As I mentioned in the article The Three Types of Audiences in Facebook Advertising, the most significant power of Meta/Facebook ads comes from the ability to use custom audiences. Custom audiences are audiences for ad targeting that have had some type of engagement with your business in the past, so there’s a much higher chance of familiarity (if they remember their past interaction). Staying familiar and top of mind with people who’ve interacted with your business in the past can be tremendously important. The difference between targeting custom audiences and the other types of audiences is the difference between advertising to a “warm” audience vs. a “cold” audience.

This article explains the many different types of custom audiences that can be created with Meta/Facebook ads.

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How to create a custom audience

To begin creating a custom audience, you’ll need to navigate to the Audiences panel associated with your Ads Manager. There you’ll see a list of any audiences that have already been created. If a lot of audiences have been created already, you can use search and filter options to help find the ones you are looking for. Filtering can be done by status (such as whether they are used in active ads or not), type (custom audiences, lookalike audiences, or core audiences that have been saved), availability (such as if they are ready to be used), source (meaning from what data the audience was built).

To create a new custom audience, click the blue “Create Audience” button and then choose “Custom Audience” from the dropdown list of options.

You’ll then see a variety of options for choosing the source of your custom audience. These options represent ways in which people might have interacted with your business in the past, either on Meta/Facebook platforms or off. All options are displayed under the categories of Your Sources and Meta Sources.

Your Sources – These are sources that you might have available to be used for matching up with real people, such as a list of customer email addresses or phone numbers.

Meta Sources – These are sources related to how people might have interacted with your business in the past on Meta platforms, such as by viewing your Instagram videos or following your Facebook Page.

Once you choose your audience source, you then arrive at a panel for adjusting settings related to that source. The settings options depend on the type of audience. However, some common settings include:

Name – You can give your custom audience the name of your choosing.

Description – You can add a description of the audience so that its purpose will be remembered and notated.

Retention – You’ll add a number of days for which to retain people in your audience. This applies to sources based on actions. For example, if someone visits your website, you can choose to retain them in your audience of website visitors for up to 180 days. The number of days (retention time) is completely flexible, although you are restricted by a maximum number. For example, certain sources allow you a retention period of 365 days, and others only 180 days.

Engagement – This setting is seen for several different sources to add specificity. For example, if you want to build an audience based on video views, you can choose a specific video and/or the percentage amount of that video that was watched.

Thirteen Sources Available

At the time of this writing, there are thirteen source options available for creating custom audiences. Five are under the category of “Your Sources,” and eight are under the category of “Meta Sources.” Here’s a list of the thirteen sources, as well as some descriptions to explain:

Your Sources (5)


Installing the Meta Pixel to the underlying code of your website allows information to be sent to Meta/Facebook about visitor activity on your website. This allows for the creation of website custom audiences. For example, you could create an audience of people who looked at your About Us page over the last fifty days. Or you could create an audience of all visitors over the last 90 days. You could also choose visitors by time spent, such as the top 25% of visitors based on time spent on your website.

App Activity

If you have a mobile app for your business, you can create an audience who launched your app, or took a specific action while using it.


If you want to advertise or sell products on Meta platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, you can create “catalogs” for different types of inventory. You can create custom audiences of people who engage with your catalog or items in it.

Customer List

This source option allows you to upload a list of your customers. Once you upload a list, Meta/Facebook will use a process called “hashing” to try to match your data with people on Facebook. Lists of email addresses and phone numbers are commonly used to create customer list custom audiences. If you use MailChimp for email marketing, you can utilize an option to import contacts from your MailChimp account.

Offline Activity

This source option allows you to create a custom audience for those you’ve interacted with in-store or over the phone. For this to work, an “offline event set” needs to be created in Meta Events Manager. When that’s done, information can be uploaded about offline interactions so that a custom audience can be created.

Meta Sources (8)


You can choose videos on Meta platforms to be the source for a custom audience. In the setup panel, you can select from a variety of engagement options, such as those who watched a certain length of time of a video or watched a certain percentage of it. You can also choose whichever video or videos the audience should be built from.

Lead Form

Your ads on Meta can include a feature called Lead Forms, which gather information from the people who choose to submit them. Custom audiences can be created as a result of engagement with your lead forms. Three engagement type options are available: Anyone who opened this form; People who opened but didn’t submit form; People who opened and submitted form. Just like with videos, you can choose whichever form or forms the audience should be built from.

Instant Experience

In Meta ads, an Instant Experience is a full-screen landing page of sorts that appears on mobile devices only when ads are clicked. There are several benefits to using the Instant Experience feature, including super-fast load time, and that it keeps the user on Facebook. Another benefit is that you can use interactions with Instant Experiences as a source for custom audiences. You can choose the type of engagement from these two options: People who opened this Instant Experience and People who clicked any links in this Instant Experience.


This type of custom audience is built from people who interact with your products in a shopping experience on Facebook or Instagram.

Instagram Account

Custom audiences can be created from people who interact with your Instagram account. (For this to be possible, your Instagram account needs to be converted to a “professional” account, which can be done through the Instagram app.) There are various options related to types of engagement, including: Everyone who engaged with this professional account; Anyone who visited this professional account’s profile; People who engaged with any post or ad; People who sent a message to this professional account; People who saved any post or ad.


If you create an event from your Facebook Page, you can use interactions with the event as a source to build a custom audience. There are a number of interaction types that can be used, such as: People who responded Going or Interested; People who have responded Going; People who have responded Interested; People who have visited the event page; People who have engaged; People who entered the ticket purchase flow; People who have purchased tickets; People who abandoned the ticket purchase flow.

Facebook Page

Custom audiences can be created from interactions with a Facebook Page. There are a number of options for choosing the type of engagement, including: People who currently like or follow your Page; Everyone who engaged with your Page; Anyone who visited your Page; People who engaged with any post or ad; People who clicked any call-to-action button; People who sent a message to your Page; People who saved your Page or any post.

On-Facebook Listings

If you have a catalog of products on Facebook, you can create a custom audience of those who engaged with it. These are the two choices available for the type of engagement: People who viewed products in my catalog; People who messaged about products in my catalog.

New limitations due to Apple’s IOS operating system

It should be noted that things have changed in recent months related to Meta/Facebook advertising — including for creating and building custom audiences – due to privacy enhancements on IOS devices, which include iPhones and iPads. Understanding exactly how this has changed the game is a complicated subject, but the net effect is that advertisers don’t get the information they used to about “who” is engaging or converting from their ad. App Tracking Transparency is the new IOS standard that requires user consent for traditional attribution/tracking of its users. As you might have guessed, most app users (including Facebook and Instagram app users) are opting for more privacy over giving more tracking ability to advertisers. This affects your ability to create custom audiences based on engagements that take place outside of the Facebook or Instagram apps, such as on websites or in other apps.

To summarize the effects of IOS App Tracking Transparency for custom audiences, you will not be able to build your audiences from interactions that happen on websites or in other mobile apps on opted-out IOS devices. However, you can still build your custom audiences for engagements that happen directly in the Facebook or Instagram apps, such as video views, lead form views or submissions, and others.

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Google vs. Meta Webinar on July 24th, 7 pm








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Subject: Google vs. Meta for Marketing