How to Set Up Facebook Ads for Your Small Museum (On a Small Budget)

Along with Google Adwords, Facebook Ads are one of the more efficient, flexible ways to promote your museum and engage local audiences who may or may not have known about you or cared about you before. In this tutorial, I am going to show you the basics of using Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads are a great way to advertise if you can’t put much money towards marketing. You can start by trying $5 here and $5 there, adding more money when you see good returns. I’m going to assume you are working on a tight budget as I explain the different types of advertising available through Facebook.

In order to provide useful real-life examples, I’ve partnered with the Morris County Historical Society. Their Curator of Exhibitions and Research, Nicole, has recently taken over the Society’s Facebook page, and wants to use it to start engaging younger audiences. Right now, the Society’s main audience is county residents over 35. Their Facebook page likes reflect this (you can see the demographics on your page followers by going to “Insights” then “People”): 62% of their page likes are from users 45 and over.


The Facebook Page of the Morris County Historical Society in Morristown, New Jersey

What Will This Post Cover?

First, I’m going to discuss some basic types of sponsored content on Facebook and customizable audiences. Then, using the Morris County Historical Society as an example, I’ll walk you through how to set up your first Facebook advertising campaigns.

Types of Sponsored Content on Facebook

There are three main types of Facebook sponsored content relevant to the average small museums:

  1. Boosted Posts
  2. Promoted Events
  3. Ads

Though ads and sponsored content can be used interchangeably, from here on out I’m going to use “ads” to refer only to a specific type of sponsored content, which we’ll discuss shortly. Keep in mind, that there are nearly infinite variations on sponsored content you can run on Facebook (and that’s not even getting to Instagram, the Facebook-owned company that recently started offering paid posts). We’re going to focus on three ways that I personally think are simple and effective for small museums.

1. Boosted Posts

Boosted posts are one of my favorite ways to engage your current and target audiences on Facebook. “Boosting” temporarily turns one of your standard posts on Facebook into a type of ad, which shows up in the news feed of your desired audience.

You set a budget for each boost and pay per “impression,” which means you only pay if your sponsored post shows up in news feed of your target audience (you are not charged for any “organic” or unpaid impressions your post gets). The higher your budget, the more people will see your post. Whether or not they click on it or visit your page depends on how interesting the post itself is, so there is a lot of room for testing here. You can also decide how long you want your post to be boosted for (and the budget is automatically equally divided by day). If you decide your boosted post isn’t doing as well as you had hoped, you can simply hit the pause button at any time. You’ll only be charged for the impressions that have already happened.

If you use Facebook, you’ve already seen boosted posts in your news feed. They can be spotted by a light-gray “Sponsored” label below the page name.


Here, you can see the difference between this boosted post from the Nonprofits on Facebook page (1), which will only appear in your audience’s news feed, a Facebook Ad on the right (2), and a normal post that has shown up in my feed organically (3).

Why boosted posts? First, they are quick and easy. Just scroll down your page, pick a post that you think is interesting to your audience, and hit the boost button. Once you know what you are doing, the whole process can take less than a minute. Second, this gets your content into your audience’s news feed. This is where they already look to be informed and entertained, so it’s a great place to share content with them that you think they will find entertaining and/or informative.

Quick Recap on Boosted Posts:

  • They are quick and easy and require no extra set-up.
  • You can boost a post with as little as $5
  • They engage your current followers and/or raise awareness of your page and content to new audiences

2. Promoted Events

Promoting events on Facebook is very similar to boosting a post, but when you promote an event, you have the option to a) “Increase Ticket Sales,” in which case your post will look more like an ad prompting users to visit the event website or b) “Reach More People,” which makes your post function more like a boosted post and encourages users to like the post and RSVP to the event as “interested” or “going.”

3. Ads

These are the more traditional online ads you probably expected to see if you weren’t familiar with sponsored content on Facebook. These can get very complex, but simply put you can:

  • Choose an objective, which will change how Facebook shows the ad: create awareness, generate leads, etc.
  • Choose a format: photo, video, slideshow, “carousel,” or “canvas”
  • Choose an audience: more on these in just a bit!
  • Run the ad for a set period of time or indefinitely

You have to start with a bit bigger budget on these, since they typically require a $5 minimum daily budget. While boosted posts and promoted events are great for promoting one-time events and communications, ads are better for longer-range goals, like increasing awareness of your museum or your featured exhibit.

