How to Get the Best Possible Return on Facebook Ads


Remember the ALS Ice Bucket challenge of 2014? Remember how everyone’s friends, boss, even grandmothers seemed to be part of the craze to support ALS awareness? What you might not remember is that because of this viral trend, $115 million was raised towards the treatment of ALS.

Though most people considered the ice bucket challenge a silly fad, you can’t deny the impact this accidental viral hit created.  In 2014, Ice Bucket Challenge videos were watched 10 billion times and reached more than 440 million people on Facebook.  This information provides an excellent example of how compelling content can produce incredible amounts of attention, resulting in record lows in cost per engagement.

So, what road map should businesses follow to create shareable content to drive down the cost of engagement? Chelsea, Julianne and I decided to concoct an extra-curricular experiment to find out.


The Experiment

To test the principles of virality, we decided to create a social media account focused on somewhat of a hot-button topic: the city’s lamentable taxi service (especially as ride-sharing services like Uber loom in our post-election future). Our aim was to create online buzz about the issue and start conversations that would get as many people rallying around our cause before the Provincial elections on May 9. 

(For those of you wondering if this was a partisan project, it was not. In fact, Chelsea, Julianne, and I support different parties. And no, we weren't hired by Uber. We wish. I digress...)

After a month of researching, creating, and sharing content, we've learned three (humbling) lessons about what makes content that compels others to share.

1: Invest in getting your content right. We promise it's worth it.

When we created our social media account, YVR Cab Fails, we decided to share the most ridiculous cab experiences we could find on the Internet in the hopes it would make people either laugh or become outraged enough to share our page. The reviews we found were incredible, rage-inducing, and hilarious, and we thought for sure they would spread.

We were wrong.  

When things weren’t picking up as quickly as we'd assumed, we dug a little deeper to see what we were missing.

In general, people share content for the following four reasons:

  1. To make a statement about beliefs.
  2. To share a strong, positive emotional response with others (eg, awe-inspiring, emotional, humorous, or surprising).
  3. To make themselves look smart for sharing,
  4. To give value (perceived or otherwise) to others (eg, “how to’s”, news, freebies).

We made the incorrect assumption that our content would elicit a strong enough emotional response to create the impulse to share, and that these first-hand accounts would be valuable to our audience.

Moving forward, instead of focusing on eliciting outrage, we decided to shift our focus to a more powerful motivator for sharing: humour.

We shifted from posting first-hand accounts every day, to making memes focused on common taxi issues in Vancouver. Now, people had a reason to share our account (i.e., to make their friends laugh), and because the memes were funny (not to toot my own horn), our content was worth talking about.

2: Include a direct call to action.

It might sound simple, but it's an easy way to influence your audience. These days, calls to action can exist anywhere, across any platform, so there is no excuse not to utilize your audience’s attention to impact your cause.

For our experiment, we ran a promotion on one of our more popular memes with the caption “SHARE if you can relate”. This promoted post saw over 1,500 likes, and 50 comments in a matter of 2 days — that’s 2 cents per engagement on a cheap, cheap budget of $30.

Here's the breakdown of the results of boosting one of our memes.

Here's the breakdown of the results of boosting one of our memes.

3: Positive emotions make your audience motivated to share content.

Perhaps this is a lesson we could have learned from 2016: The Year of the Meme. It’s easier to elicit strong positive emotions than it is negative ones, and it’s the strong emotional response that will inspire your audience to share content. In this case, humor about frustrating situations everyone in Vancouver can relate to saw comments and tags rolling in.

The Results

At the end of 30 days, our account had 1,044 locally-based followers, a 12% engagement rate, dozens of submissions from followers, attention from influencers, local media, and even local political candidates. Did our account go viral? Not in the traditional sense, but we achieved a record low cost of engagement of $0.02 and an engagement rate higher than most established pages. Not bad, if we do say so ourselves.

YVR Cab Fails Promotion 1
YVR Cab Fails Promotion 2

Above all else, this experiment helped to reinforce what we knew about creating viral content, and helped us learn a lot more about how to relate to diverse audiences. Consider the venn diagram below as the “Holy Trinity” of viral content:

Viral Trifecta
  1. In our case, sharing content on social media was as easy as tagging your friends in a post.
  2. Our outrageous user submissions, online review cards and most of all, homemade memes was content worth talking about. It was current and relevant to people across all age groups and backgrounds in Vancouver.
  3. Our users shared our content in order to add value to their friends’ feed by way of relatable humor — a strong positive emotion that in turn, compelled others to share


Do you have experience creating viral content? How did you get your content to spread like wildfire? Leave us a comment to let us know.