Target Competitors On Facebook Using Interest Based Audiences

By Chadd Powell | @ChaddPowell | Account Analyst at Hanapin Marketing

Targeting competitors is a time-honored tradition in PPC marketing. Getting your ads in front of a competitors’ audience can build awareness and generate sales. Google and Bing allow us to do this by running ads against a competitor’s brand and product related keywords, but what about a social media site like Facebook? There are no keywords, so what do you target?


The first thought that often comes to mind is to target the fans of your competitors Facebook page. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s not something you’re allowed to do. Facebook doesn’t give you the option to directly target the fans of any specific page, but that doesn’t mean you can’t target a competitor. You just can’t do it directly by targeting fans of their page, but you can still target those fans through other means. Queue the power of interest based targeting.


How It Works


Interest based targeting works because you can use your competitor as the interest being targeted. If you type in a competitor name, Facebook is going to populate it with an audience that has expressed an interest in or liked pages related to that competitor. It’s very likely that part of what Facebook looks at is people who have directly liked the page of that competitor. It’s not as direct as targeting the fans of a page, but it’s the closest Facebook allows.


So what does creating this type of targeting look like in the interface?


First, you’ll want to go to the settings menu at the ad set level. This is where you can create your interest based targeting.




Here you’ll play with keyword combinations that would represent your competitor to see what Facebook populates. Start with the website address and see where that gets you. If Facebook has data, it will populate and present you with an estimate on the audience size.


If the web address doesn’t show up, you’ll have to type in single keywords or phrases that would represent your competitor. However, be careful that what you type doesn’t have multiple meanings that wouldn’t be related.


If you’ve exhausted all options and Facebook isn’t returning an audience for the web address or keywords you type, then it’s likely there isn’t much of an audience for that competitor in Facebook and you won’t be able to target it. Now let’s look at a specific example.


Say I’m in the airline business and I want to target fans of Southwest Airlines. I’d go into the settings at the ad set level and start working through options to see what Facebook will allow me to target.


I’d start with the web address of the competitor first. In this case, the web address didn’t return any results. As a second option, I type in “Southwest Airlines” as an interest. I would be careful about typing in just Southwest as it has multiple meanings and I would likely target all sorts of people unrelated to my actual competitor.


The first screenshot below is “Southwest Airlines” with capital letters while the second screenshot is “southwest airlines” with lower case letters. Both return different audiences numbers and is something I would need to be aware of when creating this targeting.


Southwest Airlines upper case interest*Southwest Airlines with capital letters.


  southwest airlines lower case interest*Southwest Airlines in lower case letters


Once you’ve got your options selected, simply save your progress and you’re targeting your competitor in Facebook.


Now that we have the mechanics of this process out of the way, let’s look into how close this strategy comes to targeting the fans on Southwest Airline’s Facebook page. 


Does This Strategy Really Target A Competitor’s Facebook Fans?


Facebook describes an interest as “People who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to”  whatever specific interest you typed in.


This is why targeting your competitor through an interest-based audience isn’t an exact formula. So how do we see how close interest-based competitor targeting is to the number of fans who have liked their page, the ultimate aim of a competitor campaign in Facebook?


One way is to enter the competitors information into the audience tab, see how many people are in that audience, and then go to that competitors Facebook page and look at how many likes they have on their page.


As an example, let’s use Southwest Airlines again. Below is a screenshot of their Facebook page and its likes (i.e. fans).


Southwest Airlines Facebook


Next is a screenshot of the amount of people in the audience when we target Southwest Airlines (in this case we’re using the lower case version).


southwest airlines lower case interest


Comparing the two we see that the audience numbers are not exactly the same, but they’re pretty close.


So while there may be some other factors causing the difference in audience numbers, it looks like a good bit of the targeted audience is likely to be people who have liked the Southwest Airlines Facebook page.




Targeting competitors isn’t quite as clear-cut in Facebook as it is in AdWords and Bing, but it can be a useful strategy to test. Just remember to be very careful in what you type in as your target and monitor any performance to see whether it works for you.