that needs to reach a broad audience. The Facebook Ads platform makes it very easy to efficiently broadcast announcements like new COVID-19 testing locations or changes to guidance about who should get tested to wide audiences. These ad campaigns should be time-limited and programmed to reach as many people as possible within a given budget.

  • You are launching a new initiative or campaign and want to get on the radar of specific groups or audiences. Facebook ads are also a cost-effective way to introduce a new initiative, campaign, or website to different groups. You can also use Facebook ads to reach very specific audiences, such as members of the media, political figures and organizations, and other influencers who can help get the word out about your initiative.

  • One of your organic posts is very popular and you want to share it with a broader audience. Facebook’s Promoted Post feature allows you to easily convert an organic post (a regular post, as opposed to a Promoted Post or advertisement) on your Newsfeed into a paid ad programmed to reach audiences outside of your follower base.

running facebook (and instagram) ads

One advantage of using Facebook Ads is that advertising on Instagram is included, allowing you to easily reach specific audiences within the same campaign. Another perk is that Facebook Ads offers two levels of advertising depending on your experience and the complexity of your campaign: Promoted Posts and Full Ads, which are composed separately from regular posts via the Ads Manager. This page focuses primarily on Promoted Posts, which are the easiest and quickest to deploy and best for beginners.

promoted or boosted posts

All Promoted Posts begin as regular posts—or organic posts—that you’ve made on your Facebook page. Facebook allows you to easily “boost” any post and convert it into an ad with a specific budget, duration, and targeting options to expand the audience beyond just page followers. The outcome is that the organic post appears on non-followers’ Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds, encouraging them to do something—click a link,“like” your page, sign up for an event, watch a video, etc.

Promoted or boosted posts look just like any other post you see in your Facebook or Instagram newsfeed, with a few exceptions. Promoted posts are tagged as “Sponsored” so viewers know it’s a paid ad. In addition, Promoted Posts make it quick and easy for viewers to take action with a clear call to action to learn more or sign up for an event.

how to create a promoted post


Choose a marketing and campaign goal
Before you start, decide on a high-level marketing goal. Perhaps you want to build awareness of your organization among members of your community, increase the numbers of people who sign up for COVID-19 testing, or “retarget” followers (reach them again) who have interacted with your organization’s page and content in the past. These resources may also help in choosing a goal and defining your audience: Campaign Like a Pro and 10 COVID-19 Communications Best Practices.

To launch a promoted post, find an existing post you want to serve as the foundation for the ad and click the Boost Post button. From here, Facebook will open a new screen and prompt you to define your ad goal. Choose “Automatic” (best for newbies) or click “Change” and choose from the options.

You will also be asked to choose a call-to-action button which should align with your goal and what you’re asking the audience to do. “Learn More” is the most general option, especially if you’re sending people to a website for more information. Note: Depending on the type of goal you choose, there may be different or additional prompts in this section. For example, if your goal is to receive messages, you will be asked to enter a “Welcome Message.” If your goal is to click a link, you will be prompted to enter the website URL.


Identify and select your audience
Now comes choosing exactly who you hope to reach. Facebook Ads provides a variety of ways to target your ads—from hyper-specific to broad. Most COVID-19 testing or vaccine campaigns require at least basic geographic and demographic targeting, like people over the age of 18 and living in a specific city or state, so the option, “People You Choose Through Targeting” is a good place to start. Next, in “Audience Details,” you can define your audience’s age, gender, and location.

Facebook also provides ways to target audiences by additional characteristics, like job title and parental status, which can come in handy if you’re looking at very specific segments. If not, age, gender and location are usually enough. Bonus tip: If there’s a chance you’ll run another ad targeting the same audience, be sure to save your selections as a Custom Audience to easily target them again in the future.


Define the ad’s duration and budget
Enter the budget and the duration of your boosted post and Facebook will automatically calibrate how often the ad is shown to the audience. One perk of Facebook ads is you are charged incrementally, as the ads are shown, and you can change the budget or stop the ads at any time. Always select an end date even if there’s a chance you’ll turn it off early or extend the campaign. In addition to this screen, if you haven’t already, you will need to enter a payment method for the ads via your Personal Account or a Facebook Business Manager account. We’ve included links at the bottom of this page to guide you in this step.


Decide where to run the ad
At this stage, you can choose where you want the ad to be shown and in what format: Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, or all of the options. To see how your boosted post will look on different platforms and devices, click “See all previews” and toggle through the different views. Unfortunately, within the Boost a Post feature, you cannot edit the text or images of a pre-existing post, which is one of its biggest drawbacks. If you do want to edit an existing post before turning it into an ad, you’ll need to re-build the ad from scratch in the Ad Manager, which is a more advanced platform for running ads and beyond the scope of this article.


Order away
Once a Boosted Postad is set up, it goes to Facebook for approval, and then the ad auction, which helps make sure the right people see it.


Monitor its progress
As soon as your ad is running, check out its performance and edit campaign details, if needed, in the Ad Manager. Tweak and adjust as you see fit, and determine if one iteration is performing better than the other. Track the ad’s (or ads’) progress and then get ready to complete the process over again—when the time is right.

tips & reminders

Keep these things at the back of your mind as you start your journey to becoming a Facebook Ads superstar:

  • Start Small. As with any new skill, we recommend starting small with social media ads, trying out a week-long campaign and getting a feel for how it works. Once you analyze the results (and reevaluate the process and budget, if needed), you should be well on your way to making more advanced, comprehensive campaigns.

  • Check Facebook’s Policies. Facebook is one of the most stringent social media platforms when it comes to ads and policies. Certain types of phrases and language, images, and content isn’t allowed. To stay informed, we recommend you review the Advertising Policies on a regular basis, and pay special attention to the “Steps to Take if Disapproved,” “Prohibited Content, and “Lead Ads” sections. Click “Learn More” under any category to see some examples of what is—and is not—allowed.

  • Use your Resources. Feeling stuck? You’re not alone—we’ve all been there at one point or another. Don’t forget that on the ads front, Facebook offers resources to help you out, including a Help Center , Ads Guide ,and even Online Learning Courses (hint: check out the Advertising videos). It’s also helpful to ask another team member (who specializes in marketing, communications, or strategy, for example) for feedback or to do a mind meld, since there are many things that go into making a successful ad.

  • Don’t Expect to Always Accomplish 100% of your Goals. Set realistic and attainable goals for the outcome of your ads, but don’t get discouraged if they aren’t always met “to a T.” While goals are great to set, when it comes to social media, ads can have unpredictable outcomes (especially in regards to what does and doesn’t perform well). In the end, we hope your organization’s efforts on social media cause people to take action and get involved, but that you also feel good about making a difference in people’s lives by informing them about essential public health information.

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