Many people have heard that Facebook is a useful way for brands to directly connect to potential customers, but they may not know why. The reason is simple to understand: Facebook has built its business on data, and it uses information about its users to sell advertisements. Users willingly give Facebook access into their personalities and habits. Facebook uses that knowledge to decide what products are most likely to appeal to different kinds of users to when serving ads for those products.

If you work in marketing and want to learn more about your audience, one of the best (free) tools available is Facebook Audience Insights. You can harvest a wide array of data in several different categories. Whether or not you consider Facebook to be a critical avenue for conversions, you can still learn much from Facebook’s data gathering process. In this post, we will explain how to tap into Facebook’s trove of data, the specific kinds of data available, and the best way to make use of it for your purposes.

What is Facebook Audience Insights?

Facebook Audience Insights is a data access tool that is available to anyone through the Ad Manager interface. It is completely free, which is startling considering the access to user data that it grants.

Through this tool anyone can gain access to data Facebook is gathering about its users, which is very useful to brands both that want to…

  1. Use Facebook heavily for interacting with their audience.
  2. Learn as much as possible about their core demographics.

That is why it is so surprising that Facebook is providing this data for free. It has been the cornerstone of Facebook’s revenue engine for as long as the company has existed.

Best of all, the data comes in the form of graphs and other descriptive summaries, not raw spreadsheets. That means the tool is very useful for getting a bird’s-eye view of your chosen group, but it doesn’t have the explanatory power of the entire dataset. Even so, Audience Insights provides all of the information you need to make key marketing related decisions in a form that is easy to digest and present to others.

As you will see later on when we go into the details of the data and how it is presented, there is a wealth of information to absorb and several different ways that you can approach the tool, depending on your goals.

Where Facebook Audience Insights gets its data

There are two primary sources for data that you access with the tool.

The first is internal Facebook activity. This entails Facebook gathering as much data as they can from users like their names, birthdays, age, gender, and so on. This includes not only the information users choose to share with the company but also the day to day Facebook activity.

This activity includes things like leaving likes and comments on any page they have visited. Therefore, Facebook has a report on who everyone includes in their social networking as well as who they are in fairly exact detail.

These maps of relationships and social media activity are most useful to companies that are trying to track, for example, the nature of people who interact with their page. The more a company relies on Facebook to generate leads, the more they need to know about Facebook’s users. This data is the best way to learn that. It is available anywhere in the world and, as you will see later in this post, has several ways to subset the data for your use.

The second main source of information is external data that is provided to Facebook from other outlets. This includes information like salaries and employment that are not generally part of Facebook’s standard data collection. This data comes from outside firms such as credit agencies that collect detailed profiles of individuals, and then link that information to individual Facebook account UIDs based on matching information, such as names, home address, telephone number, birthdates, email addresses, etc. to locate matches. The data varies in detail and in scope. For example, some data providers can get as specific as offering a purchase history for some households.

However, outside of the US, this data is generally not available. External data is collected by US firms and the data concerns US users. Different countries have other laws regarding the use of personal information and data companies face high costs in expanding their collection to other countries in terms of both their time and their money. This is not necessarily a major limitation because the US still offers a large, diverse, and wealthy set of potential customers, but does lower the appeal of Facebook Audience Insights for European-based firms and other non-US regional companies.

For those companies that can tap into this externally-sourced data, however, there is much to learn. Income and spending info are quite important for learning about the potential demand for a product, especially considering the link to Facebook profiles. These profiles tend to be rich in demographic data.

How to find Facebook Audience Insights

The Audience Insights Tool is located in the Facebook Ads Manager

The Audience Insights Tool is located in the Facebook Ads Manager

Facebook Audience Insights is fairly easy to find and to use.

First, you must have a business account with at least one Page in operation. Click on the Ads Manager button and a menu will appear on the left side of the screen. You will see several options, such as Campaigns, Billing, and so on. You want to click on the button labeled Audience Insights. Note that this is not the same thing as the Audiences button, which is further down on the list (Audiences is for creating Custom Audiences).

Once you click the button for Audience Insights, the interface will launch and you will be ready to start working.

Getting Started

The first thing the tool will ask you when you load it is what kind of data source you want to analyze. The tool currently gives three options,



Everyone on Facebook: Means exactly what it says. You are going to build an audience from the 1.59+ billion users of Facebook. This is useful for market research when you don’t have an existing customer list, or you want to learn information about your competitors.

