Everything You Need to Know About Facebook Audience Targeting

With nearly 1.8 billion active monthly users, Facebook is a must-have advertising pillar. As Facebook’s user base has expanded, its audience targeting capabilities have as well. With so many ways to optimize your targeting, the question becomes: What’s the best way to get your ads in front of the right people? It begins with having a thorough understanding of the targeting options available.

An Overview: Facebook Audience Targeting

When it comes to audience targeting on social, Facebook’s foremost differentiator is its data. With one of the largest sets of consumer data on the Internet, audience targeting across Facebook-owned properties can be tailored to the needs of your marketing goals and objectives. These capabilities also allow you to reach people across devices. This is imperative when you consider that 1 in 5 mobile minutes are spent on Facebook and Instagram.

Here are Facebook’s audience targeting capabilities:

Core Audiences

Facebook pulls Core Audiences from existing user data, including location, general demographics, interests, behaviors, and connections. In the example below, a user’s “About” section gives Facebook a lot of valuable information. In this case, Facebook can confirm profession, geographic location, and marital status. These are all audience targeting specifications you can use.

Facebook Audience Targeting

To refine your Core Audiences even further, you can also pull from readily available Partner Categories. These syndicated targeting segments cover hundreds of topics, verticals, and products based on information provided by trusted, offline third parties.

Facebook Partner Categories

Custom Audiences

Facebook’s Custom Audiences take audience targeting a step further. With them, you can target Facebook and Instagram users who you already have a relationship with (to some degree). On a high level, Custom Audiences leverage data you already own, and there are three ways you can take advantage of this:

  1. Using your CRM

Using your customer emails, phone numbers, and locations, you can identify which of your customers are also Facebook users. All you have to do is give Facebook hashed customer files, and it will securely compare it to its own user data. Based on the customer information you provide, Facebook will match as many of your existing customers as it can to existing Facebook and Instagram users. These matches are then placed in a Custom Audience for you to use.

  1. Using your website data

By embedding the Facebook pixel on your site or on specific landing pages, you can use Facebook to track predefined events (listed below) that occur on your site. Depending on what you tell Facebook to track, every time someone completes the actions, they’re added to that Custom Audience. Once it reaches Facebook’s minimum size for a Custom Audience, you can use this new audience for targeting.

Website-based events for tracking:

  • Anyone who visits your website
  • Anyone who visits a particular web page
  • Anyone visiting specific web pages but not others
  • People who haven’t visited in a certain amount of time
  1. Using your mobile app data

By embedding Facebook’s SDK on your mobile app, Facebook can track pre-defined events (listed below) that occur within your app. For example, you can create a Custom Audience of anyone who spends a certain amount of credits or unlocks a particular achievement.

App-based events for tracking:

  • Anyone who achieves a certain level
  • Anyone who launches your app
  • Anyone who adds payment info
  • Anyone who adds something to their cart
  • Anyone who adds something to their wishlist
  • Anyone who completes a registration
  • Anyone who finishes a tutorial
  • Anyone who makes a purchase
  • Anyone who rates your app
  • Anyone who completes a search
  • Anyone who spends credits
  • Anyone who unlocks an achievement
  • Anyone who views a piece of content

And don’t forget, you can always add on additional targeting specifications if you want to define your target audience even further.

Lookalike Audiences

Lookalike Audiences help you find Facebook and Instagram users who are similar to people in one of your pre-existing audiences. To create Lookalike Audiences, you need to give Facebook a seed audience of at least 100 people, although we recommend giving them considerably more. Your seed audience can come from a Custom Audience, your Facebook Page, or your CRM. Facebook then takes this and finds people most like them—it’s perfect for expanding your reach.

Facebook Lookalike Audiences

Let’s take a look at some examples of Lookalike Audiences based on each available data source:

  1. Lookalikes from Custom Audiences

Using the Facebook pixel, you created a Custom Audience of everyone who made a purchase of more than $100 on your website. You’ve used this Custom Audience to target these high-value customers, but now you want to scale and find more people like them. By using this Custom Audience as your seed audience, Facebook will sift through everything it knows about its Facebook and Instagram users and finds users who share similar characteristics. As it finds users who it believes are like your seed audience, it collects them into a Lookalike Audience, which you can use to scale your campaign.

Note: If using a Custom Audience as your seed audience, it can be from your website or mobile app.

  1. Lookalikes from Facebook Pages

If someone Likes your Facebook Page, it probably means that they’re interested in your business, product, or service, right? So, take all of your Page fans and let Facebook find others like them. For example, if you’re an auto manufacturer and a lot of your Page fans are interested in football, between the ages of 18 and 21, and live in the northeast, Facebook will find others similar to them.

  1. Lookalikes from CRM Data

You give Facebook customer data that comprises location, age, and gender. Facebook will then take this list and find users who share these characteristics. While this example would be better suited for brand awareness and other top-of-funnel objectives, depending on your goals, different data will get you different results. If you’re looking for more conversions, give Facebook customer data on the characteristics most valuable to your business.

That said, no matter which source you use to create your Lookalike Audience, you have to choose your audience size. To do this, you must decide whether you want to optimize for similarity or reach. If you’re optimizing for similarity, Facebook will target the top 1% of people who match the characteristics of your seed audience. On the other hand, if optimizing for reach, Facebook can include the top 10% of people similar to your seed audience. Optimizing for similarity first is okay. This will give you a better understanding of how your campaign performs with very precise targeting. Then, if you’re not getting the results you’d hoped for, you can always expand and optimize for reach.

Multicultural Affinity Audiences

Multicultural Affinity audiences help you reach Hispanic, African American, or Asian American users on Facebook and Instagram. This has become imperative as the user bases of both platforms become increasingly diverse. To put this in perspective, the Hispanic Affinity audience has 31 million monthly users, the African American Affinity audience has 16 million monthly users, and the Asian American audience has over 7 million monthly users. Leveraging these three clusters of Multicultural Affinity Audiences, you can connect and optimize your campaigns to deliver a more culturally relevant message.

5 Tips for Your Facebook Audience Targeting

  1. Layer Additional Targeting Specifications

Nothing’s stopping you from layering on other native targeting specs to these audiences. For example, if you create a Website Custom Audience, you can also dig into some Core Audience specs like age, gender, and location to refine your audience targeting even more. That said, don’t get too carried away. While mixing and matching these options can be beneficial, it may also lead to an audience that’s too refined to be efficient. This brings us to our next point:

  1. A/B Test Your Audience Targeting

Even if a particular target audience is performing well, if possible, test aspects of your campaign against others to make sure your campaign is fully optimized and meeting your goals. A/B testing can work both ways. For example, you can take the same target audience and test two different creatives to see which one resonates better. On the other hand, you could use the same creative and tinker with your target audience to see which subset of users responds more favorably.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid of Exclusionary Targeting

We talked about creating Custom Audiences from your best customers or those who haven’t visited your site in a while, but you can also create audiences comprised of those who have already made a purchase or completed another desired action, and then exclude those people from your campaign. For example, if you’re running a campaign geared toward getting people to register for a webinar, create a Custom Audience of those who already have, and exclude them from seeing your ad. This should lower your cost per action or click, reduce money spent on wasted clicks, and, most importantly, ensure you’re reaching people more likely to convert.

  1. Align Audience Targeting to Campaign Goals

No matter which type of audience you’re creating, it’s important that the data you provide Facebook aligns with your overarching marketing goals and objectives. For example, if you’re trying to drive conversions, use the Facebook pixel to identify people with higher purchase signals. If you’re trying to upsell, target shoppers who recently bought a product, and then send them tailored messages that compliment their recent purchase.

  1. Avoid Audience Overlap

As you start creating more Custom and Lookalike audiences, it’s likely that they’ll overlap. In other words, the same users may fall into multiple audiences. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it could increase the cost of delivery because your ad sets will be competing against each other. To remedy the situation, use Facebook’s Audience Overlap tool, or if you’re a Brand Networks client, our Collision Management tool. Both of these tools will show you the overlap between multiple audiences, which you can then exclude from your campaign.

There’s no denying that Facebook’s audience targeting capabilities have expanded in recent years. There’s also no denying that this can make for some difficult decisions as to how to best optimize your campaigns. With a little insight into what’s available to you as well as some best practices we’ve gathered over the years, you should be in great shape to start targeting social users in a more relevant and impactful way.

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The Facebook Advertising Ecosystem