Here’s a conversation I’ve had more times than I can count:
Me: Have you ever run a Facebook ad before?
Client: No, we’ve only done boosted posts.
Me: But you paid for that boosted post, right?
Client: Well, yes.
Me: Okay, so you have run a Facebook ad before.
If your school manages a Facebook page, at some point you’ve seen a pop-up from Facebook prompting you to boost your post to get more engagement. Thanks to this prompt, many schools end up boosting their posts with a budget of only $10 or $15—but without much of an understanding of what exactly they’re doing.
To clarify, yes, boosted posts are a type of Facebook advertising. But there’s so much more to Facebook ads than boosted posts! In fact, boosted posts (or “page post engagement ads,” to use their proper name) are only one of 14 different kinds of Facebook ads.
So which types of ad(s) should you run? It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Selecting an ad type that matches your goal will increase the success of your ad.
Below we’ll explore some of the most common types of Facebook ads for advancement so you have a better understanding of which type is right for your school.
Page Post Engagement Ad (“Boost Your Post”)
When to use it: When you want to encourage likes and comments on a post that already lives on your page.
In my experience, page post engagement ads (boosted posts) are the most popular with colleges and universities. They’re best to use when you’re trying to foster engagement and conversation on a specific post.
Use this type, for example, when a beloved professor retires and you’re hoping to collect stories from alumni. Posting the retirement announcement on your Facebook page will generate some of that conversation, but boosting the post will broaden its reach to an audience beyond the people who follow your page.
If you’re running a fundraising campaign in honor of the professor, you might also take the list of people who have engaged with the post and then target them with an appeal. (Learn how Boston University used Facebook engagement data to generate a solicitation list for a $5 million campaign in this CASE Currents article.)
The trick to page post engagement ads is to first build the ad as an organic post on your Facebook page, then boost it from there. Both Power Editor and Ad Manager will allow you to build a page post engagement ad from scratch within the ad-building platform, but that ad will never live on your page—so you’re not really boosting a post, you’re simply creating an ad.
These so-called “dark posts” that don’t live on the page are harder to track for engagement, making it difficult to monitor and respond to comments from your constituents. This can negate the benefits of a page post engagement ad in the first place.
Here’s a tip: If your ad includes a URL—and it almost always should—you probably don’t want to use a page post engagement ad. Most likely, you want…
Clicks to Website Ad (“Send People to Your Website”)
When to use it: Virtually always. Default to this type of ad unless you have a compelling reason to use another type.
Most of the time when you’re running an ad, you’re directing people to a page on your website—like your giving site or an event registration page—which makes the clicks to website ad type most appropriate. Though you can include a URL in other types of ads, a clicks to website ad is designed and optimized to drive clicks, whereas a page post engagement ad with a URL is meant to drive engagement on the post.
In general, your digital strategy should focus on pulling people from peripheral sites that you don’t own (such as Facebook and other social media platforms) onto the .edu website that you do. Why? When people are on your website, they’re surrounded by your brand and information about your school. They might come to register for an event, stay to read some alumni news, and end by making a gift.
If they never go from Facebook to your website, the path is more likely to involve seeing your school’s post, moving onto a cute cat picture, and then clicking away to read a BuzzFeed list.
Here’s an example of a clicks to website ad:
Here’s a tip: Directing people to your website is so important that when I advise ad-buying clients for the first time, one of the first pieces of information I ask them to provide is a URL. If you don’t have a URL in mind, I recommend creating one specifically for the purpose of directing your ad traffic there. Very rarely have I found it more appropriate to run an ad without a URL than to run an ad with one.
Video Views Ad (“Get Video Views”)
When to use it: Well… when you want to get more video views.
A video views ad is your opportunity to run a commercial. Video is increasingly popular online, and Facebook’s algorithms will often spread video faster and to a wider audience than they will other types of content.
If you’re looking to promote your school through a video, this is the type of ad for you… under one condition. For a truly effective video views ad, you need to decide that you want to run the ad before you create the video.
I know, I know—that’s a level of planning that’s almost unheard of in an annual fund environment. But the way you create your video will determine how successful your video views ad will be. 85 percent of videos on Facebook are viewed without sound, so running a video of talking heads is unlikely to yield good results. Craft your video in a way that is enhanced by sound, but not dependent on it.
Keep in mind that video view metrics are infamously deceiving. Facebook was recently in hot water for exaggerating the reach of their videos, which most social media managers probably suspected long before the company admitted it. Your video might have 4,200 views, but when you dig into the data, you’ll find that only a fraction of those people watched the video for longer than 10 or 15 seconds.
Here’s a tip: Ready for things to get tricky? Just because your ad includes a video doesn’t necessarily mean you want a video views ad. If you’re using a video to promote an initiative—such as a giving challenge—for which you have website, you’ll still want to run a clicks to website ad.
In this case, your ultimate goal is to get people to give, not to get them to watch a video—so you’re better off putting the video inside a clicks to website ad that will direct people to your giving page than you are running a video views ad that promotes the video but doesn’t push as hard for clicks.
Here’s an example of a video that I ran as a clicks to website ad because our ultimate goal was to increase clicks to the giving page:
Lead Generation Ad (“Collect Leads for Your Business”)
When to use it: To collect information about your constituents, including updated contact information or registrations for free events.
Lead generation ads (sometimes called “lead ads”) are relatively new and can be extremely useful for specific circumstances.
These ads direct your audience through a customized form that pre-populates with the information Facebook already has about the person (increasing the likelihood that someone will fill it out in the first place). Facebook collects the responses to the form and sends them to the ad buyer, allowing you to follow up with individuals who responded to the ad.
The most obvious use for a lead generation ad in higher education is to get people to sign up for something, such as an event. Keep in mind, however, that lead generation ads can’t collect payment, so you won’t want to run this type of ad if your event has a registration fee.
Perhaps the greatest potential of lead generation ads for colleges and universities is to collect contact information. Since Facebook pre-populates the email address field on the form with the email that the individual uses to login to their Facebook account, it’s an easy way to ask alumni to submit updated contact information.
Here’s a tip: Due to their nature, lead generation ads play by different rules than other types of ads. For example, you can’t run a lead generation ad to anyone under the age of 18.
Feeling like an ad type expert yet? Stay tuned for my next installment, where you’ll learn how to reach the audience you want, when you want, using advanced audience targeting options.
If you missed it, check out my first post in this series: “How to Convince Your Boss (and Yourself) That You Need Facebook Ads.”
Emily Baselt Steiger is a fundraiser, marketer, and digital strategist. By day she’s the assistant director for alumni giving at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta and by night she’s a freelance Facebook ad architect, digital strategy consultant, and avid whale enthusiast. Her other interests are teasingly diverse. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter.