Run Your Own Digital Focus Group – 5 Steps

Want to find out if your message appeals to your target market or if there is a market for a service you’re developing?

Here’s a quick and low cost way to run a Digital Focus Group to find out.

Can you guess which of the 6 images above worked best when advertising to our target market?  Click one of the share buttons below to find out.
[wpsharely id=”412″]

Number 3 was the top performing ad!

Here are the click through rates for the ads:

  1. 0.033%

  2. 0.020%

  3. 0.047%

  4. 0.035%

  5. 0.030%

  6. 0.021%

Facebook considers a CTR of 0.020% to be a good result so our bored dog had a stellar performance. We took a flyer when we chose this photo but the gamble paid off.

If we had followed our intuition and chosen more conventional images we would have guessed wrong.

The lesson is test your message!


How to Run your own Digital Focus Group

Step #1 – Set up a Facebook Ad Account

Facebook ads are a fast and cost effective way to run a scientific focus group.

Before you blow your budget on other forms of advertising, you should consider spending a few hundred dollars on Facebook to test your message and confirm that you’re targeting the right market.

The effectiveness of Facebook ads has been questioned by many businesses including GM who pulled their Facebook advertising in May, 2012. GM returned in April, 2013 but only for a small pilot of mobile ads. But there is more to Facebook ads than meets the eye.

First the Bad News

Facebook ads were too costly for our general marketing campaign. Once we calculated the cost of getting a new user for our MondoPlayer service (the cost per click times the ratio of people who downloaded our product) we experienced a $10 per user download cost.

Unless you are selling a high margin item or you have a big budget for awareness advertising, a large scale Facebook advertising campaign is probably not for you.

Now the Good News

For as little as $50 you can test a marketing message and a graphic (photo or image). For just a few hundred dollars you can run a series of A/B tests comparing ads with selected target audiences.

Step #2 – Selecting the Group

Facebook lets you select a target audience using a number of demographic indicators (location, gender, age and interests). It’s ideal for testing whether your assumptions are correct about your target market.

Facebook Ads have very low click through rates. A typical Facebook Ad will only produce 1 click for every 5,000 times it appears on a users screen. To ensure you have a statistically valid test, you should make sure your target group has at least 50,000 members.

Step #3 – Selecting your Ads

Facebook allows you to test an image, a headline and a short message.

When you select your images and ad copy, be sure to test a wide variety. In our tests,  the images/messages we thought would work were actually outperformed by less conventional ones.

Step #4 – Running your Tests

Facebook allows you to buy ads on a “per click” or “per impression” basis. For your Digital Focus Group, always use the “per click” method, as it is more economical.

If you’re A/B testing one group against another, keep your message the same. If you’re A/B testing the message, keep your group the same.

You should avoid the temptation to run too many tests at the same time. We found that rounds of testing sent us in directions we would not have predicted at the beginning of the process.

Step #5 – Evaluating the Results

It quickly becomes apparent when a test is failing. You may be inclined to suspend a Facebook Ad early if it’s clearly a loser, but you should take care to ensure that you reach a statistically valid audience of 50,000 impressions before you quit the test.

Click through rates are the key, not the “social reach”. Facebook’s “social reach” statistics do not indicate the response to the ad.

Involvements are very important. You should track who “involved” on your website (if you can). Anyone who buys your product, downloads your materials or completes a process on your website should be considered an “involvement”. We found that Facebook tends to over-report clicks, because they count the number of users who click on the ad but don’t fully wait for your Fan Page or website to load on their browser.

If you have a website for your product,  a “doorway page” is better than fan page, because you can track additional metrics on your site.

Our First Test Results

During our first Digital Focus Group, we ran 6 different ads over a 2 week period. The 6 pictures we used are displayed at the top of this article.

One of these images way outperformed the others and it was not the image we predicted.


Using Facebook ads to test your messaging and target market can save you lots of time and money. In a short time and for very little cost you can essentially have your own focus group. You can choose the demographic, geographic and social profile of those you wish to see your ad so that they will represent your likely customers.

You can also use this technique to promote a product you have not yet developed. You can test your value proposition and point people to a page that asks them to indicate their support or interest.

Our Facebook ad experiment showed how dangerous it was to trust your gut. Our customers responded to an ad that we would not have predicted. We got hard numbers from our Facebook ads and this forced us to re-examine our ads before we launched a larger campaign. The numbers didn’t lie but apparently our “gut” did.

We learned that Facebook ads are an under appreciated tool to test your messaging and images. Facebook ads are economical enough that you can keep testing until you find what works.

There is nothing more tragic than spending money and losing valuable time on an advertising campaign that will not work. So you owe it to yourself to do a little experiment and try some Facebook ads. Don’t trust your gut about what you think will work because you may be completely wrong.


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