Facebook Marketing for Adventure Races

Thanks to Mark VanTongeren, for this detailed and illustrative guide to creating your first Facebook Ad. Be sure to visit Mark’s website, Michigan Adventure Racing, for more great content about growing your races! Take it away, Mark.

Adventure racing as an industry has a problem. We’re niche. We’re weird. We’re a tad bit crazy. Even among the recent surge in “suffer fests” like obstacle course racing and ultra-endurance races, adventure racing represents a whole new level in terms of difficulty and complexity. And while many veterans of the sport continuously debate the necessity for building races that provide easy entry to new racers versus others who want to double down on the elite-ness that’s intrinsic to the sport, one fact is certain:  Every race needs a steady stream of new racers to fill its ranks. Race Directors (RDs) compete against all the other sports and events that adventure racers participate in, on top of everyone’s busy lives. For some, AR is a part of their life, but for many others, it’s a passing fancy before they move onto the next interesting challenge. So by necessity, a steady stream of new racers is mandatory for a race to flourish, both to replace the lost racers as well as grow the sport.

Typically, adventure racing has been driven by word of mouth, supported by RDs long on passion and often short on time and money to promote their races. Unfortunately, not every RD knows how to make sure their races are getting heard of. Many people struggle with conducting sales and advertising because it makes them uncomfortable, whereas building a course is a lot of fun. Who doesn’t enjoy running through the woods, trying to find the best place to hide a checkpoint, instead of trying to pass out flyers about your race at a local bike shop? RDs can fall into the “field of dreams” fallacy, expecting that racers will come flocking to their race just because they built it. It’s easy to fall into this trap because we become so immersed with building our races that we forget how uninformed everyone else is about it. Facebook provides one of the most effective channels to fix this fallacy, allowing RDs to connect directly with their target audience.

With Facebook, RDs have a tool to reach those who are fans of their Facebook page. However, on average their posts will only reach 2% of their fans. 2%. Facebook isn’t stupid. They restrict who sees posts to drive business users, event promoters, and influencers to purchase greater exposure to page fans and new audiences. Facebook’s number one priority is to keep people on their site, so they will happily restrict companies who post a lot to make sure they aren’t overwhelming Facebook users’ news feeds. So you can either 50x the number of posts you make in order to make up for the 2% throttle, or… you can use Facebook Ads.

Facebook ads are hands-down the best tool to reach target audiences, providing the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to growing your race.

source: wordstream.com

Facebook ads are highly targeted. You can narrow the audience by geography, interests, age and other demographics so you can get the ads in front of the people most likely to be interested. People who like running Spartans races and Tough Mudders will see your adds. Competitive quilting aficionados? Not so much. Facebook needs your ads to be as successful as possible, otherwise it annoys the end user, making them leave the site faster. Your ads’ success is Facebook’s success.

Facebook ads are highly measurable. You can get a daily snapshot of how your ads are meeting the goal you set for them, in many cases how many people clicked on the ad to go to your website to learn more about your event. With some work by your web person, you can tie their click of the ad with an actual purchase of a race entry using the “Facebook pixel” so you can measure the return on investment and make sure the ads are worth the money. In fact, if your website is using WordPress, there are simple plugins that will install Facebook’s pixel, making a painless tracking capability to better measure conversion.

Facebook ads are shareable. Those interested in a race will often share the ad with a friend or tag them in their comments. Unless they restrict access, the ad is then seen by many of their friends. The reach has expanded. Friends of adventure racers are among the most likely future adventure racers. I don’t know many adventure racers who spend lots of time hanging out with folks who are competitive quilters…

An aside: A simple way to increase awareness is to boost an existing Facebook post you create to promote an event. Facebook ads involve a greater deal of customization and targeting. Read more on the difference here. The Ad Creation section is what we’ll review below and is the most comprehensive way to promote your event on Facebook. Comprehensive does not mean complex in this case however.

The following does not cover all the questions that you’ll be asked during ad creation. Additional questions you are asked usually can be answered with the default answer Facebook provides; you can learn more about every question on the Facebook Ads Help Center or other online sources.

Ad Creation. What’s your marketing objective? For most races, it will probably be to get people to your website to learn more about your event or, if you are installing the Facebook pixel, to increase conversions on your website and better understand who is registering for your event through the Facebook ad (which isn’t necessarily the only driver, but certainly plays an important role). Select the best objective for your event.

What’s a reasonable distance that people may travel to your event? The further out you go away from where your core audience lives, the less frequent your ads will go to the core audience. It’s good to reach new people from further away but balance that against the likelihood of people coming from your primary area of focus. If your race is taking place close to a population with a higher density of potential racers, you may only need to select a radius of 10-50 miles. If you’re way out in the boonies, you’ll need to expand the radius. Drop additional pins to expand your reach. Then select additional demographics.

