Netroots: Google Guy Gives us 411 on Online Advertising for Nonprofits


Scout, Ph.D.
Director, The Fenway Institute’s Network for LGBT Health Equity
Reporting from Netroots Nation Conf 2012, Providence, RI

Came in late and wow, really wish I hadn’t missed a word.

Why advertise online?

“How can I convince my agency to advertise online?”says the audience member. Great question, I know states that are still struggling to get Facebook access, clearly some of our work isn’t quite cutting edge. But if we want to get the most out of health promotion campaigns, it should be!

  1. We’ve always been worried about audiences we can’t reach. Well now online is increasingly the only place to reach some people. Cable subscriptions are dropping after 35 year increase. Online is where everyone is going, so if you’re not there, you’re missing key folk, especially youth.
  2. Online ads have the advantage of being very data driven, we can report who saw it, who clicked thru, if they acted. We can segment our targeting very closely. So if you want to know how your ads are doing, online offers many advantages over other venues.
  3. Lastly — with online advertising you have the opportunity to continue the conversation. They can click thru to more information. You can follow up with direct contact later. We know every single tiny step loses more responders (like back in direct mail days, if they asked you to stamp the return envelope they lost over a quarter of folk who’d reply if they pre-stamped it). So… the gap between seeing an ad, then remembering the information to then get on the phone and followup (can you tell I’m thinking about cessation ads now?) loses plenty of possible responders. Online you have a much lower bar of response, they click, learn more, you can even offer to have quitline call them now — this makes the impact much higher.
  4. Note: for profits are now spending 15-20% of their media budget online. we should be too!


  • Consider different platforms – just recently we passed the mark where now over 50% of US citizens have smartphones. 25-40% of online content is being opened on phones, so make sure your ad crosses platforms with a consistent message. Note how platform usage changes in a daily cycle: computer use peaks midday, tablet in eve, then phones in the later eve and then another bump first thing in the AM.
  • Facebook (FB) and Twitter and Google are 3 key places to have ads.
  • Google: nonprofits can apply for grant for $10k of ads a month. They have a variety of analytical tools to track impact. They also can run A|B testing to live test two (or more) versions of an ad to see what generates more response.
  • FB – Definitely have ads here! They allow you a very precise level of targeting and auto-optimize by rotating the ad with more click-thrus more heavily. I talked to the FB guy about if they could tell folk were smokers, aside from folks who might be fans of Camel, no go. But he did encourage us to be very precise in ad targeting, run multiple ads for middle aged men, then more for middle aged women, etc. etc. Then let the ads prove themselves, drop the ones that don’t have as high of a Click Thru Rate (CTR).
  • Twitter – sure you can pay $120k a day to trend something but better strategy is to pay for promoted tweets that take advantage of some already trending phenomena. They had an example (excuse that it’s campaigny): Some guy just made the news and was trending big, they paid for promoted tweets to pop up whenever anyone searched for him, the promoted tweets said: “if you care about news for this guy, why not call this other guy and make a difference yourself?” These ads can embed links, so click thrus are easy. Like FB, you can target by search keywords, geography, followers +++.
  • Youtube: hard to do ads now since it’s hard to embed links now but a few folk talked about how YouTube allows nonprofits to overlay text based “Call to Action” ads on top of videos, these are currently VERY cheap and should be explored.

I’m not sure how Tips from Former Smokers is incorporating online ads in the full mix, but I’ve got a few guys from Facebook and Google who are more than willing to talk and make sure the potential of online ads are being maximized. If any other programs/states want to get online too, hit me and I’ll hook you up with them as well!



Published by Dr. Scout

Vegetarian biking small town transgender father of 3 feisty teens in real life, Director of Network for LGBT Health Equity in pro life.

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