A Complete Guide on Custom Audiences for Social Network Advertising

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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Brian Decoded

President at Alpha Efficiency

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Each day, more and more brands and businesses are turning to social network advertising and custom audiences when they want to get their message in front of the right people on social media. Focusing on the right audience is crucial for targeted messaging, whether you are talking to your customers, website visitors or subscribers. In this article, we will walk you through all the important steps in building custom audiences and lookalike audiences, while also sharing some tips on how to put these audiences to the best use.

What Is Custom Audience?

A custom audience is a list of people who will potentially see your ad, and it can be customized based on a variety of factors. It is a step beyond the basic demographic and psychographic audience filters and it can be dictated by an external source, such as a set of emails, website visitor spreadsheets, or users’ social media behavior data.

Another thing is the lookalike audience. It is a larger group based on the certain qualities that it has in common with one of your custom audiences, whether it is the level of education, age group, common interests or simply the way they use social networks. A lookalike audience will include people who share these attributes too.

We will talk about different ways to use all sorts of information to build some unique audiences, starting with the biggest and most well-known social advertising networks – Facebook and Instagram.

How to Create Custom Audiences for Facebook and Instagram Ads

Advertising for both Facebook and Instagram is conducted via Facebook Ads Manager. This is the place where you can run all your ads from, and also where you create and manage all of your audiences. There are many custom audiences that you can build using Facebook. Here are some of them:

A customer list – also known as a standard custom audience

This is the audience based on a list of emails, phone numbers or Facebook IDs. Facebook uses this data to match them with its list of users. You will notice that it can typically match between 60 and 70 percent of contacts on your customer list.

Website custom audience

You can also build the audience based on traffic to your website, instead of uploading a list of customer emails or phone numbers. To do so, you need to use Facebook Pixel tracking. With this tool, you can create an audience of people who have visited any page on your website during a set period.

App activity-based custom audiences

If you have developed a product such as a mobile app or a video game, you can build audiences based on the actions of people using it.

Offline activity-based Facebook audience

You could collect information on a spreadsheet based on offline research through conversations in brick-and-mortar stores, and build your audience based on that.

Facebook and Instagram engagement audience

This audience is based on people who interact with your posts, videos, events or profile. You can even narrow your search by setting a timeframe. For example, you can tune your timeframe to focus on engagements in the last 90 days or even in the entire year passed.

A Complete Guide on Custom Audiences for Social Network Advertising

Tips And Ideas on How to Make the Most of Your Custom Audiences

The most popular and effective Instagram audience strategy is lumping all audience types and time windows together into one large chunk, strategy used by our digital marketing agency. For example, you can target all people who engaged with your profile in the last 365 days.

You can use Facebook’s ads tool and its huge variety of filters to build audiences of engagers based on different factors like who has visited your Instagram profile, messaged you, or saved a post or an ad. Video, in particular, can be a very useful engagement and attention metric. Let’s say you created an audience of people who have watched a certain amount of videos on your page. You can then use that group to create a lookalike audience of people who share similar behavior and expand your reach. Here is a piece of advice on who to include when building engagement-based audiences:

  • People who have engaged in any way with your brand on Instagram in the past seven, twenty, or ninety days
  • People who have visited your Instagram profile in the past 30 days, but are not customers
  • People who have viewed your Instagram Stories video in the past seven days

Another way to build custom audiences is re-targeting. Here, we’re talking partly about pixel tracking and website or profile visits. Lots of brands start their retargeting campaigns by targeting everyone that visits their website, but this approach isn’t always the most effective. Buyers visit different pages of your website for different reasons. Perhaps some of them are not looking to buy at all. The pages they visit represent different buyers’ intents, and the key is to match your custom advertising audiences to those intents.

How to Create Custom Audiences for Pinterest Ads

You will find that none of the other social networks are quite as robust with ad-focused offerings as Facebook and Instagram, but there is still plenty of customization you can control on other sites as well. Here are some of the options for creating custom audiences for Pinterest ads:

  • You can build audiences based on people who visit your site
  • You can build audiences through a customer list that you upload, such as a list of emails
  • Your audiences can be built based on people who engaged with pins that link to your website
  • You can build an act alike audience that behaves similarly to an existing custom audience that you’ve created. 

The visitor audience is based on a Pinterest tag, much like the Facebook pixel, the Pinterest tag is a piece of JavaScript code that you install on your website and gather conversion insights. You can then use that information to target the audiences you have created based on actions taken on your site.

For the Pinterest engagement audiences, you will need to confirm your domain with Pinterest. After that, Pinterest will be able to see which users have engaged with pins that link back to your site, so you can create audiences based on that information. You can also filter this group based on a specific URL, pin category, or even based on the percentage of the video that has been viewed, which is a pretty neat feature.

How to Create Custom Audiences for Twitter

With Twitter ads, you can base your custom audiences on:

  • An uploaded list of contacts or customers
  • A collection of website visitors based on data collected via Twitter website tag
  • A list of your mobile app users
  • A flexible audience

The flexible audiences feature is much like the engagement audiences feature we have already talked about. They give you the option to save combinations of audiences and subsets of audiences based on factors like recency and frequency of interactions.

How to Create Custom Audiences for LinkedIn

You can use website data captured with a LinkedIn tag and build audiences based on that, or build custom audiences based on a list of contacts that you upload. Another interesting audience customization option is the account-based audiences feature. For example, if you want to get a certain percentage of companies that are associated with some franchise to use your product, all you need to do is upload a list of accounts to LinkedIn and build a custom audience that is focused on the stakeholders of these companies.

While Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are all great for selling your products and services directly to consumers, there are a lot of interesting things you can do on LinkedIn if you are a business selling to other businesses.

Extra Tips for Getting the Most out of Your Custom Audiences

Another effective business strategy is to boost a lot of your content to a wide audience and then create a custom audience based on people who click that content and visit your website. The website custom audience that you create will be made up of people who have already shown a lot of intent and are most likely interested in what you have to offer.

Ads don’t have to only be a way to acquire more customers. With some creative thinking, they can become a means to keep your existing customers engaged. Build a kind of “sleepy” audience composed of people that have already shopped with you, or used your product before, but haven’t returned in a while.

There are also some great things you can do with custom audiences of newsletter subscribers. You can make lists of engaged and disengaged subscribers. Build custom audiences based on those lists and deliver different content to each group. Research shows that a single inactive subscriber is still worth 32% of an active subscriber, so that’s something to think about.


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