People Connected to Your Page: This will only analyze those user accounts who are connected to a Page which is associated to your business account. This is useful for refining your customer profiles as you can apply different filters to get a sense of what large interest groups make up your page followers.

A Custom Audience: This allows you to analyze a pre-created Custom Audience. If you want to analyze the demographics in your email list, this is the option you would use after you’ve imported your email list as a Custom Audience.

Let’s talk a little about analyzing a custom audience, as if you are building your startup correctly you should already have an email list of potential customers but may not have a well defined customer profile yet. I’ll show you how to make one.

Building a Custom Audience

Go back to the Facebook Ads Manager and select Audiences under the Tools menu.


This will bring up a screen that looks something like this.


The items I have marked in a red border are the list of Custom Audiences I have created in the past. I show them because I think these examples will give you an idea of what kind of targeting is possible with Facebook.

The ‘Create Audience’ button I have surrounded in a green border is what you need to click on in order to create your own Custom Audience list.


Clicking on the button will make a drop down menu appear with three options. The first is custom Audience (I know, how redundant!) which will allow you to create a brand new Custom Audience.

The other two options are Lookalike Audience (allows you to expand the number of people inside a Custom Audience) and Saved Audience (brings up an existing Custom Audience you created in the past).

Click on Custom Audience as highlighted above.


You’ll be presented with three options. The first is the most comprehensive, which will allow you to load a list of email addresses that Facebook will attempt to match to existing Facebook users based on what email addresses the person has associated with their account — such as the email they used to first create a Facebook account!

Generally speaking, people have only one email address they use for all their personal correspondence and this includes Facebook registration. It’s rarer, but people do sometimes add their business email accounts as a secondary contact for their Facebook account so collecting email addresses can also work for this purpose, too.

The other two options are for more advanced for those who are seasoned marketers. Website Traffic will require you to embed a tracking pixel into your website, which you will then use for generating a Custom Audience, while App Activity requires you to have an active Facebook app with a list of account UIDs from people who have signed up to use your app. Chances are high if you know how to use Facebook pixels and build a Facebook app, you don’t need this tutorial on creating Custom Audiences, so I won’t be delving into how to build an audience using those options.

Click on Customer List.


You have several options for importing your list.

Upload a file allows you to upload a .csv file but you need to format it correctly as per Facebook’s example. As different email collection software generates different email formats, this option can be a royal pain in the ass to use.


The second option is to manually copy and paste the emails, one row at a time. I find this to be the easiest option to import emails into Facebook because I can copy the entire email row from my spreadsheet and then just paste it into Facebook. However you should always check the form to ensure there are no gaps in the rows or non-emails in the list.


The last option is for Mailchimp. If you use Mailchimp, well there you go. The third option will allow you to import a native Mailchimp list without needing to do any special formatting though you do need to login.


Regardless of how you import your list, the next phase remains the same. Facebook will attempt to match the list to registered Facebook user accounts and tell you how many matches you found.

For this example, I’m going to import a list of email addresses of people who have been signing up to my contact list via the welcome mat at the top of my blog.


After you upload the list, Facebook will ask you to to name the Custom Audience. In my example I named it ‘Carey personal brand followers’. Facebook also says it will take 30 minutes to finish identifying user accounts that are associated with the emails, but it is usually ready in under 5 minutes.

In this case, the matching was done instantly. From the 6,171 emails I supplied Facebook it was able to match 4,100 accounts! Not bad! That’s a 66.4% match!

(I hope this example shows you how important it is to develop a robust email list. Also keep in mind that Facebook requires your list to have at least 1,000 active monthly users before your list will work with the tool. Note that this is not the number of emails you supply, but rather the number of accounts that Facebook can match to monthly users. As a result, it might take significantly more than 1,000 email addresses to reach the cutoff.)

Anyway, my audience is now loaded into Facebook and it is time to start digging into the data. Let’s hop back over to the Audience Insights tool and select this new Custom Audience from the menu option.


Looking just at the default settings with no filters applied, I can see that 35% of my brand followers are women and 65% are men. I can also see the vast majority are below the age of 45. The largest age group for both men and women is folks between the age of 25 and 34. That’s really useful information to know.

Let’s see what else we can learn about my brand followers.

First, we want to set some filters and parameters if to restrict our analysis. This helps us zero in on subgroups of the list.

