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I plan to write about my experience with buying social media ads in more detail, but I thought I would share some quick thoughts beforehand:

Addressing the elephant in the room

I want to address the general scepticism I sometimes encountered (and used to have) about using paid ads for outreach. I think we have some vague intuition that says, "the type of people who click on ads are not smart or cool”. I want to say that this has not been our experience. A lot of people who joined our programs this way are very talented, motivated and open-minded.

A preliminary look at cost-effectiveness:

-I looked at 5 of our social media campaigns promoting our EA/AIS programs, with an overall spending of 1019 USD.

  • -These campaigns got us 34 program applicants (~30 USD per applicant).
    • By applicant here I mean people who sign up for the course, but don’t necessarily start it (eg. show up to the first session)
    • Roughly speaking, our experience has been that some of the people don’t start the program (and we might never hear from them)
    • But those who do are quite motivated, and talented and are more likely to become engaged with our community than people we get from other sources
  •  ~15 applicants we got through paid ads became engaged with the group and I find them quite promising (~68 USD per applicant)
    • Of course, it is hard to tell whether someone is going to engage with us long-term, and I certainly wouldn’t claim that all of our applicants will definitely end up pursuing a high-impact career (Not to mention all the biases in assessing who we think are promising)
    • By promising I mean something like “new memebers I’m really excited to have in our group and very happy to support their exploration of EA and AIS”
    • Even if only 5% of these people would in fact end up in a high-impact role, I still think paid ads would be worth it

Some caveats

  • There were big differences in the campaign’s cost-effectiveness in attracting highly motivated participants
  • The cost-effectiveness of general applications was between 12-47 USD
  • The cost-effectiveness of highly motivated applications was between 20-142 US

Next steps

  • I still need to figure out the reasons behind the big difference in cost-effectiveness and overall take a better look at all our data
  • I will eventually make a longer writeup, with guides on how to make social media ads (assuming I will still think it is worth doing)

If you have data or anecdotes to share about your own experience of using ads or want to give feedback please feel free to comment or shoot me an email at

Bravo for writing this stuff up, glad to see that.

I actually didn't realise that this elephant was an elephant? Indeed, I had the impression that paid ads had been used already by other EA orgs (if memory serves correctly, by EAG, 80k, and SoGive) so I thought they were considered to have legitimacy, as far as I was aware.

You might be right! My impression was based on talking to a handful of people within community building, about fellowship programs specifically - that might be what explains our different impressions (although I'm sure there are plenty of people who are excited about paid ads within this niche too!)

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