the kdmcinfo weblog

Experimenting with Facebook Ads to Promote Stories

Screenshot of the ad posted to Facebook promoting a KDMC blog postA couple weeks ago, Reuters announced a new strategy for curating competitor content, and we wanted to write about it. It was one of the latest and more notable examples of an emerging trend in journalism, as publications figure out ways to utilize competitor content to complement their own coverage.

It was a simple post by Jerry Monti, noting a couple observations, raising a couple questions. We wanted to hear what some of you thought about it, so we put it out on our social networks. We also wanted to see what people beyond our circles thought of the strategy, especially organizations already curating content or those in the business of studying the media landscape.

So, we bought a Facebook ad. It was an experiment, targeting a handful of organizations such as the Huffington Post and the Poynter Institute.

After running the ad for four days, we failed at getting people to read our story and visit our site. We only got four clicks. But, we think we might just have learned a couple cool things at the same time. 

It doesn't always have to be about clicks

We knew we didn't want to buy a general ad, because, for example, retired auto workers who use Facebook to look at pictures of their grandchildren probably don't care about trends in journalism. Our ad, which had a few lines of copy, an image showing data and what we hoped was an evocative headline, targeted 900 users. Those folks worked at Forrester Research, the Poynter Institute, the Knight Foundation and J-Lab — people generally in the business of understanding trends, especially journalistic ones.

We also targeted people who listed that they worked for the Huffington Post, the Daily Beast and Mashable — three organizations that in the past have been accused of being content aggregators that co-opt content more often than magnanimously sharing it — to see if anyone there had a view on Reuters' new policy.

After running for four days, including over a weekend, our ad had a total of 7,971 impressions. Of those 900 people targeted to see this ad, four people clicked on it. That put our click-through rate at a miserable 0.05 percent.

If we were an ad agency, at this point, we would have been fired. Four clicks just don't cut it in the advertising game.

Screenshot of ad promoting a story on KDMC's blog about content curation

But as I was quick to notice that fact, Jerry had a more interesting insight. Our ad was shown almost 8,000 times.

We bought the ad with an average suggested cost-per-impression of $0.40, and our total ad buy came to $3.17.

So, we spent the cost of an expensive coffee for hundreds of people who potentially spend their days thinking about the topic — or even participating in it — to see our ad almost 2,000 times a day. That was incredible exposure for the KDMC brand.

If it's about branding, we need to make sure that's what we're doing

It turned out, in the end, we weren't necessarily trying to drive people to our site, but letting a group of informed people know that we talk about important things. But if this was really an exercising in branding, we could have done a couple things better, too.

First, our ad had a picture of data, which was kind of hard to understand anyway with the size that it was displayed. Perhaps a better use of that space could have been our KDMC logo, letting the simple white "K" stand out against the dark red background. Maybe a different headline would have been more effective, too. We might have also changed our copy, but there still needs to be a balance between unabashedly hyping ourselves up and showing that we can showcase conversations about relevant topics.

Who knows if we'll do a buy like this again. We got decent exposure, but in a world of showing returns-on-investment, it's hard to see exactly how to quantify what good that did us in the long run. It, however, goes to show that experimentation can lead to some cool discoveries. And, we didn't lose very much in the process. Jerry is out a few bucks.

Maybe, next time, I'll skip my afternoon caffeine break and we can splurge for another test. If you decide to forego coffee for a day and try your own ad experiment, let us know what you find out.