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Supporting image for What’s Working in Facebook Ads Now – Amanda Robinson
What’s Working in Facebook Ads Now – Amanda Robinson
Social Agent

Many businesses have scaled back or abandoned Facebook Ads, which means it’s a prime time for you to jump in or double down. But if you don’t understand the new restrictions or what first party vs. third party data is, you’re likely to lose money. To avoid that fate, we’ve got Facebook Ads expert, the Digital Gal herself, Amanda Robinson, to show you the light.


Rich: My next guest is back for her second rodeo here on the Agents of Change podcast. She has been all over the world of late training business owners and marketers as part of Meta, as well as running her own training courses under The Digital Gal banner. She’s a go-to expert on Facebook ads and camping in the wilderness in the middle of winter when it’s cold out and there’s frost everywhere. And it is always a pleasure to have her back on the podcast. Please welcome Amanda Robinson. Amanda, how are you doing?

Amanda: I’m doing very well. Thank you again, Rich, for that awesome intro and for having me back. And yes, I did not freeze. I made it back from camping in the middle of the frost layer and surfing at the same time in Canada.

Rich: There you go. Got to be tough. All right. Let’s talk more about indoor stuff, and specifically about Meta ads, Facebook ads. You work with a lot of clients, and you train people up in Facebook ads, and you’ve been doing this for years. What is some of the biggest questions or concerns that you are getting these days?

Amanda: Well, it’s shifted over time. It used to be, “How do I make my ads better?” “How do I get more conversions?” And it’s shifted over time to a lot of people having issues with their accounts, “I’m blocked here”, or “These ads are getting rejected,” “I can’t access this account.” So a lot of technical issues have cropped up over time.

And then we’ve seen a big shift in targeting. So things that used to work five years ago, no longer work today. We have a reduced volume of targetable interests on the platform. We have things to compete with such as Apple restricting data away from Facebook with the iOS14 update, and the just general shift from using what we call your ‘first party data’ versus ‘third party data’. So relying on building your audiences and retargeting based on things that happen on the platform, instead of relying on website traffic, et cetera.

So there’s been a giant shift all the way around. It really feels like the carpet’s been ripped out from under all the business owners, and we’re all shuffling to find our footing again on what’s working with Facebook ads. And there are still some things that work pretty consistently, but yes, it’s a different landscape now. So if it’s been a while since you’ve done Facebook ads, you’re in for a little bit of a steep learning curve to get back into it.

Rich: All right. There were a lot of things in that answer to unpack. So let’s start with some of the basic ones, because I’ve seen this, too. People just having technical issues and access issues with their own accounts. Sometimes it’s too late after somebody has come to you and said, “Look, I can’t get into my account”, or “Somebody’s taken over my account.” What are you telling people, either in terms of recovering or any other issues about accessing their account, and what are you telling them to avoid those problems in the first place?

Amanda: So when it comes to your accounts or facing restrictions, there are three levels or three layers on how you can be restricted. One is, you have an ad account and that ad account gets restricted, so you can no longer advertise using that ad account. That doesn’t mean you can’t go and create a brand-new ad account and go and run ads. The issue is with your ad account though, all of your audiences are attached to that and all of your advertising history, it’s not good if you have that happen.

Your ad account lives inside of a business account, inside business manager or business suite, and you can potentially have your business account restricted. Meaning all the ad accounts inside of it, all of your pages, all of your pixels, your catalogs, your everything can get locked up. That’s really bad. We don’t want to see that.

And then the third layer is you as an individual person can be banned as an advertiser or restricted as an advertiser. So I can technically, if I were to get banned, I could still have administrators that are inside my business account who have access to my page, they can carry on and run ads, but I personally wouldn’t be able to run ads if I was restricted.

So out of all three of those layers, first and foremost, when people are coming to me with issues, we’ve asked a few questions to figure out, okay, what layer are we restricted on? And then have you appealed that restriction. So you need to appeal those restrictions fairly quickly. As in don’t let it sit for a month and then decide you’re going to come back and try and gain access. Facebook will basically shut you right down right away and say ‘no’.

Another unique thing that has been happening is that yes, in some instances a business owner has through no fault of their own had an account breached. And if an account has been breached by any type of fraudulent or bad activity, then that account is pretty much getting locked up and disabled because it acts like an infection. So once one part of it has been infiltrated, there are so many different areas behind the scenes that they can continue to have access to. It’s very hard for you to get an account back through no fault of your own if it has encountered fraud or something to that nature.