Here are my choices when I got to set up a Facebook Ad. Honestly, you don’t need to venture out of the first column until you’ve done enough basic sponsored content posts to feel comfortable trying new things. One great way to use these is to create a custom audience of people in your area who have visited your website and promote your organization to them. You’ll need to have Google Analytics set up for your website and have your webmaster insert a bit of code into your website, then Facebook becomes the world’s greatest reminder for those who have visited your website but then forgot about you.

Selecting an Audience & Creating Custom Audiences

There are a lot of options when it comes to setting your target audience. You can filter for age, locations, interests, buying habits, and gender. Facebook also has some great new options for more advances audiences as well, from matching your customer data to Facebook users to tracking Facebook users who have visited your website. You can find out more about these options and how to use them here. I’m going to keep my example audiences simple as we go forward, and I think that’s a good place to start if you are new to Facebook Ads.

Setting Up Sponsored Content for the Historical Society

The first thing I wanted to do before setting up any Facebook Ads for the Morris County Historical Society was re-read the Society’s mission statement:

The mission of the Morris County Historical Society, as the representative of a county with an exciting and unique place in the history of the United States, is to discover, preserve, communicate, and promote the history of Morris County through exhibits, programs, and publications.

Why start with the mission statement? Because your marketing and social media presence should always be mission-focused, just like everything else you do, and regularly checking in with your mission statement is a great way to make mission-focused media a priority. You’re not just here to post fun things on Facebook. Facebook is a tool for communicating with your online “visitors” and to further your mission.

Example 1: Boosting a post for the Historical Society

So, how can we use Facebook’s sponsored content features to increase Facebook engagement for the Morris County Historical Society, grow their reach, and get more visitors in their door? I started by boosting a post. Scrolling through previous posts, I looked for one with a compelling image that got above average organic (unpaid) engagement. I picked the post below, which gives a sneak peak at an exhibit. My goal in boosting this is to a) remind current followers about the Society, b) let new audiences know that the Society has interesting exhibits, and c) interest current and potential visitors enough to make them come see the exhibit.


The easiest way to boost a post is to scroll through your page till you find the one you want and click the blue “Boost Post” button on the bottom right.


Then I have three choices to make:

1. Who is my audience? I can pick from “People who like your Page,” “People who like your Page and their friends,” choose an audience I’ve already created (see the earlier section on audiences), or create a new audience on the spot. I love to use those first two options along with a geographical restraint. Then, my posts have the effect of engaging followers who already know and like the museum and their friends in the area. By using the Society’s current followers to reach new audiences, I am recreating the powerful word-of-mouth effect. In fact, when the friends of people who like the page see the boosted post, they will also see “Jane Does likes this,” letting them know which of their friends are already fans of the museum.

If you are just starting out, I recommend staying away from promoting by interests, since that can be harder to get right. For your first few tries (or forever if this works for you), try something simple like what I’ve done for the Society’s post:

Audience: People who like your Page and their friends who are between the ages of 18-65+ and live within 20 miles of Morristown, New Jersey.


1. The Audience 2. The Budget 3. The Possibilities 4. [Not pictured] The Timeframe

2. What is my budget? Remember, you can pause a boosted post at any time, so you aren’t necessarily committing to spending all this money. I recommend trying at least $10 per post. You can go lower, but you won’t get a good sense of how the post performed, and when you are just starting out, it’s critical to track and measure your success.

3. How long will the post be boosted? You can select one day and up with a minimum daily budget as your only constraint. Unless you are putting a lot of money into the post, I recommend going for more budget over a shorter period of time, rather than spending a few dollars a day. This will help your post get lots of engagement while it’s “hot,” rather than a lukewarm post showing up in feeds every now and then for a week.

Once you’ve set these three parameters, you can look at “Estimated People Reached” to see a)  the total number of people within your parameters (in the gray text to the right) and b) the estimated number of people in that group you will reach with your budget. It’s fun to play around with these parameters and see how your reach changes.

After that, just hit “Boost” and your sponsored post will be active within 15-20 minutes!

A quick reminder that Facebook won’t let you promote any photos or cover photos that have more than 20% text. Not sure if you are meeting that rule? Use this tool to check.

Example 2: Boosting an event for the Historical Society 

Facebook events are a great tool. If you aren’t already using them for every event your museum puts on, start now! Besides letting Facebook users bookmark your event for later by clicking “Interested,” it also lets them see who they know that may also be attending and let’s users subscribe to get notified every time you post a new event.

