The Facebook Tool That’s Changing How I Write Emails
Back when I taught classes for the Certified Auctioneers Institute, I looked forward to the day that its staff emailed the instructor evaluation results. Those reports held the aggregate ratings from the designation candidates along with all of their anonymously-submitted comments. I wanted to know what people really thought.
Back in February of this year, I lost 18 years’ worth of emails and can no longer access those report emails, but I don’t need them. I vividly remember both the overall affirmation and the unifying thread of critique: “Ryan’s content and delivery are great, but he’s arrogant.”
I haven’t taught an auctioneer seminar in almost five years, but I remember that assessment every week while writing emails to clients or blog posts for the auction industry. That compound sentence has led to a LOT of backspacing. I don’t delete enough, though, and wouldn’t be surprised to learn someday that my snark has cost my business hundreds of thousands of dollars from disgruntled clients. I journal about the times I mess up and deconstruct them later with a licensed professional counselor. I confess them to my wife and friends. I pray about them on my dawn hikes in the woods before I head to my desk in the morning.
Surprisingly, one of the things that has helped move me closer to humility is Facebook advertising. Facebook’s dynamic content tool, in particular, has removed much of the incentive to be the smartest person in the room. And I’m okay with that almost-daily reminder.
For my first 15 years in auction advertising, my client or I had to guess right on every piece of direct mail, every sign, every proposal, and every newspaper ad I created. We had to figure out what order information should be in, what was the most important image to showcase, and what was the primary appeal of what we were selling. Then whatever we created together would get printed, emailed, or posted online. How it was was how it would be. It was like an appliance from an old Ronco infomercial: “Just set it, and forget it.”
Over time, I developed theories about what worked. I taught them around the country while winning auctioneers hundreds of advertising awards. I used those podiums, those awards, and the sheer quantity of campaigns I’d created to tell clients I knew better.
Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t.
That all changed when Facebook introduced dynamic advertising. I can now upload up to ten images, up to five sets of sales copy, up to five headlines, and up to five subheads for each ad. That’s right: up to 1,250 variations. I usually average between 50 and 150 per ad. Anyway, we can now try what my client wants, what I suggest, and other experimental content. After the options are all in place, I can hit the blue “Publish” button and let millions of people decide what’s best.
Facebook’s algorithm serves the various combinations to each audience and then adjusts the distribution of the options for each audience’s ad to the content that’s getting the most efficient and effective response. Our targeted prospects decide with their clicks what our advertising becomes, and they’re the best arbiters of that decision.
At the end of the campaign, I’m not offended by what content worked best. I care mostly about whether or not we got efficient traffic to my client’s website and/or great sale prices in the auction. Audience-decided content takes the pressure off of me. I don’t have to be a guru or maintain a know-it-all persona. I don’t have to guess right the first time—at least in terms of content. That’s a relief, especially on projects of high consequence.
I’ve gotten far more comfortable saying, “I don’t know” and “We can’t know that in advance.” I’ve grown more curious, more willing to say, “Well, let’s find out.” It’s humbling but freeing at the same time to be shown up by faceless code.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever teach a seminar for auctioneers again. If I do, though, I’ll be able to thank Facebook for what hopefully won’t be in the instructor evaluations.
The stock photos were purchased from iStockPhoto.com.
Third picture snapped at a Louisville, KY, bar during the National Auctioneers Association’s Conference & Show