So the second part of your question is, what do you do about it? Number one, appeal anything. If you face a restriction for any reason, appeal it right away. Don’t sit on it. Don’t wait. Ask questions. You can go to, there’s Facebook business help and you can access a chat that way. Follow it up, follow it through, stay on it and stay on them as long as you can drill down to get to that final answer.

The other part of that is two-factor authentication. I can’t stress how important that is. I cannot stress enough how important having two factor authentication on your own personal Facebook login. When you go to log into Facebook as a human, that part of your account has to have 2FA on it. That can prevent a lot of these future potential issues. And then outside of that, have a good understanding of Facebook’s policies, Facebook and Instagram, and understanding what’s allowed on the platform and what’s not.

I’ll give you a quick example. Working with someone who sells a product that helps, that is very appealing to people into fishing and hunting. To people into fishing and hunting, this isn’t a gun, but if you have an image that has a hunter in it, it could potentially get restricted. So if you get too many of those flags, your account might get shut down. So understanding your product, understanding the limitations of the platform, and then working very carefully within those limitations.

Rich: Excellent. All right. You talked a little bit about some of the privacy issues that have come up, iOS14 blocking a lot of the data that Facebook used to rely on. You talked about first person versus third person data. Can you explain that to us, and maybe how that should shift our thinking when it comes to advertising?

Amanda: Absolutely. So this was a very painful shift that all of us went through in the advertising world. So what was happening is back in the day, we used to have a lot of success with retargeting our website visitors. Meaning anybody who went to your website, if you have a Facebook pixel on your website, you can collect an audience of people who have visited your website and then retarget them with Facebook ads at a later date. And there’s more, so much more that your pixel can do for you with that data. Now Apple, with the roll out of iOS14, has restricted a lot of that data away from Facebook. So they’re not just freely handing that data over. Meaning we don’t have full visibility to our website visitors in order to retarget them. So that’s what we would call third party data. You’re relying on a third party to report that information back to you to say, yes, that traffic made it there, or no it didn’t. And when we don’t have access to that third party data, we have to get a little more creative.

Now first party, things that are happening firsthand on the platform. So if someone on Facebook likes, comments, shares, reacts, watches a video, clicks on a link, all of those things take place on the platform, and we can firsthand see that took place. So we have a lot more confidence in the validity of that data and we can audience build on that data, and we can create ad opportunities within the platform to get people to engage on the platform instead of sending them off the platform. So we have a lot more available to us as advertisers right now if we’re focusing on first party data when it comes to our ads and retargeting and audience building, compared to third party data.

For example, using website visitor audiences. We can still use those audiences, they’re just not very effective right now. And if you try to use them, you’ll get a whole bunch of warnings in your ad account with Facebook trying to gently redirect you. Are you sure? Are you sure you want to use that audience? It might not work as well. Why don’t you try one of these other first party options over here? Jazz hands.

Rich: All right. Which makes a lot of sense. And probably the more traffic you’re getting, the less of an issue it is. But if you’re already not getting a lot of traffic and iOS14 is hiding that traffic from Facebook and from you, then you’re just working with such a small sample size. It’s not really a good targeting, is what I’m hearing.

Amanda: One of the exercises I’ll do if I’m speaking to a group of people. Say it’s a main stage thing and you have 300 people in the room, get everybody to stand up and then say, “Okay, everyone here who has an iPhone sit down.” And then you just have the Android users left standing and usually it’s a much smaller portion of the room. And then I look around and say, “All of you who are still standing, you are who I can retarget with my website visitor audiences. Everybody else, I have to target you in a different way.” So visually it helps trigger and cue people who are not tech savvy, who don’t understand pixels and first party/third party website retargeting, all of that. It’s such a good visual to say, look, you are the people I can target. I can’t target these other people the same way we used to. So that’s why the landscape is a little bit different as an advertiser this year compared to several years ago.

Rich: So if that’s the situation and you’re dealing with targeting a quarter or a third of your website traffic, what is the answer? Would you go in and create that audience and then build a lookalike audience based on that, hoping that you’re going to pull in some iOS people? No, I see you shaking your head.

Amanda: I’m shaking my head ‘no’. A lookalike audience is only as good as the quality of your source audience that it is being created off of. So if you already have a reduced quality audience, and then we’re trying to make it look like it, it’s going to be terrible. So the answer is the content. The quality of the content that you’re putting out there has to be strong enough to attract your ideal customer or your ideal audience. So in the past, you could put very little effort into the quality of your ads, and you could really rely heavily on targeting and laser focus with your interest targeting, with your retargeting, all of that. And you could have success. Now you really need to put a huge amount of effort and weight on the quality of the ads, the quality of the content, and have that reflect back what you’re trying to attract. So you need to stop the scroll of the people that you can potentially do business with.