(Note: Keep in mind that some of the data is only available about US residents. So if your list consists of non-US residents, then you will not have certain types of data available. Furthermore if the list has some US residents, then that data will only reflect those people who are US residents and not the whole set of list members. )

The first filter I will apply is for Location. I want to see how many of my brand followers are based in the United States. After applying the filter, I see that 3.6K of my followers are based in the USA and the gender and age breakdowns are as follows;


Furthermore I can see information about their lifestyles.


By hovering my mouse cursor over the names of the Lifestyle categories I can actually get a breakdown description of the different groups. For example, Sitting Pretty represents financially secure couples nearing retirement and Summit Estates are families enjoying the good life with luxury travel and entertainment.

I can also see the relationship statuses of my brand followers….


….as well as their occupations…


I can even see information related to the cities they live in.


I can even get a good idea of what their household situation is like.



I can even get some third party reporting data about their spending methods.


By applying additional filters to the custom audience, we can produce some extremely fascinating insights. For example, one of the possible filters is marked “Interests.”

By this, Facebook means the various Pages with which the people in your audience have interacted. You can learn much about what your audience does from this filter. You can, for example, try putting in the name of one of your competitors. If a lot of people on your list have also”liked” that other brand’s page, then this information can be utilized in your marketing strategy. You can create ads targeting these individuals that attempt to persuade this group of people in your list to switch from the competition over to you.

There are many kinds of filters to apply under the Advanced menu, allowing you to learn whatever information you want about the people in the audience.


You should really dive into the data to learn more about what defines this critical group; look at other parameters such as what geographic locations they live in, their monthly income, their relationship statuses, etc. Apply filters to the audience to discover subgroups within it holds the key to finding the path on how you can convince fans of opposing brands to become loyal to you instead.

There is plenty more to explore, like location and activity, but they all follow the same idea of tracking your audience based on what they do with Facebook.

The last thing you can do with a Custom Audience is to save it using the button near the top. That way, you can open the analysis again later and change the parameters or use the data as the basis for a new campaign aimed at your specified audience.


The Available Data in Facebook Audience Insights

In the example above, I have already illustrated much of the possible data you can harvest through Audience Insights, but there is a lot more to explore. Much of it gives you excellent information that you might not have been able to obtain anywhere else. For example, the Activities section breaks down how people access the Page of your business, so you can see how many of them use mobile devices. That will tell you a lot about the browsing habits of your audience, which can tell you whether it is time to make a big investment in making your business’s website more mobile-friendly.

You can use some of the data in unorthodox ways. For example, you can see what other Facebook pages are important to your audience and thereby try to learn about their disposable income and consumption patterns (assuming that data is available). However, you can also look to see if there are any notable charities or causes that your audience tends to support. Embracing those causes can bring you closer to your audience.

If you have an offline presence, then location data will matter a lot to you. You’ll want to see where your fans geographically are located to determine if there could be any room to expand to a new location or place offline ads in a certain city. It all comes down to creative use of the vast array of information that Facebook is giving you. It might make some time to learn how to make effective use of it, but considering that you are getting this data for free, it is worth spending some effort to extract the most value for it.

In Closing

In this post you have learned about Facebook Audience Insights and how you can easily use it to conduct market research at no cost. There is no longer any excuse for you to not perform market research when considering a new startup or scaling it. I implore you to take full advantage of your access to this data and learn as much as you can about your customers, your target demographic, people who like your competition’s pages, and anything else you can find.

The more you learn about people who are your customers or could potentially become your customers, the better you will be able to make strategic decisions about the short and long-term direction of your company. That kind of insight deserves your attention, especially when you are getting it free of charge from Facebook.

Still got questions? Feel free to ask in the comment section below.

Want more advice on how to use Facebook for marketing? You can always try my $0.99 ebook Facebook Marketing: Guide to Strategies That Don’t Suck


Also you can find more specialty business books available from my imprint, Martell Books.


Carey Martell is the President of Martell Broadcasting Systems, Inc. He is also the founder of the Power Up TV multi-channel network (acquired by Thunder Digital Media in January 2015). Carey formerly served as the Vice President of Thunder TV, the internet television division of Thunder Digital Media. In the past he has also been the Director of Alumni Membership for Tech Ranch Austin as well as the event organizer for the Austin YouTube Partner monthly meetups. Prior to his role at MBS, Inc. and his career as a video game developer and journalist, Carey served in the US Army for 5 years, including one tour of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Carey is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Carey also moonlights as the host of The RPG Fanatic Show, an internet television show on YouTube which has accumulated over 3.7 million views.