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The Definitive Guide to Organic Audience Targeting on Facebook

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This guide is the first in a series that I hope will help you better identify and target the audience most relevant to your brand. While audience targeting in paid advertising is more robust and complex, it’s also more straightforward and only available to advertisers. Instead, this guide (and the series) will be focused on organic audience targeting, which any brand can use to cultivate greater consumer interest and traffic. I’ll start at the beginning—with Facebook.

The most important part of social media marketing is the “social” element. Your effectiveness doesn’t depend on how hard you sell products, or how often you post, or even how many interesting things you offer. What matters is that you connect with an audience, on some fundamental level, enough to increase their admiration for your brand or come to your website for more information.

To solve this perpetual problem, your first step is to identify and target the right audience. Facebook, the most popular social media platform in the world, gives you every opportunity to do this—even beyond the tools it offers for paid advertisers (which are ample). In fact, most social media platforms have the functionality and capacity for you to do this, but only a fraction of marketers end up taking advantage of it.

I want you to become a part of that fraction.

Know Your Audience

This section is more of a disclaimer than it is an actual guide, but it’s important to address before we ever start talking about how to target your key demographics. After all, how can you target your key demographics if you don’t know who they are? Imagine, for a moment, an extreme example:

luvs ad

(Image Source: Luvs/Adweek)

This message, by a diaper company, is targeted toward mothers—and even more than that, is targeted toward mothers of multiple children. It’s clever, concise, and original, so you can imagine it performing well when syndicated to an audience of second- or third-time mothers. How would you expect it to perform if syndicated to an audience of teenage boys? Or an audience of retired, single septuagenarians?

As I said, this example is extreme, but it illustrates my point. This article will tell you how to create and distribute appropriate messages to your target audience, but this advice is useless unless you know who your audience is. Don’t make assumptions. Do the research, and figure out who’s going to buy your product.

You may have multiple target audiences, but for the purposes of this guide, I’m going to imagine you have only one. You can replicate the steps below for any of your audiences.

Do you have an audience in mind? Okay. Let’s start targeting.

Facebook’s Core Demographics

First, I want to take a look at what kind of people actually use Facebook. This is a section I’ll include for all my platform-based guides, and you’ll find that each platform boasts a different type of audience. Some of those audiences will overlap with your target demographics; others will bear no resemblance. This will help you choose which platforms to add to your social media arsenal (hint: it shouldn’t be all of them by default).

Essentially, we’re asking: is it worth it for your brand to be on Facebook?

Facebook has 1.59 billion monthly active users, worldwide, making it the biggest and furthest-reaching social media platform around today. This probably isn’t news to you; most of the people you know have, and actively use, a personal Facebook profile.

But what kinds of people are on this platform?

According to Facebook’s own breakdown page, 83.6 percent of its users are outside the U.S. and Canada, meaning about 260,760,000 users are in the United States (for reference, the U.S. population is close to 320 million).

Pew Research Center offers the following breakdown:

Facebook Demographics

Some highlights to consider: the gender and ethnic split is negligible, between 66-77 percent of each demographic segment participating as an active monthly user. Though increasing age does correspond with decreasing user numbers, the drop-offs are not significant until age 50. Education and salary don’t play much into the demographic makeup, nor does geographic location.

Aside from this data, it’s also important to note that almost all Facebook profiles are verified, individual users, who are using Facebook for personal purposes (usually keeping in contact with friends and family members).

This means Facebook is pretty much open season, with a few key exceptions. Now let’s take a look at some businesses who stand to win or lose automatically based on this data.

Types of Businesses That Win:

  • Those who market internationally
  • Those who target younger demographics (younger than 50)
  • B2C companies and organizations

Types of Businesses That Lose:

  • Those who cater to older demographics (50 and older)
  • B2B companies (though there are possible exceptions)

If you don’t belong to the second category, Facebook is likely a reasonable place to start pinning your audience down. Now, let’s get to the meaty part: actively selecting your audience from the vast pool of Facebook users.