And what I mean by that is, if you’re putting out ads that stop the scroll for everybody, that just can attract general everybody. You’re going to be spending a lot of money to get a whole bunch of activity from people who are just not that interested in your brand. And then you’re going to spend money retargeting your people who engaged with your page, people who watched your videos. It’s not necessarily an indicator of interest in what you have to offer. So you need to put out high quality content that is reflective of your brand, of what you have to offer, but is very exciting, intriguing, scroll stopping for your ideal audience.

Rich: But to be clear, this content that we’re putting out that is stopping the scroll for our ideal customers and no one else, in a perfect world. We’re still having to put money behind that, because otherwise with Facebook’s organic reach for businesses, no one’s ever going to see it. So what are in terms of, if I understand you correctly, developing that first person data is we still have to have a sense of who our audience is, be willing to spend some money at Facebook to get in front of that audience, as long as it’s an audience that Facebook can identify and target, and then we have to get them to engage with that post or our page, which would probably be attached to it. That’s now the new way, and maybe not so new, to advertise on Facebook well.

Amanda: I would say to sum it up, your targeting can’t go as laser focused as we used to. So we’re encouraged by Facebook to go more broad. So you want to go very broad with your targeting and you want to rely more heavily on the nature of the content you’re putting out to attract your ideal audience back in. And the good news is, first party interactions are a lot less than third party. So to keep people on the platform and to do ads for engagement, do ads for video views – those are what I call ‘cheap and cheerful’ – they don’t cost you that much. And then you can audience build off of those and then you can down the road retarget that exact audience and then try to get them to click to your website, or become a lead, or do something of a higher value of an indication of interest.

But keeping people on the platform doesn’t cost as much as sending people off the platform, and I think it’s overall beneficial that advertisers are finally being forced to learn how to compete with the quality of their content versus how well they can target to hook the right people.

Rich: What are some of the things you’re seeing these days from you and your clients getting people to stop the scroll? Are there specific ad types? Are there specific commonalities that you’re seeing in some of these ads that you’re like, this is what people should be doing in general, and then you got to figure out your own path?

Amanda: Well, if you want the easiest answer, if you put a puppy in anything, it’s going to work. I hate to say that.

Rich: But if you’re not selling puppies.

Amanda: I’m working with an author right now and she’s on purpose putting a puppy into the cover of one of her books, because it does help the algorithm, help with distribution. But puppies are not the answer to everything. But high-quality imagery is. And if you can have something relatable, people’s faces inside ad images work very well. If you can see something recognizable and relatable, that really does help. Generic stock photography I would avoid. I would also avoid having an image that has a ton of text on top.

Now back in the day, Facebook wouldn’t let us run those ads. They would get rejected if we had more than 20% text. They’ve since removed that rule. But from what we see in the backend, if you still have a lot of text, you’re getting ranked as a lower quality ad and you’re not even being shown in the auction. You’re not competing against other advertisers for those high-quality placements. So just avoid the text in your images. Use the allotted places of your primary text and your headlines to be able to do the selling, to say what you need to say.

As far as ad types go, video. Video is an absolute must, you must incorporate video into your advertising structure somewhere. It doesn’t have to be the be all and end all, but you need to be comfortable with having some type of video to change up the visuals of what people are seeing. And to give you a greater ability to be shown in different placements across the platform on both Facebook and Instagram.

And static image ads. Just your standard image ad does a great job at getting people to click to go off to a website. So if you’re trying to capture new eyes and get new people introduced to you and your brand, video is a really great vehicle for it. If you’re trying to get people to take an action, I would say that image ads are still a really great vehicle to make that happen.

Rich: All right. And how does this all interact with Instagram, which is obviously owned by Facebook and WhatsApp? Are all these platforms together, is this all first-person data or is it only the data that’s coming directly from Facebook that matters?

Amanda: I’ll use the examples of Facebook and Instagram. Facebook and Instagram, when you run ads based on Facebook’s Ads Manager, you can run ads to Facebook and Instagram simultaneously, and all of those interactions count. Those video views on Instagram, those clicks when someone clicks on the “…see more” to expand out your text to read the full thing, all of those interactions count. Those are all first party data. And it’s very important to put out content that gets people to take an action. That’s what I call the heartbeat of your content. If your content has no heartbeat, people aren’t engaging or interacting with it, the algorithm isn’t going to continue to serve it. And if you’re trying to move it with ad dollars, it’s just going to cost you a lot more to achieve.

