Posted By Mercury Healthcare (formerly Healthgrades) on 03/23/2019

Here's Looking at You: Targeting Tips for Facebook

Here's Looking at You: Targeting Tips for Facebook

You’ve decided to run a Facebook campaign - congratulations! Ideas for images and ad copy are swirling around in your head. You are ready for people to see, read, and interact with your ads. 

Now you have to decide who you’re trying to reach. Who are they? What do they look like? What makes them different from other people? Once you have answered these questions, those people become your target audience. 

With over 2 billion people using Facebook every month - and 1.37 billion daily active users - Facebook allows you to reach the people who are right for your business. Targeting is the foundation of a successful Facebook campaign; it lays the groundwork for the audience who sees your ad. It also gives you a profile around which to focus your creative efforts.

When searching on Google, a user has intent. They went to Google with the intention of finding something specific. Facebook is passive; users are checking in to see how their friends are doing, take a quiz, and looking at clever decorating ideas. They don’t know what they are going to find every time they open Facebook.

The best analogy we can give for Facebook targeting is casting a net. Commercial fishers throw a massive net as far and wide as possible to catch as many fish as they can. That’s the same principal we take with Facebook advertising; we are trying to cast our net to catch people we predict will click, convert, or interact with your ad. We're looking for people who match a targeting profile that we create. That profile can be as general or as specific as you need it to be. 

With that said, let’s explore our targeting options.

Age, gender, locations, & language

Our first group of targeting options is going to be the most general – it’s your basic bread and butter targeting. It covers age, gender, geographic location, and language. Age and gender are self-reported information. By default, geographic location covers anyone currently in your specific city or area. This includes people who updated their city in their profile or anyone determined to be in that location based on device and connection information.

If we’re building a general profile for a mammography campaign, it could be something like women over the age of 40 who live within 20 miles of Atlanta, Georgia. That’s going to cast a very wide net. We could see hundreds of thousands of women falling within those parameters. If we’re trying to reach the largest population we can, this is a great option. As a best practice, we typically use this as a jumping-off point.

Interest targeting 

Interest targeting is part of what Facebook calls Detailed Targeting. It is based on how a user interacts with Facebook and its content: from what they’ve shared on their timeline to ads they’ve clicked on to the apps they have used. 

Facebook’s interface lets you easily browse interest options, but it only scratches the surface of what’s available. Best practice is to compile a list of interests that you think will benefit your campaign and try typing them into the detailed search field to find matches. 

For example, we can target adults who have liked The American Heart Association; maybe they would be likely to interact with a cardiology ad. We would also want to target other interests, like hypertension awareness or heart disease awareness. The more categories added to interests, the higher the potential targeting reach becomes; it is inclusive rather than exclusive.

If you are interested in seeing the interests Facebook associates to you, check out:

Demographics & Behaviors

Demographics and behaviors round out the trifecta that makes up Detailed Targeting in Facebook. They utilize third party marketing data from companies like Acxiom, Datalogic, and Experian. These companies track consumer purchasing behavior and then match consumers to Facebook users. 

Demographics are additional details about a person beyond what might be provided normally on a person’s timeline - things like education, income levels, if they have kids - broken down by age groups and profession industry.

Behaviors focuses more closely on purchases: charitable donations, residential profiles, and purchase behaviors, to name a few. There are thousands of behavior options, offering complete customization of the audience.

Using demographics and behaviors allows you to target users based on their off-Facebook habits, which can be more telling than what they actually share on their curated timeline. For example, women who purchase plus size clothing might be open to the idea of bariatric surgery but would cringe at the idea of sharing their clothing size on Facebook. Since demographics and behaviors directly correlate to a user’s actual lifestyle, they often translate to higher CTA and more leads.


By using connections, you are able to target users who have liked your page and friends of those people who have liked your page. Being able to target friends of people who have liked your page is a powerful tool – we typically call it “Friends of Fans.” If 1,000 people like your page and they have an average of 100 friends, you have 100,000 people that you can target, assuming little to no overlap in your fans. We can assume that the friends of fans have some things in common with the person who liked your page. The logic here is that people are homogenous and tend to be friends with people like them.

Friends of friends targeting exponentially increases long-term potential reach, since each new fan acquired will grow your pool of people. The average Facebook user has 150 friends; your reach can grow quickly. While friends of fans can easily be applied to clothing trends or television shows, its usefulness in healthcare isn’t always applicable. We’ve found it’s typically best for brand awareness campaigns rather than appointment acquisition.

Custom audiences

Custom audiences let us target people whose information we already have. A seed list of patient phone numbers or email addresses can be uploaded to Facebook, which will match them with known users. Facebook securely hashes the data and returns an estimated audience size, which is autotomized. It doesn’t tell you who you have matched – just a number of matches.

Custom audiences can be useful in retargeting existing patients or patients you haven’t seen in a while. Facebook must make at least 100 matches from the data set to compile an audience. Custom audience sizes depend on the quantity and quality of the seed list: larger lists lead to larger audiences, but only if it can match users. If a large majority of your seed list is older, you might not have great success in finding matches. We recommend running these campaigns for a limited time or using a smaller budget so as not to exhaust your audience.

Facebook retargeting

Facebook retargeting is a type of Facebook custom audience. Instead of uploading a list of phone or email addresses, you identify people coming to your website, or specific pages within your website, via a Facebook pixel. Facebook builds a de-identified pool of people that you can target. This type of audience grows over time based on your website traffic.

Lookalike audiences

With a lookalike audience, we take a custom audience and find an audience with similar attributes. Lookalike audiences let you reach a new audience who is likely to be interested in your business because they are similar to existing customers. Once a custom audience is built, Facebook will build a blinded lookalike audience made up of users that have similarities with the audience you have provided. The larger the data set provided, the bigger opportunity Facebook has to find significant commonalities. This has proven to be one of the best targeting options available.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of Facebook targeting, it’s time to get creating. With so many options – especially for interests, demographics and behaviors it’s a great idea to go into Facebook and explore all of your options. Dive deep and think outside the box – targeting is a part of the creative process.

Want to learn more about better targeting on Facebook and throughout your healthcare marketing efforts? Learn about building effective patient personas here.

Matt Kingby:Matt King

Manager, Integrated Marketing

Mar 21 2019

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