social media how toWhat if you could reach your existing customers while they’re on Facebook?

Does the idea of displaying a Facebook ad only to your prospects list sound interesting?

This could give your marketing a boost and help build your brand’s image on Facebook.

In this post, I’ll show you two ways to use Facebook’s Custom Audiences to connect with your customers and prospects on Facebook.

And I’ll also show you how to create and use your first custom audience.

build brand image

How do you build your brand's image on Facebook?

What’s a Custom Audience?

Your business undoubtedly has a database of customers. You may be using that database to keep email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook user IDs and app user IDs.

You can target the customers on these lists with your Facebook advertising, whether they are your current fans or not.

Instead of agonizing over demographics, precise interests and Partner Category targeting in an effort to reach your ideal audience, all you need to do is upload your customer list to Facebook. Facebook then matches up email addresses, for example, with the email addresses of users on Facebook.

Not all of the email addresses you collect are directly related to an email address of a Facebook user. Facebook tends to match up between 30-50% (sometimes more, sometimes less), depending on the quality of your list.

Once this list is generated in Facebook, you have a Custom Audience you can use in your advertising.

Are There Privacy Concerns?

I know this all sounds diabolical and mysterious, but it’s not. Privacy is not breached.

Here’s how Facebook explains the process:

The list will be hashed before being sent to Facebook. The system will match the encrypted data against Facebook’s active users, and build a custom audience in your account with everyone that matches your list.

Hashing and encryption are two ways of securing information. Encryption lets you later recover the original text by decrypting it. Hashing summarizes text into a short fingerprint that can’t be decrypted.

With just a hashed fingerprint, there’s no way to know exactly which text was summarized even though any given text always produces the same fingerprint.

Facebook is able to find your ideal audiences for you without either company’s data leaving its respective servers.

It’s important to remember that an advertiser may already have your email address. If you are a Facebook user, Facebook already has your email address. Because the data that is sent to Facebook is hashed and encrypted, the email address itself never changes hands.

How You Can Use Custom Audiences

You own a list of email addresses of your current customers. So how can you make that list work for you with Custom Audiences?

1. Bring in new fans.

Create an ad that’s targeted at current customers on your email list who aren’t currently Facebook fans to get them to like your Page. Craft your messaging appropriately, knowing this audience is already familiar with your brand.

When you direct your message to a custom audience, the success rate tends to be higher and cost per new page like much lower when compared to relying entirely on precise interests and other targeting methods.

attract new fans

Do you use Facebook ads to attract new fans?

2. Target segmented customers.

If you segment your email lists according to customers who have made specific purchases, you can find great success with Custom Audiences.

Let’s say that you have a list of customers who purchased Widget 1.0. You launch version 2.0. You can craft a Facebook ad targeted at the people who purchased Widget 1.0, alerting them of the update.

facebook advertising

Facebook advertising can be enormously effective when targeting prior customers through the use of Custom Audiences.

The beauty of this approach is that your target user doesn’t need to be a Facebook fan for it to work. These are people who already have an established level of trust with your brand. They have purchased your product. They are much more likely than the typical user to click through and buy.

How to Create Your Custom Audience

Have you been sold on using Custom Audiences? Great! Let’s create your first Custom Audience on Facebook.

#1: Use Power Editor

You can’t currently create Custom Audiences within the self-serve ad tool, although you can select ones that have already been created. You’ll need to use Power Editor to create them.

Power Editor is a bulk ad editing tool created by Facebook. It’s a browser plugin that currently works with most browsers. Simply go to Facebook Power Editor to get started.

It’s likely that this functionality will eventually be rolled out to the self-serve ad tool, but you should get into the habit of using Power Editor. You have much more control over targeting, placement and bidding, and it’s where the new features are rolled out first.

#2: Create a Custom Audience

On the left-hand side of Power Editor, click Audiences.

click audiences

Click Audiences in Power Editor.

