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The Blog

9 Essentials for Max Return on Facebook and Instagram

Tools and Tips

January 4, 2021

Advertising on the internet.

The very mention is capable of making the savviest social marketer’s eyes start to burn with overwhelm and under-skill. We envision Mark Zuckerberg collecting boatloads of cash from an army of businesses blindly placing ads. Our credit cards start smoking, and we have no idea if we’re doing it right, whether it’s working, and when the ‘good money after bad’ adage starts to apply.

Enter my favourite line – and motto for life, really – “if they can learn it, so can I”. ‘They’ being legions of the self-taught who are winning big in the paid social game, focusing on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn ads in particular.


Quite simply, the advertising interfaces of these platforms are built to be DIY, with user-friendly dashboards that can and do make it easy for us to, yes, spend money and pad Facebook’s pocket. Or, as Zuck might frame it, “empower us to laser focus our uniquely compelling message, product or service on precisely the people who need it, at a ridiculously low cost compared to more traditional advertising methods or conventional means.”

Rest assured, however, that as effective as we know these advertising platforms to be if used properly, they will take your money and run if you give them the chance.

Example time. You throw down $20 to promote a post aimed at women age 25-55 who like dogs and live in Canada.

Congratulations! You, my friend, are playing in the ol’ billboard-on-the-freeway category. That ad you just created is going to give you about as much return as the (lack of) effort you put into targeting that audience.

On the other hand, if you become a schooled at creating highly strategic audiences to serve specific promoted posts and ad campaigns to, your cost per engagement, click or conversion may just blow your mind. Even the most analytic-adverse marketers among us, myself included, can’t help but pore over ways to continually optimize, test and aim for the lowest cost, highest return ad campaigns of all your nerdy friends. It’s an addiction alright, but one of the few I don’t mind admitting.

Case in point: when you’re running $1,000 of Facebook and Instagram ads to sell tickets to your event in Winnipeg or new service offering in Halifax, and you don’t just sell $10,000 of product (a high-fiving 10x return on ad spend, or ROAS), but $35,000 of widgets and wonders (a champagne poppin’ 35x ROAS), you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on the social ad campaign train a whole lot sooner. They are extremely powerful if you know what you’re doing, and if you get in the game now before the whole world jumps in and you’re forced to spend triple for your cost-per-clicks than you do today.

Alas, we bring you 9 steps to not only get you started, but take your Facebook and Instagram ad campaigns to next-level success.

  1. Get Facebook Business Manager and bring your assets in

    No, a Facebook or Instagram Business Page is not the same as Business Manager. Facebook Business Manager is a powerful tool for managing all of your FB and IG assets from one place, including access, audiences, ad accounts, permissions, pages, pixels, media, metrics and more.

  2. Determine your objective

    When creating any type of Facebook or Instagram ad campaign, the first thing you’re prompted to do after naming the campaign is nail your objective. Is it general brand awareness? Post engagement? Lead generation? Website traffic? App downloads? What you choose will determine everything from the way your campaign is priced (i.e. cost per click for traffic campaigns vs. cost per ‘mille’ (1000 people) for engagement campaigns), to the placements you can choose (i.e. Instagram Stories vs. Facebook News Feed). A great practice is to start with an awareness-based objective, and move to more action-oriented ‘conversion’-based objectives over time.

  3. Know your audiences and keep them clean

    Audience building is where the ad campaign magic begins, and the constant (or at least quarterly) cleaning and curating of them is a must. It’s rare that I don’t catch a glimpse of someone’s Audience Manager dashboard only to gasp at the chaos (to myself, of course..), followed by a gentle poke to get ruthlessly clear about who’s who and what’s what, so that Audiences are easily called upon when needed, and deliver the results they should.

  4. Audience building step 1: Top of funnel

    Before you attempt retargeting the people who watched your Stories or visited your home page, zoom out to the big, blue sky known as the top of your marketing funnel (TOF). Create 5 geographic, behavioural and/or interest-based audiences that live in the TOF’s high altitude ‘awareness’ stage, that you can use to target people who have yet to hear of your brand and learn of your awesome – a.k.a. your ‘cold’ prospects. In Facebook-land, these are called ‘Saved’ audiences, and while they can cost the most to run, they are a powerful, integral part of your advertising mix. Because without filling the top, we’re missing out on new leads.

  5. Hold up and test for overlap

    Once our Saved audiences are built, we can use the Audience Overlap tool to ensure they are indeed uniquely segmented groups. If we discover our ‘Small business owners Winnipeg’ audience is actually an 85% match to our ‘Marketers Winnipeg’ group, we need to adjust. Why? Because while you may think you’re segmenting like a boss and promoting your posts to entirely different groups, Facebook will see your overlap and penalize you for spamming the same people simultaneously with your paid posts. The result being lower reach, and worse (a.k.a. more expensive) results. If high overlap presents itself in your test, consider segmenting your audiences by age range instead. Stick to 5 or 10-year groupings if possible, and sleep easy knowing you have a foolproof way to avoid over-targeting any one person’s newsfeed. Bonus: you’ve also given yourself a powerful ability to create and cater your posts to an age-specific demo, in addition to targeting for specific interests and behaviours.

  6. Audience building step 2: Hit the bottom

    The bottom of your marketing funnel (BOF) is where your hot audiences live. That is, your website visitors, email subscribers, past customers, top post engagers, diehard fans. And when it comes time to target them (because yes, they too need nurturing, attention and instruction), ‘Custom’ audiences are where it’s at. Create at least 5-6 Custom audiences within FB Business Manager that you can lean on with your high-conversion BOF content, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank. And don’t be daunted by the pixel part of the equation, where Facebook generates a quick piece of code for you to add to your site, that will fire every time someone lands on it, sending ‘shimmed’ or limited info about the visitor back to Facebook, and to your dynamic pixel-tracking audience in particular. Just like that, you can retarget them with your ad tomorrow, six months from now, or until they ‘convert’ the way you want them to.

  7. Audience building step 3: Hit the middle

    When you feel great about your Saved (cold) and Custom (hot) audiences, return to the middle of funnel (MOF) and create a handful of Lookalikes. This type of audience is perfect for your warm targets, defined as the people who know who you are, have engaged with your posts, or perhaps live in another location from your ‘hot’ targets, and thus fall into the warm bucket of boiling potential. Your goal with this group? Move them down the funnel and get them to convert with strategic content positioned to seal the deal.

  8. Create killer assets

    While incredibly powerful audiences covering every layer in your funnel and optimized constantly are key, no audience is powerful enough to succeed without a great ad or post attached to it. Our ad assets are the place where art meets science, and headlines, taglines, photos, videos, graphics, carousels, animations and gifs hit it home. Quite simply, a great ad is a great ad, and if done right, is the most powerful way to keep your ROAS low and your conversions high.

  9. Practice, optimize, refine and innovate

    As with any form of organic content, paid content takes patience, practice and constant polishing. The first step is getting comfortable with the tool (Facebook Business Manager) and its infinitely powerful potential to land your content on just the right people, followed by super strategic mapping of your goals, audiences, assets and budget. Digital ad campaigns can quickly become a hierarchy from hell, and some good ol’ pen to paper mapping before you begin can go an infinitely long way.

Like any powerful tool, skill or bottom-line builder for your business, running world-class paid social campaigns doesn’t happen overnight. While just about anyone can learn the platform fundamentals in a workshop or class (at Social School, obvi..), mad success is not seen unless it’s worked for week after week. In this case, that means werk, werk, werking the FB Business Suite platform continuously, and ever-improving your audiences, ads and ROAS along the way.