Rich: So let’s put this into real world ideas. And of course, you and I were talking about the upcoming Agents of Change conference next October. Obviously, we’ve advertised on Facebook in the past. It’s been a few years because we took a break for Covid and all this other sort of stuff, so it’s almost like we’re starting from scratch maybe, unless you tell me that we’re not. But, so what I’m hearing is we should be focusing on building out some of this first person data. And it sounds like trying to figure out who our ideal customers who would come to the conference.

So there’s probably a location or geography involved. That’s not a hundred percent of our attendees, but what other things might we think about – and obviously extrapolate this for anybody putting on event or having something like this – what are some of the steps that we might take to really build up this first person data and build up an audience that when we’re ready to sell tickets, we’re going to be able to target these people well and sell out?

Amanda: I love that we’re using an event as the example, because events in particular when it comes to this first party data, we generally have 365 days a year that data is active that we can continue to use those audiences and retarget. So if someone hasn’t engaged with your page in over a year, they fall off the back end of that audience, they’re no longer eligible. We have to attract them again from scratch.

So as a conference organizer or as a business owner who is running an annual event, you have to keep that in mind that if you run the event, you have all this exciting stuff happening and people are engaging with the content and the pictures from the event, and then everything just goes dark and quiet and crickets, then you no longer have those engagements happening. So that following up the following year when you’re ready to start ramping up your advertising again, your audience sizes that used to be huge are now these tiny little trickles of audiences that you’re starting from scratch all over again.

So if you are in that position for future events, you want to have regular touch points throughout the entire year that are keeping people engaging so it keeps those audiences healthy, so that when you are ready to start ramping up again for the next season, you have viable audiences, warm audiences to go back out and reach.

So if you are starting from scratch and it’s event focused, I would start gently seating those audiences by using videos and getting video view ads running out there. I would be focusing on you want to be under 10 cents through play. Through play is a 15 second video view. So if you can get that around 3 cents, that’d be great. 10 cents a bit on the high end, but start just circulating ads out that way and target the people who have general interest. In your case, you are running a conference that’s focused on digital marketing. So you can target a whole bunch of other digital marketing entities or interests. And you’re right, you’re not really locked in by geography, because you have people that fly in from all over the place.

Rich: And we do a virtual pass, now that I think about it, too.

Amanda: I would split it into kind of two pockets. One, drop a pin on a map and hit your geographical radius around the venue and saturate that hard with just a fire hose of content and video content mainly. And then I would do your international or your national audiences separate, handle them separately, exclude your existing area. And then I would over time move from video view, I would do some content for engagement. But then as you start to get closer into moving into ticket sales, I would retarget anyone who’s watched your videos or engaged with your page with an offer for tickets, and then start retargeting that way.

But if you were to just go right outta the gate, zero activity all year, everything’s been crickets, and then you just switch the light bulbs back on and go, “Okay, the conference is back, buy your ticket today,” and throw an ad out there trying to get link clicks to purchase a ticket. You’re going to spend a lot of money on your ads and not get as much response, compared to had you warmed everything up and gotten the ball rolling, the momentum rolling again with engagement first and built some warm audiences first. And that timeline on how long it takes, I would start at least three months ahead of time. Well, I’d start now in your case to just keep on everyone’s radar. But for an event, you need a good lead time of about three months to really ramp it up.

Rich: We talked a little bit about getting people to engage with your page. How about if you have a Facebook, a group? Are those things connected or do we not even worry about the group? Or can we get creative and use the group as a way of driving traffic to a page, which would then signal the first party engagement?

Amanda: Great question. So when you are posting inside of a group, your page might have a group and you’re posting inside of that group, but you’ll notice when you’re posting, you’re most likely posting as you, your own individual profile. You can actually toggle yourself into your business page as a profile and post on behalf of your business.

So my business is The Digital Gal. My name is Amanda Robinson. So my personal profile is Amanda, my business page is the Digital Gal. And I can post inside of a Facebook group as The Digital Gal, and so can other administrators of my page can also post inside my group as The Digital Gal. Anything posted as The Digital Gal, if I shared a video in there, if I shared anything posted as The Digital Gal, those count for those engagements post as me, as Amanda Robinson. Those don’t count toward audience building. So keep that in mind, too.

