Using Facebook Ads in Uncertain Times

Wondering if you should make changes to your Facebook ads strategy? Looking for tips to guide your decision-making during times of uncertainty?

To explore how to navigate Facebook advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic, I interview Amanda Bond on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Amanda is a Facebook ads expert and founder of The Ad Strategist. Her course is called The StrADegy System.

Amanda explains how the customer journey has changed, how to adjust your Facebook ad messaging for the current climate, and how you can tweak existing Facebook ads.

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Revisiting Your Facebook Ads Strategy

Whether this pandemic and all the crazy stuff that’s been going on is or isn’t resolved soon, there’s always going to be uncertain times that force us to re-explore our advertising.

Amanda, preferring her last name of Bond, comes to this moment in history with extreme optimism; a lot of evolution comes out of times like this. When things change—for better or for worse—innovation happens, and new ideas and opportunities shine through.

Amanda Bond Facebook page

One immediate change Bond has seen during this time is that Facebook CPM—the cost to deliver a thousand ad impressions—has dropped drastically. A lot of larger advertisers are taking their budgets off of the platform or pulling back on their advertising spend. That means it’s cheaper to serve an individual ad impression to your audience.

More people on Facebook are home with their devices so consumption of the platform is going up. But fewer advertising dollars being spent on the platform overall means less inventory to serve to that increased demand. Consumers will see the same quantity of ads but it will be cheaper for advertisers to serve more impressions.

An ad that Bond was already running before all of this started had a CPM of about $50–$60. During this time, she’s now seeing CPMs of $10–$14. In some cases, that’s a five-fold reduction in the cost of those ad impressions.

A lot of businesses are under a mandate to shut down during this time. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business that doesn’t collect emails or transact with people online and your doors aren’t open, there’s no need to advertise right now. You could always take advantage of the cheaper advertising to hype people up and get them ready to transact with you once the situation changes but businesses whose doors are closed right now are generally going to stop that spend.

Understand that it’s not just one advertiser or business owner who’s making those decisions but the entire economy at the macro level. That’s why ad costs are going down across the board.

Assess and Adjust Your Advertising and Messaging

When something dramatic happens either to our audience or our company, Bond says we first should check in with ourselves and our own intuition. After that, we can figure out how to approach dramatic situations when they happen—whether for our business or our consumers.

After Kobe Bryant’s recent death, there were changes in a lot of people’s behavior and experiences. There were a lot of emotions going on around that time, a collective mourning. Bond saw social media posts asking how advertisers could avoid acknowledging this giant elephant in the room. But there are always things going on in this global platform that we have access to on Facebook. How can we identify every situation and tailor our messaging accordingly?

Sometimes we just have to say, “My business isn’t me but is a separate entity, and here are my values and beliefs around that.”

The situation we’re in now is, of course, a worldwide pandemic. It spread across the globe and people’s livelihoods, mental health and well-being, and possibly physical health are really being affected. There’s a collective sense of trauma happening right now.

So when the collective is being impacted by something, advertisers have to ask if it’s time to change our messaging across the board. When people are struggling to meet their basic needs—think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where it’s food, water, and shelter first—they aren’t going to be transacting for self-actualization with online courses and expanding their knowledge.

What that means for advertisers is simply changing the messaging to be less freedom-driven, less luxury and frivolity, and more sensitive to what the collective is going through. Refocus and identify how your products or services can help people overcome the challenges they may be having now.

You don’t necessarily need to call out the pandemic in your ad creative. You don’t need to have COVID-19 as your headline to be relevant. It could just be a simple tweak to convey that you understand that things are changing or that people might be going through a period of uncertainty. Don’t be overly dramatic about it.

Whatever your brand messaging is, just stick to that. Don’t try to take advantage of it and say, “Now is the time, because the entire world is changing!” There are a lot of fear-based scarcity tactics that we see in the digital world. This isn’t the time to default to those mechanisms. Don’t add in deadline timers or scarcity for the sake of scarcity. There’s already a lot of that going on.

