Mark Peter

@markpeter_

How to Use Facebook Ads in the Search for a Missing Person

“time lapse photography of people walking on pedestrian lane” by Mike Chai on Pexels

We have had a missing person case in the family recently. It’s nuts. It’s mostly the uncertainty of what happened to them, that gets to you. If you look into it a little, you’ll find out that the amount of people reported missing each day, is nuts as well. Almost 2'000 reports a day in the US alone.

If your family is impacted, instead of going crazy, I guess, it’s important to try to stay as calm as possible and try to help the search as much as possible. There’s good step by step guides on the net of what to do in a missing person case (such as here or here), first and foremost of them: contacting the police.

Coming from an entrepreneurial, online marketing background, we also decided to run Facebook ads with the missing person search alert in the area our missing relative was suspected to be in. Searching the net a little, there wasn’t really much info on doing that — even though it seemed very reasonable to us — kind of ‘the missing person poster of the digital age.’ Many people already use Facebook posts to raise awareness, but the effect here is that they mostly get shared within their own circles and not necessarily in the location, where it makes sense. With Facebook ads you’re able to target exactly the people in the search area and ask them to not only keep an eye out for your missing loved one, but also to spread the word. Essentially, you are paying Facebook to show the post to the right people in a timely way.

That’s why we decided to do this write-up of how to go about creating and running Facebook ads to help in the search for a missing person. On top, we decided to offer doing exactly that for other people as a service on missingperson.io — for non-technical people or people who don’t want to go through all the steps themselves, uncertain of doing it right.

Maybe another hint in advance: the whole process should probably be done as timely as possible, as the first hours and days are the most critical in a missing person case.

So, here’s a quick overview of the steps involved:

  1. Create a Facebook ads account
  2. Gather all the information you need
  3. Create the ad campaign
  4. Run the ad campaign
  5. Cancel the ad campaign when your missing loved one is found

Let’s go about them one by one:

  1. Create a Facebook ads account

It turns out every Facebook account already comes with the ability to run ads. You’ll need to setup billing and familiarize yourself with the ads system. Here’s some resources to do exactly that:

If you have a family member or friend who knows Facebook ads, that would probably be the way to go: just ask them to help you with this.

2. Gather all the information you need

We suggest to have the following info ready for setting up the ad in the next step:

  • Missing person’s name, height, age, look.
  • Description of the circumstances, place and time under which they went missing.
  • Picture of the missing person, preferably two.
  • Location where a search makes sense; where they can reasonably excepted to be, considering means of transport and such.
  • Police contact and telephone number that can be published — where people are expected to call, when they see your missing loved one.
  • Links to media articles about the case (if they exist).

3. Create the ad campaign

The links in step 1 cover how to create an actual ad campaign as well. Have a look at them and we will discuss what is important for our purposes in the following.

We’d recommend to do a campaign optimized for reach, which means your missing person alert will be shown to a maximum number of people — under your budget constraint. Awareness could also be chosen, the difference being that here just the impressions count, not necessarily the amount of people reached.

You will have to chose a page your ad will be associated with, in the next step. The Facebook ad manager allows you to create a page right in the ad creation process. We would suggest you either name the page something like “Missing Person in [area]: [name of the person]” or just something generic like “Missing Person Alert.” It’s important to try to draw peoples’ attention. Mentioning the place of the search area, such as a city or region, seems beneficial, as people will recognize it as being their area.

Next comes one of the most important steps: targeting the area/region you want to show your missing person ad in. In the audience selection you can choose any geographic region or place, like a city or town, and then give a radius around that place to be included. It will look something like this:

Location targeting in the Facebook ads creation process

You can add multiple places or greater regions (counties, states, etc.) as well. On the right hand side of the picture you can see the potential reach and the estimated daily reach, which are important measures to gauge your campaign with. The estimated daily reach will depend on the budget you choose for your campaign — which brings us to the next point:

You will have to decide how much you want to spend on the ads. It will certainly depend on your budget. We would suggest around 50–200 USD daily, but it’s tough to give general advice here.

Age and gender targeting we would keep as broad as possible. Let’s get to the actual design of the ad now:

You want to draw attention to your ad. You can start your ad out with something like: “Have you seen this person?” or “Missing person in [area]” Then you should go on to describe what is important for the general public to know — some of the info we have gathered in the previous step: name, age, height, look, what they were wearing, circumstances, the area they might be in, and also info such as if they have mental problems and who to call (probably police incl. a (emergency) number) if they see them. You also want to ad a call to action like: “Please share in the [area]”

It probably makes sense to add two pictures to your ad — maybe one portrait and one full body shot, if you have. If media already reported about the case, it might make sense to link to it in the ad, as people are more engaged with media stories and hopefully can find more info on the media link about the case.

Here’s how such a post could look like:

Sample image of how a missing person search ad could look like.

Your ad is then good to go, and you should publish it as timely as possible. One last suggestion here, you might want to use a more traditional missing person poster layout (big red “MISSING” on top) for your picture that gives a bunch of information about the person in the poster, including their pictures. It is not clear weather this should be done, as Facebook usually penalizes ads with text in the picture. They might be more lenient in a missing person case though, if you request a manual approval for the picture.

4. Run the ad campaign

OK, most of the work — creating the ad — is done now. Running the campaign, it’s important to keep an eye on the costs — depending on what you want to spend. Secondly, it’s important to keep an eye on the ad itself. You can ask friends and family to do so as well by sending them a link to it and asking them to turn on notifications for it like so:

Turning on notifications for the post, to stay informed on comments.

Keeping an eye on the ad is important as people might comment valuable information. If they do, it’s often important to try to establish contact to them. Since they are already on Facebook, it’s worth trying it right there: either through replying to their comments or by trying to directly message them (maybe it’s necessary to send a friend request on Facebook first). Don’t forget to pass on new information to the officials (police, search parties).

A last remark here: it might become necessary to adjust the campaign as new information arrives — such as possible sightings, where you might want to focus the ad delivery to new or more specified areas.

5. Cancel the ad campaign when your missing loved one is found

This is the last and hopefully quick-to-come step. Don’t forget: most missing person cases are resolved within the first week and and an even greater percentage within the first month. Don’t give up hope and do what you can to help the search.

For anyone, for whom all the above is too complicated, e.g. if you aren’t that tech savvy or just want to get it done as quickly and professionally as you can, we decided to offer creating and running missing person search campaigns on social media ourselves. We’ve thrown up a quick landing page here: missingperson.io. Feel free to contact us for any help. We are still experimenting with the exact processes and design, and we will keep this post updated with new insights and best practices for missing person cases.

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