How to Target Effectively

You can’t target the entire Facebook population all at once (though some of you might try, given the chance). Even if you could, this wouldn’t be a good use of your resources. For the most part, any content you publish on Facebook (assuming you’re using a business/organization page) is only inherently visible to people who have already liked your brand. It’s only shown to people outside your follower base if one of their contacts has “shared” it, or if they specifically seek you out.

To make matters harder for brands, Facebook’s organic reach has been steadily declining for some time, meaning even if someone follows you, there’s no guarantee they’ll see everything you post. Accordingly, every piece of news or content you publish has to be a home run. You can’t afford to waste time or target an indifferent audience.

It Starts With Content

There are two components to effective audience targeting: choosing the right message and making that message visible to the right people. Before you start combing through your audience, run a check to make sure your content is appropriate for your audience.

There’s no “easy” way to tell if your message is effective for your demographics. You have to know what your users want to see, which is tricky to predict unless you have reliable data. You can generate ideas for this based on market research, what your competitors are doing, or even anecdotal evidence you’ve experienced in the field. Verify this is the case by AB testing your messages (possibly on Facebook itself; don’t hesitate to use it as a testing ground). Trust the numbers.

When it comes to Facebook posts, certain factors almost always make a post inherently more valuable, so polish your message by shaping it into a format with the following qualities:

  • Always include a link. You can upload photos directly or write out lots of content, but it’s better if you link to your site. You’ll get more engagement and more traffic that way.
  • Keep it short. There aren’t any strict character limits on Facebook, but people still prefer shorter messages—remember, Facebook users are there to engage with friends and family. They’ll skip past your post immediately if it’s too long.

Don’t just take my word for it; take a look at data from BlitzLocal’s study on the matter:

Facebook Post Length

  • Keep it original. Facebook is the most popular social platform in the world, so your users have already seen a lot. Only post what you have to offer that’s truly original.
  • Don’t worry about the time of day. This one may be controversial; you’ll find marketers who swear by posting at a specific time of day to see the highest engagement rates. However, this has a cultural backfiring effect—because so many marketers scramble to post at 12 pm on weekdays, news feeds become backlogged, and you end up getting less visibility as a result. Sometimes, the off-peak hours are the best to fly in under the radar.

This barely scratches the surface of what makes a “good” Facebook post (a topic for another time), but these are the most important takeaways regarding how to target your Facebook audience through messaging.

Targeting Options

Now, you’ve got the message. You know what you want to post to your users, and it’s just a matter of doing the actual posting. How can you make sure your message is seen by the greatest number of people in your target audience, while excluding those outside it?

Until recently, this was only possible through paid advertising tools. Now, every company and organization page has the ability to filter their audiences for every post.

Facebook Audience Optimization

This screenshot is doing my job for me. When you log into your company page and start typing a draft, you’ll notice a new(ish) button to the left of the Publish button that looks like a target—how appropriate. Click it, and you’ll be introduced to a variety of new demographic targeting options to ensure your message lands in the right newsfeeds.

From here, you’ll see two tabs—Preferred Audience and Audience Restrictions. You can guess what each of these is used for.

Preferred Audience

(Image Source: MarketingLand)

Your Preferred Audience allows you to select interests that might be popular in your target demographics. Remember my diaper ad example from earlier? Luvs’s target audience might be interested in things like “parenting” or “child care.” Again, don’t select these randomly; see what you can find about your target audience based on empirical, fact-based research.

Audience Restrictions

(Image Source: MarketingLand)

Your Audience Restrictions gives you more quantitative control. There’s significantly less guesswork here, so base your restrictions on what you know to be true for your target audience. Don’t be afraid to step a little outside your niche; you can always refine your content for tighter or broader segments of your audience later. Currently, Facebook allows you to control your audience based on age, gender, location, and preferred language.

Once posted, you’ll be able to tap into the performance metrics for each available post. Here, you can track engagement rates among different segments of your demographics; for example, you’ll be able to tell how well your post did for users with an interest in “monster trucks” versus users with an interest in “cotton candy.”

Use this data to your advantage, and experiment with interests and quantitative identifiers that you might not instinctually prefer. You’ll find that at least some audience behaviors conflict with your preconceived notions, so make changes based on what the data tells you.

Audience Cultivation

Together, these methods of audience targeting work well—but they only work for people who are already members of your audience. What about all the members of your target audience who aren’t yet following your brand? What about all the people following your brand who don’t belong to your target demographics?

Let’s address the latter question first. You’ll undoubtedly attract followers who don’t really have an interest in your brand or service; for example, they might have clicked “like” accidentally or as part of a contest unrelated to purchasing from your brand. Obviously, you want your social following to be as comprised of your target demographics as possible, but does this mean you should weed out those who don’t belong?

The simple answer is no, for two reasons:

  • There is virtually no downside to having additional followers, at least now that audience targeting is in place. There’s a chance that your irrelevant messages could make these users resentful of your brand, but this is almost eliminated thanks to these new measures.
  • Having additional followers can be advantageous. I’m a strict proponent of the idea that quality beats quantity, and that you shouldn’t use a follower count as a gauge for your social media performance. However, having a large number of followers can make a powerful first impression for the user who comes to your site for the first time.

If you’ve somehow never heard of Coca-Cola, this would still make a strong statement about the brand:

Coca-Cola-Ad

Accordingly, don’t worry about the outsiders who trickle in.

Instead, invest your efforts in acquiring new followers who match your ideal demographics. There are powerful ways to do this:

  • Create masterful content. This is probably the fifth or sixth time I’ve told you to write “good” content in some form, but it really is that important. If you can create content that’s original, useful, entertaining, and emotionally resonant in your target audience, they’ll share it on their personal feeds (and you can bet they’re connected with tons of like-minded people who will discover your brand for the first time).
  • Use share contests. Along the same lines, you can use share-based contests (such as “share this photo to be able to win”) to facilitate sharing among pre-existing social circles in line with your demographics. There’s one catch to this; be sure to use a reward that is only valuable to your target demographics. A $25 Visa gift card, for instance, will attract anyone and everyone to your page, giving you fluff numbers but not aiding your campaign much.
  • Cross– Facebook can’t be your only marketing channel. Include a link to your Facebook page from everywhere—your site, your blog, your emails, your physical ads, and even your other social media accounts. Use this referential link in combination with a message specifically targeted to your ideal user base, and you can guarantee the majority of your new followers will belong to that group.
  • Advertise. As an organic marketer, I prefer staying away from paid advertising, but if you need to grow your audience quickly, Facebook’s audience segmentation tools can connect you with untapped members of your target audience—for a price.

Weaknesses and Limitations

As great as audience targeting on Facebook is, there are still some key limitations. First, the organic reach of business posts is diminishing—and will presumably continue to decline. Even though you’ll improve your visibility by selecting only your most relevant audiences, you can expect this value to decline over time.

Next, your audience segmentation strategy is only as strong as the audience you already have. It can increase the effectiveness of your messaging and strengthen brand loyalty, but it can’t inject fresh blood into your system.

Finally, no matter how well you know your audience, your tactics are still dependent on the strength of your content. I’ll be doing similar guides for how to improve your content quality, including one specifically for Facebook posts, but it exists as a separate effort.

A Note on Paid Advertising

Facebook’s paid advertising system is one of the most robust ad features of any social media platform. With it, you have access to far more sophisticated audience targeting options than your organic reach will allow, and you’ll even get to reach people who don’t currently follow you. For example, in addition to age, gender, location, language, and interests, you can target users based on behaviors (like previous purchases) or current connections.

These are valuable, but whether it’s worth your investment is up to you, your goals, and your budget. With the right content strategy, you can achieve almost any marketing goal without investing in direct advertising, but it’s a significant option you should be aware of.

Final Thoughts

I hope this guide has helped you make sense of the audience targeting tools and strategies necessary to craft and publicize organic marketing messages on Facebook. Like with any strategy, the theory is helpful, but it’s the practice that truly matters. Put your ideas and your knowledge to the test in a live environment, dutifully learning from your mistakes and adjusting for efficient improvements. Because every brand has a unique audience and a unique product, the only way to learn effectively is to try something and see what happens.

If you liked this guide, you can look forward to my upcoming feature on audience targeting via Twitter, or read up on what it takes to launch a successful content marketing or SEO campaign.

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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