Facebook’s Custom Audience Tool: Don’t Make This Mistake With It

Published: February 1, 2013 / No Comments

Some pretty lousy advice is circulating about how to use Facebook’s Custom Audience Tool, and I hope you won’t take it. Here’s why:

First, there is this silly post on The Social Media Examiner (which is generally a terrific blog). The post title makes it sound like you can use Facebook’s Custom Audience tool to better understand your existing email list. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, what the post mainly does is explain how to upload your company’s subscribed email list into Facebook, so you can send them Facebook ads. That’s right, the advice is to buy Facebook ads and target them at people who are ALREADY on your email list.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Still, I try to stay open to new ideas, so I asked a friend and colleague I respect what she thought, and she pointed me to this slightly older, and even sillier post on SEOMoz about the very same thing.

In it SEOMoz explains that uploading your list to Facebook will help you (this is their order of priority, not mine):

  1. Get more Facebook followers (OMG)
  2. Drive sales and conversions
  3. Get newsletter sign-ups

Let’s look at  point #1, getting more followers on Facebook. Why is this such a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea?

Social media is supposed to (among many other things) help you build your list. Not the other way around! Anyone who tells you to pay precious marketing money to convince your email list to follow you on Facebook is letting the tail wag the dog.

(Note: This is totally different from asking your existing customers – nicely and for free – to fan you on Facebook so you can stay in touch with them there, which is a very good idea. But remember, Facebook only shows a limited number of your messages to fans, while your emails go to your entire list. Every time.)

What about their #2, drive sign ups and sales? That sounds good, but why on earth would you pay for Facebook ads when you can market to these people via permission-based email for free?

SEOMoz gives the example of a Valentine’s promo that you would only target at people who are married or in relationships. Have they checked Facebook lately? Or ever? How many people actually add that data? And how many lie?

To add icing to this cake, some of the commenters on the post actually suggest that you may get better clicks from Facebook ads than from your emails written to your subscribed list. Whoa. If you’re even thinking about Facebook ads because you think they’ll beat your emails for open rates and click-throughs, it’s time to fire your email marketing team – stat.

The data is very clear that email marketing is STILL the best way to drive sign ups and sales. And that’s just fine. Social media has its place, and replacing email is simply not one of them.

As for newsletter sign-ups, that doesn’t even make sense. By definition, people on your list have signed up for email from you, and your newsletter is part of that.

I’ll give the folks at the Social Media Examiner credit for explaining a fourth use for the tool in their post: gaining demographic insights about your list. Okay, but it would be a lot easier simply to look at your Facebook analytics and see what demographics you’ve got there. Will this be identical to your list? No, but if your brand image is consistent across all platforms (as well it should be), then you’re well on your way – without the extra work.

This kind of advice shows a painful over-reliance on Facebook. Never forget that Mark Zuckerberg runs Facebook for his own shareholders, not yours. And given the rate at which Facebook changes the goalposts, you should be looking for ways to be less reliant on it, not more. Certainly not ways that involve paying Facebook to advertise to people already on your list.

Just goes to show you that even the experts can get it wrong. The best way to  avoid getting taken is to give every new tool you are offered a traditional marketer’s gut check. If you already have a way to do something for less money, you probably don’t need it.