Just stick to your brand messaging—and the less obvious you can be, the better. Have a really abundant mindset and change your messaging to help people realize how you can help them get those basic needs met first. Then focus on some of the higher levels in that hierarchy of needs.

Bond has seen conversations online mocking advertisers and claiming that with everything going on in the world right now, nobody needs to see ads for a t-shirt tie-dye business. It got her thinking about the grand scheme of things. If you do have ads running for selling tie-dye t-shirts and you have a return on your ad spend—so every dollar you’re putting in is making a profit—isn’t that actually helping our economy?

It’s a very personal check-in with your own intuition. Don’t project all the “shoulds” and “coulds” onto other people. Just go with your own gut.

Bond is a Facebook advertiser and strategist. She knows the platform inside and out. She did her own gut check, asking herself if she even wanted to run ads right now. She really wanted to be of service during this time. She considered the fact that you can be of service by offering products and services that transform people’s lives.

In the end, Bond personally decided to slowly pause her ads and go inward, which is what she needed as a human being. She checked on all of her members to see what they were doing and to support them in running their ads. Ultimately, their success collectively is going to be her success when she can look back and know that those humans are doing well in their lives and businesses. It’s a very personal call to make for each business and person.

'This Page Is Not Currently Running any Ads' message for Facebook page

If You’re Working With an Agency

So many people listening right now may work with agencies and feel like the situation is out of their hands.

If you’re working with an agency, the first thing to do is take account of what’s happening with your ad spend. Sometimes when you bring on a consultant or an agency, you trust that they’re doing everything in your best interest. That’s why it’s crucial to dive in and make sure you understand what’s happening with your resources, your marketing assets, your dollars, and the brand image that it’s all projecting.

Now more than ever, have an understanding of what you’re spending and on whom you’re spending it. Go back to basics. Understand how your sales process is converting at every step along the way so you have the data to make decisions. At the end of the day, the data is going to tell you what is and isn’t working.

It may be five times cheaper in some scenarios to run Facebook ads but the return on ad spend isn’t necessarily multiplying by five times. Bond is seeing a return on ad spend of only about 1.5 times what it was before. It’s better but not five times better.

The correlation between how cheap the ads are versus how many more people are buying is quite different. If you’re getting five times more eyeballs but you’re only getting 50% more people to actually purchase, that’s alerting you to a larger conversion assumption. Result rates across the board aren’t necessarily multiplying at the same factor that ad costs are coming down.

Engage With Ad Comments

Bond likes to do what she calls engagement looping. She interacts with people who comment on ads and starts conversations. This can be incredibly beneficial to the overall reach of ads without increasing cost.

When somebody leaves a meaningful comment on one of her ads—one that’s not just trolling—Bond responds in a way that creates multiple signals to the algorithm that this content is relevant.

Their initial comment counts as one signal and then her response acknowledging a comment or answering a question is a second signal to the algorithm. She can like or react (even with an emoji) to their comment, which is a third signal. She then leaves a second comment that asks an open-ended question to engage in meaningful dialog. (Don’t do this with negative comments or trolls; it can get out of hand fast.)

When people are actually curious and want to have a conversation, responding with an open-ended question is a signal. If they come back and like your two comments, that’s up to six signals. If they leave an answer back, that’s seven. It can just go on and on.

That interaction is also going to show up to the friends and connections of that person in their timeline. It’s saying, “This person is really engaging with this post over here, even though the post is an ad.” This gets you organic impressions for free from that engagement.

Bond has seen Facebook ads where about a third of the distribution has been organic. She paid for two-thirds of the distribution but that remaining third is just because people are having such great conversations. They can even be polarizing conversations (as long as they don’t get out of hand). This leads to a lot of organic distribution.

