Facebook Feature: From Targeting to Preferred Audience

Facebook recently replaced its Targeting feature with Preferred Audience, while Gating was replaced with Audience Restrictions. These options were, and continue to be, free to implement on organic page posts. While the difference may seem subtle, the ramifications are significant. Here's what you need to know about the change from Targeting to Preferred Audience.

Formerly, Facebook Targeting excluded everyone outside of the defined target audience from organically receiving the post in their News Feeds. By limiting reach, it naturally discouraged the use of Targeting unless the content was only pertinent to a portion of the page’s audience.

However, Preferred Audience is a wonderfully freeing replacement and sophistication to Facebook’s audience optimization options. It has been around for over a year. It involves designating interest tags to suggest the best audience for the post to Facebook, which helps Facebook prioritize audience recipients. Facebook recommends 6-10 interest tags per post, while the maximum is 16. A key difference with Preferred Audience is that it does not exclude those outside the target parameters from seeing the post in their News Feeds.

Facebook tested the Preferred Audience feature and reported, “We’ve seen that organic reach stays about the same while engagement goes up…Interest tags don’t limit a post’s distribution – they just help it reach the most relevant subset of an audience.”

If your post is only going to organically reach 3-5% (estimate) of your audience, wouldn’t you like to suggest which 3-5% of your audience each particular post should go to?

Our team tested the Preferred Audience feature on a PathWays post series, where each post introduces a pathology case study and asks the viewer to identify the correct selection from the multiple choice options. This content is much more technical than our typical general consumer content.

Facebook PathWays Case Post & Question

After not targeting this post series at all, we began using the Preferred Audience feature. Sample interest tags included: Pathology, American Society for Clinical Pathology, The Scientists, Doctors in Training, Science, and Research. While the previous Targeting feature would have narrowed the reach with these selections, the Preferred Audience feature simply used these interest tags as suggestions for Facebook to deliver to a more relevant subset of our audience.

We compared results from the seven posts prior (Group 1), to the seven posts after (Group 2), implementing Preferred Audience interest tags. The below chart compares the average reach, engagements, and link clicks per post from Group 1 to Group 2.

Table of Positive Results

It appears that using Preferred Audience interest tags to guide Facebook’s News Feed post delivery to the right audience increased reach, total engagements, and link clicks.

Hence, why not select a Preferred Audience for all Facebook posts? We must not think about Preferred Audience as synonymous with the former Targeting feature, as it no longer restricts viewership.

While this was a small case study on one post series to evaluate the benefit of Preferred Audience, more granular testing could be done on the quantity and specificity of interest tags.

Have you been using the Preferred Audience interest tags for your Facebook posts? If so, what have you learned from the results?

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