Social Media Advertising: When, Why and How

Social Media Ads

I know the feeling. Your company has been slugging away on Facebook, Twitter and various other social media networks for years but can’t seem to get the community growth, engagement or business results you’re looking for. If you haven’t tried putting some dollars behind your account or content, maybe it’s time that you do.

Social media ads give your brand the additional reach you’ve always wanted to achieve organically. The results can be good or bad, depending on your brand’s reputation, what content you’re promoting, and how you go about advertising on a platform that – for most of its lifetime – didn’t have ads.

Gauging your audience

Social media ads have become quite granular in their targeting capabilities. Any time you’re advertising on a social network, you need to be cognizant of how comfortable users in that space are with ads. Think back to how outraged you were when you first had to watch a 5-second ad on YouTube before watching your video. On some platforms, users are accustomed to ads (TV, radio, display, search, etc.) but on social media it varies. Knowing that, it’s about adjusting what your ad contains and how it is communicated, based on the comfort level of the user base.

Social media ads have the ability to target very niche audiences. The more information users provide the platform, the more accurately that platform can target.  On Google, that information could include anything you’ve searched. On Facebook, it could be any information you’ve put in your profile, including your browsing history. For example, if the user has put on Facebook that they’re “In a Relationship,” and their browsing history includes wedding dresses and Pinterest boards of rings, there’s a good chance the ads they will see on Facebook are wedding-related.  But if a user completes very little personal information, they might be the subject of an ad, but far from the brand’s target audience – something most wouldn’t be afraid of speaking out out about. Would you air an offensive television commercial, and give the viewers a public forum to let you know how they feel about it?

Keep in mind, some users might see your ad without any context of your brand’s essence, history and positioning in your industry. They might fall in love with your brand, but they could also become incredibly offended. It’s a mixed bag and you’ll likely experience both. Be prepared for the good (acquisition/engagement) and the bad (negative backlash, unsubscribes) that come with unfamiliar audiences. The more recognizable the brand, I find, the tougher the critics. But the strength and connection you’ve developed with your community will protect your brand should one of your ads be interpreted the wrong way.

It makes sense to invest in social media ads when:

  • You’re willing to invest to acquire new fans/followers/subscribers/views
  • You have compelling content that you feel comfortable sharing to a larger, targeted audience
  • You have a very specific actionable objective in mind, such as funneling users to your e-commerce site, generating awareness about a particular event or conference, or getting constituents to sign a petition

The great thing about social media ads is that they are priced on a per impression, engagement or acquisition basis. This means you only pay when it meets the objectives you’ve defined, unlike traditional offline advertising, which is largely based on assumptions in audience size. When you create a social media ad, you are completely in control. You typically place a bid you’re comfortable with (i.e. up to $2 per new follower) and can adjust as needed. Should something underperform or backfire on your brand, you can easily pause a campaign. This could save you dollars, embarrassment and/or negative exposure if it doesn’t go according to plan. Very few ad dollars are as guaranteed or as measurable as social media ads.

Factors that determine the strength and performance of a social media ad:

  1. Your brand’s reputation
  2. Timing of the ad
  3. The quality of the content
  4. How well you target the ad
  5. The budget you allocate
  6. How other on/offline campaigns support the ad

Based on my experience developing social media ads for clients, big and small, they work and really help find new and lapsed users. Most of the time their audience simply hadn’t found them on that platform or their content wasn’t being displayed organically, so investing in ads gave the brand that exposure they needed. To summarize: social media ads work, but use them strategically.

This is part 1 of an ongoing series that will help you understand and implement social media ads. I plan on writing in-depth guides to deploying ads on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and (before long) Instagram!


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