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Tweak Existing Facebook Ads for the Current Climate

When we have an existing ad that has been running for a while, how do we know if we should change the ad to be more sensitive to the current environment?

If an ad you’re already running is working, Bond says, it’s even harder to assess. The question has to be, ‘how do you feel about it? Is it truly insensitive?’ There are times when you just need to go and turn a campaign off, even if it’s been performing well.

If you do decide to turn it off, that will stop its current position in the auction and its current optimization. When you toggle it back on, it’s all going to start fresh. There are so many factors that go into ad performance every single time you set up a new ad. Things like what season it is, your ad copy and creative, whom you’re targeting, what other advertisers are doing, what your optimization is like—all those things get re-entered into the auction.

If you have a Facebook ad that’s historically performed well, you can duplicate it later with the exact same ad copy and creative. If that doesn’t give you very similar results to the first time, duplicate it again. That can kick it back in with a different start and give you lead costs that were similar to the original. Sometimes the difference in performance is just a fluke.

Also be aware that when you edit copy, it completely restarts the ad as if it’s brand-new. Every time Bond has edited an ad, she’s found that it doesn’t perform as well as it did before. Bond’s recommendation to work around this is to:

  1. Duplicate the current ad—the one that’s running and performing well.
  2. Make the copy and creative changes in that duplication.
  3. Start that edited ad campaign and let it warm up.
  4. Turn off the previous version of the ad campaign. Wait until that updated one’s working before turning the old one off.

If you want to add new copy or a new creative layer, don’t split test at first.

  1. Add the new copy and creative.
  2. See how it’s performing versus the old one.
  3. If it’s performing similarly (it doesn’t have to perform the same or better, but as long as it’s in that range), turn the other one off, and you’ll have less disruption to your ads.

If you turn one off instantly, it might take another day or two for the new, improved ad to warm up. Bond’s recommendation is to layer them.

Respond to Changes to the Customer Journey

As Bond observed earlier, return on ad spend has only multiplied by around 1.5%. More people might be coming into the top of your funnel but why isn’t there a higher return on that ad spend? Likely, it’s because many people are being more cautious with their spending right now.

Recently, Bond clicked on an ad for a product and was ready to buy. She knew that sometimes on Shopify, if you enter all of your information but don’t finish checking out, they’ll email you a 10% off coupon a few days later. She was going to make her purchase then and there, but instead, she took a minute and thought about it.

She realized there might be an opportunity to save some money so she waited a day or two. She’s disappointed to note that there hasn’t been a 10% off email since then. She’s still going to transact, but when she tried recently, it took three times as long to get there as it initially did when she saw that first ad on that first day.

If we’re looking at the return on ad spend and considering the collective behavioral change, we have to allow for people to take longer in their customer journey. The opportunity for us at this time is to look at the sales process from start to finish and understand how it’s truly working.

Bond’s company helps course creators automate their Facebook ads. A course conversion might follow these steps:

  1. Be sold from a Facebook ad, which leads to…
  2. A landing page to sign up for a 5-day challenge, which has them…
  3. Participate for 5 days, which then sends them to…
  4. A sales page, where they’ll have the opportunity to click to…
  5. The checkout page where they can purchase.

Those are the multiple steps that people might have to go through to become customers.

Bond recommends looking at the percentage of people making each of those jumps in your sales process. How many people are opening your emails? How many people are clicking through to your sales page? How many people are clicking your ad to the landing page where they sign up for the 5-day challenge? And how many people are converting to leads that are going to go through that challenge?

Go back to the basics and understand foundationally what’s happening in your sales process.

After seeing the behind-the-scenes of so many businesses, Bond can tell when they have holes in their buckets. Somewhere in that sales process, customer attention is coming in but some is leaking out of holes before it has the chance to become revenue. Go back to those conversion rates and understand where the holes are.