Next, click Create Audience and select Custom Audience.

create audience

Create your Custom Audience in Power Editor.

Now name your list, enter a description, choose the type of data (emails, UIDs, phone numbers or app user IDs) and upload the file.

upload file

Upload your customer list into Power Editor.

The file will need to be in CSV or TXT format. Make sure that the data is in one column, and you should remove the header row. Then click Create.

If the upload is successful, you’ll get the following message:

upload complete

Did you get this message? Your Custom Audience has been created!

If you’re getting errors, take a look at your data to make sure all data is valid. For example, all email addresses need to be in the typical [name]@[domain] format. If not, Power Editor will return errors.

Be patient! Now you need to do as Facebook says and wait up to an hour (or more) for your audience to be ready.

Until it’s ready, the status will be listed as “Waiting.” When it’s ready, status will be listed as—you guessed it—“Ready.”

custom audience status

You’ll need to wait up to an hour for your Custom Audience to be ready.

Since not every email address will match up to a Facebook user, be prepared for the number of users in your Custom Audience to be lower than the number of users in your email list.

#3: Use Your Custom Audience

Okay, now your Custom Audience is ready. It’s time to put it to use!

In Power Editor:

When you create your ad, click on Advanced Options under Audience.

advanced options

Click Advanced Options when creating an ad in Power Editor.

Then, enter the name of your audience within the Custom Audience field.

enter name

Enter the name of the Custom Audience you want to target with your ad.

If your audience is available, Facebook will begin prefilling the rest of the name as you are typing.

Also notice that there is an Excluded Audiences field. This can be handy if you want to exclude a segmented list from seeing your ad. For example, when promoting a product, you could exclude users who have already purchased it.

In the Self-Serve Ad Tool:

You know that I’d prefer you use Power Editor. But if you insist on using the self-serve ad tool, here’s how you’d target your Custom Audience within an ad there.

While creating your ad, there is a Choose Your Audience section that allows you to narrow down your targeting by things like location, age, gender and interests. Also in that group is Custom Audiences.

Simply check the boxes associated with the Custom Audience(s) you want to use.

self serve

Select the audiences you want to target with your ad in the self-serve ad tool.

#4: Create Lookalike Audiences for Extra Credit

If you want to take this a step further, you can have Facebook generate an audience that is similar to the users within your Custom Audience. This is particularly useful if you don’t have a large customer list and you want to expand your targeting to reach a new but similar audience.

First, click Audiences on the left-hand side of Power Editor, like you did before when you were creating your Custom Audience.

power editor

Click Audiences in Power Editor.

Then select the Custom Audience you created earlier and click Create Similar Audience.

similar audience

Select the Custom Audience you want to expand and click Create Similar Audience.

You will then have the option to create a lookalike audience based on Similarity or Reach.

create lookalike

Choose one country and create a lookalike audience based on Similarity or Greater Reach.

If you choose Similarity, Facebook will match up the users within your Custom Audience to the top 1% of users on Facebook most similar to those users. If you choose Greater Reach, Facebook will match up the top 5% of users.

Note that you will be able to create a lookalike audience for one country at a time. When you’re done, click Create.

As was the case before, you will now need to wait for Facebook to generate this new list. While waiting, the size will show “—” and the status will be “Waiting.”

lookalike waiting

Be patient while Facebook generates your lookalike audience.

The name of the lookalike audience is auto-generated, but you can edit it or add a description for reference later.

Now you can use this audience in the same way you would your Custom Audience you created before.

Custom Audience Results

I’ve had great success targeting my email list with Facebook ads, both to add new fans and send interested users to my blog posts or products. My success rate here is multiplied over standard Facebook ad targeting.

What do you think? Have you tried Custom Audiences? What results are you seeing? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Good article with lots of helpful details. Its great to develop all your platforms and tie them together and this feature on Facebook helps target customers and helps you with your list building too. Great info!