Detailed Targeting. Facebook ads allow detailed targeting unlike any other type of advertising. Type in interests, behaviors and other demographics like age and gender to narrow down to those people most likely interested in your event. Consider terms like adventure racing, orienteering, mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, as well as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, The Amazing Race, obstacle course racing, ultra running, etc. This way you are not wasting your ad dollars on people very unlikely to do your adventure race, orienteering event, clinic, etc. Your potential reach shown in the right column will drop from potentially millions of Facebook users in your geographic area down to tens of thousands. This is good, even if it seems like you’re loosing a lot of potential customers. Trust me, people who quilt competitively aren’t worth spending your money to advertise to.

For more details, go here

source: wordstream.com

Budget. Select a daily or lifetime budget. We would suggest at least $50 for the event campaign (lifetime budget). That gives 10 days for the ads to get out there. As events get larger or more profitable, a commitment of several hundred dollars is reasonable and can draw 5,000-25,000 Facebook users to your website, likely resulting in several new racers, potentially life-long “addicts” who in turn become even better salespeople than the ads. So even if you determine you did not get as much profit from these new recruits as what you spent in ads, keep a long-term view. And even if a person did not register, they now know about you and may try a future race. Bryan Tasaka, the RD for Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race, spends thousands in advertising prior to and during his race. And his race sells out 9 months in advance to nearly 700 racers. Food for thought… Events that require many months of planning and team recruitment should have ad campaigns that start far out from the race and end well before the start of the race. Shorter races can shift to just a few months before the event and end within weeks of the event since planning, gear, and team recruitment has a shorter time frame.

Format. Choose the format for your ad. Single image ads are the most common. Hopefully you have had a photographer shoot photos at previous races to select from. If not, you can buy stock images for small amounts of money or search WikiMedia Commons for photos that are in the public domain. Ideally you should select two to four images and run the same ad content with each image at the same time. This allows you to measure the photo or photos that are most effective. After several days, you can then drop the photos that are not effective. You can try more or run with the best. Select images that are human-centered and emotive (happy racers, intense racers) where possible as the human eye is drawn to faces. Iconic scenery can also be effective, although shots of a control marker hanging in a generic woods generally do not draw as much attention. Use Canva to make the ads Facebook-ready by formatting them to the right size and resolution.

Page and Links. Connect the ad to your Facebook page and add a link to your website. Write your headline, text and extended newsfeed text. Write text that will entice them to click to the website for the details while having just enough details to describe the race activities and location. Make a clear call to action, don’t drown them with details. Remember, you just need them to be interested enough to click the ad so they’re taken to your site. You’re not selling them on the entire race just in that ad.

Adjustments. Track your campaign in real time so that you can make small adjustments to improve it. With Facebook’s ad analytics, you can see how many clicks you’re receiving and how much money you’re spending. You can then widen your demographic filters if you aren’t getting enough clicks to expand how many people see the ad. Or you can make small changes to the ad copy if you think it can be more effective. Create new versions of the ad with different photos to keep things fresh. As long as you do not extend the campaign’s timeframe or budget, you can edit your ads at no cost.

Examples. Here are examples of ads we created for two of our recent races. The ad on the left received the strongest response to this aerial shot of Ludington State Park along Lake Michigan to our surprise, so we went with that over the people-centric images we tested. We found a local photographer team who lived in Ludington and had a passion for their area. They agreed to be our lead sponsor and provided us some amazing photos of the area including photo trophies for all the winners. That’s a good way to get photos and a sponsor at the same time. The ad on the right is for our beginner-friendly race. We picked a photo of one of the challenges featured in a previous race that quite clearly draws your eye. Text states “lots of chances to catch your breath” to help potential racers realize it’s not a 4-hour marathon.














Food For Thought: Much like Facebook is extremely protective of its holy grail, customer engagement, it’s also extremely invested in seeing new technologies succeed. When Facebook (or really, any company) rolls out a new platform, service, or gizmo, they put everything they can into making sure it succeeds. A great new feature on Facebook that is ripe for utilization by RDs is Facebook Live. Facebook Live is where you can conduct live broadcasts from your phone or webcam. People can also re-watch the video after its broadcast. Imagine giving live video of you as you set parts of the course, like a particularly fun bike section. Granted, there’s limitations:  In order to be live, you’ll need internet service, so that rules out some ARs. But this just shows that innovation in the marketing sector is constantly occurring, and RDs are wise to keep their fingers on the pulse. Have you noticed that any page or person you’ve “liked” that has conducted Facebook Live broadcasts, and Facebook was sure to notify you via that little globe button on the top of your profile? Or that your news feed has recently featured a large percentage of Live updates? Facebook really wants this to succeed and is stacking the deck to make sure of it, because it only further encourages users to stay on their site. Their gain can be your gain too!

Good Resources:

*NEW* Neil Patel, a renowned marketing guru, has a MONSTER post about the who, what, why, and how of Facebook advertising

Mojca Mars – A Social Media expert, Mojca regularly publishes a lot of quality content and guides. ARHub is a fan.

Wordstream – A good resource for digital advertisement tools and guides.

Social Media Examiner – Another good source for Facebook and other social media strategy and tools.

Canva – Super user-friendly online tool for building ad images. It’s drag and drop, pre-formatted to be optimized for Facebook (Or Google, Instagram, whatever). Maybe buy a few AR photos from a legendary photographer and build some good looking content!