Maybe 50% of leads hit your sales page, but of those 50%, only 10% are actually clicking through to your checkout page. That’s only a 5% conversion rate: for every 100 people landing on your sales page, only 5 are clicking to the checkout. That indicates that the experience that they had in your conversion mechanism—your webinar, your discovery call, your free quote, the messaging of your initial offer—isn’t landing conversions.

When people are really engaged all the way up to the sales process but then they’re not clicking to the checkout, that indicates there’s something wrong with that offer. Now’s the best time to double down and focus on the things that might be broken in your sales process to find and fix those holes in your bucket.

Overcoming Objections With Ads

In Bond’s program, The StrADegy System, her first recommendation in the sales-retargeting phase is to create some objection-overcoming ads. If there’s a pandemic going on or even if it’s just business as usual, people are naturally going to have certain hesitations. Since they’re already going to hesitate and think through those objections in their heads, have a straightforward dialog about those objections to help people identify what they actually are.

home page for StrADegy System website

From a psychological standpoint, money isn’t necessarily the actual hesitation. It is what the investment means to them. They might not see the value in it but that doesn’t mean that price point is truly prohibitive to them. Or they might not believe that they can achieve the outcome that your course or your offer provides so they might not have self-belief.

Truly start to understand what those real objections are. Reach out to people who have purchased and reach out to people who became leads and didn’t purchase. Have those conversations. When Bond first started putting together her program, she had 150 conversations with people on Facebook messenger—human to human, voice text, regular Messenger text. She really dove into what was holding them back, what they were experiencing, and why they didn’t believe that they had success in the first place. People shared and told her everything.

Bond’s answer to them was, “If this can help you solve that, would it be of value?” Really dive in past the surface level of, “I just can’t afford it.” Take it from the viewpoint of, “Why am I not seeing this as valuable?” or “Why don’t I believe that the value will be possible for me?”

Ease Back Into Normalcy

There’s a quote attributed to marketer John Wanamaker that says, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

The first thing to do is go back to being accountable. If you’re working with an agency, understand where your money’s being spent. Do some due diligence to understand which of your ads are the most profitable, and then ease back in with those first. If you look at any ad account, the Pareto principle is always at play: 20% of your ads will bring in 80% of your revenue. Focus on what those are, which ones have worked in the past. Then slowly ramp up your ad spend to make sure you’re seeing a good return and the result rates are there.

If you’re going to ramp up that ad spend, start a bit more conservatively. Then get a little more aggressive with that spend. Bond likes to duplicate ad campaigns instead of adding budget to them. Some experts recommend adding about 20%–25% budget every 24–48 hours. Every single time Bond has done that, the ad resets and she doesn’t get favorable results.

Bond has a different strategy. Her recommendation is if you start an ad set that’s running for $10 a day and then you want to ramp up to $20, just duplicate it and have those two $10 ad sets running at the same time. Another option is to duplicate it to $20, let that new one start to perform, and then shut that $10 one off. She layers them one on top of each other because it’s counterproductive for you to compete with yourself in the ad auction.

Bond can’t even count on one hand how many ad sets she has running to the exact same audience with the exact same creative. Why? Because she’s found that once you increase ad spend budget, your results and leads cost more.

All things are not equal when you have an ad spend of $1,000 per ad set versus staying at $100 per ad set and just duplicating it 10 times. She’s increased budgets before, and all of a sudden, her lead costs have tripled. Just because you have a $1,000 budget doesn’t mean you want to triple that lead cost.

So Bond’s interpretation is that with that higher budget, you’re bidding on a more premium type of placement. You’re getting priority at that budget, but that priority is costing you more. Stick to the lower amount. Just duplicate it over and over, and you’ll see those lead costs decrease.

Key Takeaways from This Episode:

  • Find out more about Amanda on her website.
  • Explore The StrADegy System.
  • Watch exclusive content and original videos from Social Media Examiner on YouTube.
  • Watch our weekly Social Media Marketing Talk Show on Fridays at 10 AM Pacific on YouTube.

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