  • I’ve been working on this for a few months now, but everytime I try and upload my emails (around 200, FB maximum is 5000) Facebook tells me I’m abusing the system and bans me from uploading emails for 2 days. This is driving me absolutely batty as I want to be very targeted in who I make my offers to yet I can’t.

    Any suggestions or workarounds?

  • Absolutely great article. Thanks for posting.

  • Dara Khajavi

    I was not aware of all these possibilities. I am still working on my building my firm’s Facebook presence. Thanks for bringing these strategies to my attention!

  • Jen

    Great information! Do you know if Facebook keeps the emails secure? I don’t want to provide FB with emails that they can then share and use for other purposes. I want to make sure I keep my clients’ information secure.

  • Ray

    Thank you, this is a useful tactic. However, it will be interesting to view privacy comments in light of NSA/Snowden.

  • Neither of these things make sense to me, Sarah. There isn’t a maximum that I’m aware of, and I’ve definitely uploaded lists larger than 5,000 (and lists that resulted in more than 5,000 targeted users). I’ve also never received such a warning.

    Did you contact Facebook?

  • Thanks, Sanjeev!

  • Happy to help, Dara, and good luck!

  • Yes, they are hashed out. They don’t do anything with the email addresses.

  • AmandahBlackwell

    I didn’t know about ‘custom audiences’ and will have to re-read this post. Bettter yet, I’ll copy and paste it into Evernote so I can refer back to it.

    I wonder what Facebook will think of next. 😉

  • Efrat Dekel

    I tried lookalike and that was very successful campaign indeed

  • kitejock

    great article keep up the nice work!

  • Kent

    I keep getting the following error when I try to upload

    Parsing tab separated text: 0.00%
    Invalid data. Cannot parse header.

  • Julia

    Thanks so much for this info – definitely going to try it.

  • Meenakshi Sharma

    Good article.but I found it very technical. I don’t now how far I will succed to do it pratically.

  • treb072410

    I really enjoyed reading the post.. It was really helpful and it was an eye opener for me..

  • Cristina

    Hey Jon!

    Do you know what the similarity is based on and what the percentage of each factor is?
    Eg: location, interests, personal data…

  • Indu P

    Very timely article. Facebook spoke about Cusotm audiences and Lookalike Audiences are the Marketing Week Live in London. It think these are very powerful tools to target your intended audiences just as you have outlined above.
    But in view of the data breach admissions made by Facebook how long do you think Custom audience tool will continue in its current form?

  • Jennifer Agrazada-Schreiner

    I’m guessing maybe if you’ve paid for sponsored ads before then there is a possibility that there is no limit. But can I use this feature even if I am just using the site for free and have never paid Facebook for anything?

  • Grant Perry

    Nice article, thanks. I’ve been finding really good results with custom audiences. It’s proving a really cheap way to get good fans. But more importantly it’s proving effective to sell our products directly to people on our email list at a great ROI. It’s also an excellent way to exclude existing e-letter readers for our lead gen ads.

    The similar audiences aren’t working very well at the moment though.

    I’m looking forward to the process of updating the lists being more streamlined. Perhaps privacy concerns will make this difficult but the manual process of having to constantly obtain and upload new emails is cumbersome. If this could be a dynamic, automatic process it would really help scale this up.

  • Meslop Sporting Good

    Good article, it came just when I started using facebook ads for my bussines, but I got a question, I want to built a customers data base, which software do you recommend me for this? I appreciate your answer.

  • Grant Perry

    I just spotted today a way to import custom lists directly from Mail Chimp and Constant Contact as an alternative to uploading a CSV file.

    Right now I only see it as an option in the regular ad interface and only when “creating a similar ad” from an ad that uses a custom list.

  • Make sure that the only data in your file is a column of valid email addresses. No header. No invalid email addresses. Otherwise you’ll be shot an error.

  • Hi, Cristina! How Lookalike Audiences are found is a bit of a mystery, at least as far as I know. I agree it would be useful to know!