To demonstrate how to boost a post, I chose the Historical Society’s event “At Home in the President’s Neighborhood with Bruce White.” Here’s what the event page looks like:


When I hit that prominent blue “Boost Event” button, I get the same options as the boosted posts and a few extras. To start, I can upload a new picture and edit the description that show up with the promoted event. I decided to find an image that had a bit more visual impact than the original event cover photo. I also wanted an image that would help users quickly see what the event was about. This event features a photographer and his new book, so I chose the book cover. If I was running the event, I might ask the photographer for permission to use one of his images to promote the event.

I changed the description in the boosted post (which doesn’t affect the actual content of the event page on Facebook) to a short, easy-to-digest blurb:

Curious about the President’s neighbors? Join Bruce White, fine art and architecture photographer, for a presentation of his new book, “At Home in the President’s Neighborhood,” an in-depth photo tour of the historic neighborhood surrounding the White House.

The first line should clue in users as to the subject and reason for attending. Here we are communicating that this is unique information about the Presidency and that this event would be a good fit for those who like photography and fine art. You’ll want to keep your description as short as possible (even shorter than mine is ideal) so users can easily scan without getting bogged down in too much text.

Remember, when Facebook users are scrolling through their feed, their eye may only rest on your post for a split second before they move onto something else. You’ve got to use images and text that make your audience want to pause and take a closer look. A good way to get a feel for what works is to browse your own newsfeed casually and see what makes you stop.


For this event, I chose an audience of 20-65 year olds living in and within 15 miles of the Historical Society. I used a smaller geographic area than I did with the boosted post, thinking that visitors may be less likely to travel for a lecture and book-signing than for a new exhibit. For this event, I also chose a few interests to narrow my audience a bit more: People who like American History, History, White House Historical Association, or Photography. Make sure to double check your “Estimated Reach;” if you get too specific with your audience and it gets too small, you may not have a good response. I could also have just used a standard geographic-based audience here too. Play around with what works best for you, and you’ll find your online audience niche.


Example 3: Setting up an ad for the Historical Society

To set up a semi-permanent ad for the Historical Society, I started in the Ads Manager. The first thing I did was select my objective. You can play around with the setting on each of Facebook’s suggested objectives before you ever confirm an ad, but stayed simple with “Promote Your Page.” Right now, the Historical Society has under 600 likes, and it would help day-to-day post engagement to have more people in the area following the page.

Then, I created a good starter audience:

People who do not like the page, live within 20 miles of Morristown, are above the age of 22, and are interested in history.

You can see on the right hand dashboard in the image below that there are 170,000 that fit these parameters! With the minimum daily budget of $5, I could reach 220-580 per day. One thing to pay attention to is when you are charged. I had the option of paying per impression (every time someone sees the ad) or per page like. I chose the latter since it’s more focused on my goal of raising page likes.


If I had a tracking pixel installed on the Society website, I would use that to advertise my page to those who have recently visited the website. That would let them know about the Facebook page, and it engages the Society’s current audience as brand ambassadors rather than starting with a brand new audience (in other words, word-of-mouth and referral are great ways to expand reach).

Then comes the fun part: choosing the ad image and crafting a good text-line. The headquarters of the History Society is in a historic house, so I chose an appealing image of that building as the main image. If I had high-quality photos of the grounds or inside or, optimally, happy visitors enjoying the house, I would add those so Facebook can rotate which images the audience sees.

The ad text has to be short and sweet so the important parts don’t get cut off. In this case, I included more text than shows up since what does show tells users all they need to know, and if they are interested, they can expand to see the rest. I started with an interesting word: “Experience” because we know that younger audiences—whether young single millennials or millennials and gen x’ers with kids—are looking for “experiences.” Make sure your ad is clear about what is being offered; users should be able to simply glance at the ad and know what you are promoting.

Experience Morris County history firsthand at Acorn Hall, our beautiful 1853 Victorian Italianate mansion in Morristown. Children get in free!


YIKES! EXCUSE THE TYPO! A good example of why you should always carefully check your ads before hitting go!

Then it’s just time to check all your settings and hit “Place Order.” Remember, you can stop your ad at anytime, so if it’s not working well, just pause that campaign and try something else.

Managing and Evaluating Your Ads

Track what you do (maybe keep notes on why you chose what and what you’ve tried so far) and how each ad performs. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a few months of working with a tiny budget to get the hang of things. If you keep testing and evaluating, you’ll start to see what your audience likes and what formats bring the most engagement to your page.

I recommend setting up a Facebook Business Manager account for yourself so you don’t have to worry about getting distracted by personal notifications while you are trying to focus on your Page.

For more on setting up ads and sponsored content, check out Facebook Business and Facebook for Nonprofits.

Need some advice? Email me at info[at]hhethmon[dot]com and I’ll try to give you as much free advice as my time affords.


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