The same conversation goes when people say, “Well, I get a lot more activity when I post personally versus posting on my page.” Say if you’re a realtor, for example, they like to post personally and share within their own network that they’ve built. You’re not audience building, you’re not building any of that momentum. You’re making it a lot harder for yourself down the road when you do decide you want to start pumping more money into advertising. So you do need those interactions.

So group groups in general, just pretend they don’t exist. When it comes to advertising, no, you can’t target a group. You could target an interest related that a group might fall under, but you can’t rely on that. Are there tactics to really engage people in the group to get them to click to your page? Yes, but it’s the long way around. There are cheaper and faster and easier ways to do it just with straight up ads without having to get that creative.

Rich: All right. I want to shift gears here for a second, because there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world around us. There’s a lot of concerns around the economy and what direction it’s going in. A lot of businesses are signaling that they’re considering there might be a slowdown or whatever it may be. And what’s the first thing that they stop doing is marketing and advertising, of course.

One of the big concerns that I’ve heard recently is, “How do I keep customers?” And I’m just wondering from a Facebook ad standpoint, customer acquisition is obvious that’s what we always talk about, but is there a place in customer retention for Facebook ads?

Amanda: Absolutely. Relate it to radio ads. So if you’re hearing an ad on the radio and you’re hearing it over and over, you tune out a little bit. When it’s on the radio, you get in your own head space until the music comes back on. Or at least that’s how it used to be when we didn’t have on demand services. So those radio ads, it might take you hearing that radio ad 17 to 25 times before you go, “Oh, you know what? Yeah, I really do need to go buy a lawnmower. They’re having to sale. Okay, I’ll go and do that.” But it’s that repetition that really makes a big difference.

So when it comes to your Facebook and Instagram advertising and staying relevant and maintaining your current customer base, you need to keep showing up. You need to be everywhere that they are. You don’t need to keep showing up with the same repetitive radio style ad, but you need to be present. And you can do that with these cheap and cheerful engagement ads that make sure you’re showing up in their Facebook feed, make sure you’re showing up in their Instagram feed, inside their Instagram stories. All the places, the more places you keep showing up with a variety of content that isn’t tiring out your audiences, then the more top of mind you stay.

Now you might have an excellent customer base and you might be amazing at what you do, but if things get tight and the wallets tighten up and the advertising tightens it up but you have a competitor who is going full force and is showing up in everyone’s newsfeed every day anyway, people are so easily wooed over to the other side just based on top of mind.

And again, I use a lot of real estate references because that seems to be my dominant niche. But realtors, if they’re not out there inside everybody’s newsfeed all the time. You might have been in business for 25 years and be amazing at what you do, but you’ve got this new kid who just moved into town and has very little experience but is just dancing circles around you and showing up in everybody’s newsfeed all the time in their target market. They’re now top of mind. You are now forgotten. So it just happens so quickly and so easily. So if you do have the opportunity to continue maintaining even just a small budget in your direct radius in your area, it’s well worth it.

Rich: Awesome. I made Amanda laugh because I’m actually wearing my flyte new media 25th anniversary t-shirt right now, so I stood up to show her.

Anyways, Amanda, this is great advice as always. And if people want to learn more about you, about your online courses, about anything else, where can we send them?

Amanda: So you can find me everywhere around the web, everywhere online at The Digital Gal Facebook, facebook.com/thedigitalgal is a great spot to find me. Thedigitalgal.com. And if you want to be more hands on in getting hands on help learning how to run your own Facebook ads, I have a program called Swift Kick in the Ads, and we meet on office hours twice a week. You can get on Zoom with me and get hands on help versus just having to watch for prerecorded videos and self-serve. So it’s definitely an option.

But I also wanted to plug some free resources. Facebook’s Blueprint courses are really high quality. They’re really good. So if you’re a small business owner, and you don’t have much budget to work with, facebook.com/blueprint. Tons of free training resources in there.

But if you’re ready to level up and you need some hands-on help, come over to thedigitalgal.com and we’ll get you hooked.

Rich: Sounds awesome, and we’ll have links to all those in the show notes. And I just want to say that I’ve sent my team through your course as well, so obviously I’m going to recommend it to anybody who’s curious about it, too. But Amanda, always a pleasure to see you. Thank you so much for coming by.

Amanda: Rich, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Show Notes: 

Amanda Robinson is The Digital Gal, an expert and authority on all aspects Facebook ads. If you’re looking to dive deeper into Facebook ads – regardless of your expertise level – consider becoming a member of Swift Kick in the Ads, Amanda’s Facebook ads membership group.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.