    Keep in mind that even after creating a Lookalike Audience, you can further drill down when you create your ad to target only people in a particular country, with particular interests, etc.

  • This tool is part of Facebook advertising. You need to spend something to use it. But that amount can really be as little or as much as you want.

  • Agreed, Grant! Custom Audiences have been very effective for me as well. And I agree that it would be great to have it automatically update with your list.

    Something to consider with Lookalike Audiences is treating those people like other non-fans. It is a good starting point, but apply other targeting as well.

    Thanks for your comments!

  • You can do this with the help of applications. AgoraPulse is a tool I’d recommend.

  • Wonderful primer on segmenting with Facebook. I’m constantly asked and tell people “just upload”.. getting tons of question. Thank you for giving me a link I’ll use often

  • KirstenNelson

    Jon, you give the best step-by-step tutorials! That makes so much more sense now! Thanks!

  • Vlasta Macko Birindzic

    I get blocked all the time…annoying!!

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  • Just the information I was looking for, going to create a custom audience right now.

  • Tracy Southers

    Does Facebook tell you how many email addresses they match from your list?

  • Steve

    For some reason, it’s forcing me to use “Only people not connected to [Company]” in the “Connections” section.

    We’re running a contest that I want to promote to my entire list, whether they currently LIke our Page or not, but it’s not working. Even after I change it to “Anyone” and save the change, it reverts back to the “Only people not connected” audience.

    Anybody else having that problem or know why it’s doing that?

  • Gleb

    Thank you! It<code>s a great walkthrough__abENT__#46; I have just addes my buyers to a new audience__abENT__#46; Let</code>s how it works.

  • What I am wondering about is what happens if FB can only find 20% of your email addresses in their system- Many business owners use multiple email addresses. What happens to the 80% – you say they hash it out, they don’t care about the email? But if 80% is not on FB – who says they will not collect this and use it or sell it to a 3rd party. I know they are not supposed to do this, but what stops them once you give them all this information voluntarily can we as business owners be liable to our clients- we indicate that the email list will not be used for other purposes- would this not be the other purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that we can customize based on our customers. They became customers because of certain reasons, and it would be nice to target to others that have the same, but how can they tell with just an email address?

  • Wow amazing article with lots of technical details!! Amazing strategies to develop platforms on Facebook and to build links too. Thanks for sharing!!

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  • Garrett

    When you create and add a Lookalike list into your ad, then you just set location targeting correct? You don’t have to set gender or interests because Facebook already found those people for you right?

    Thanks Great Post!

  • David Szabo

    I really love custom audiences. At BrandVee we were able to come up with a method that can evaluate UIDs in order to get even more precise seed audiences for lookalike, with results like 4x better engagement, and 75% drop in fan acquisition costs. I can bring lots of new tactics to life, which makes the whole FB advertising much more compelling.

  • Ryan McCoye

    Jon, great screenshots, really helpful to see this ahead of time. After the list comes back as “Ready” are you able to see exactly who is in your custom audience that was successfully paired or get information liker their Facebook username?

  • KarynwithaY

    Great article, thanks Jon. It was actually a client of mine who pointed it out to me! Glad he did!

  • Ethurston

    Are you able to upload a hashed email list to Custom Audience Facebook?

  • Anggara Roget Lukita

    When we make an audience based on email list, does Facebook pass through an user privacy setting? Meaning, if you check the email manually, you might not found them because the profile is private, but as a part of an audience data, they can be accessible to our ads?

  • Lena

    What is the minimum number of Facebook ID’s you nned to upload in order to use this tool?
    Can I advertise for 20 users only?
    Thank you

  • Alex

    It’s because you’re doing it with your profile, not a page.

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  • Vlasta Macko Birindzic

    Thanks Alex 😀 I see this comment was a while ago haha learned a lot since then or rather say ‘graduated’ online marketing and developing every minute… love it so far!! How are you going?