Today, around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves according to Pew Research Center’s Social Media Factsheet. For small business owners, this translates to an opportunity to engage with new and existing customers while building brand aware
Despite the popularity of social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok or Pinterest, running paid ads on those platforms can seem overwhelming. Questions like “Which social media channel should I use?” and “What types of content should I share?” abound, making it hard to implement an effective social media marketing strategy.
Sound familiar? If you’re new to social media advertising, or you are trying to revamp your existing digital marketing efforts, it can be challenging to get things rolling. These tips can help you leverage social media to engage consumers and expand your business.
Understanding the Importance of Social Media Advertising
While many business owners want to know how to attract new customers for free on social media, savvy digital marketers have been using paid social media and online advertising to build their businesses.
Paid advertising gives you a level of control you can’t get through organic social media promotion. You can very carefully target who sees your ads using filters for demographics, location and interest, for example. You can choose when to advertise, and when to stop a campaign.
Where it might take a website years of hard work to show up in the first page of search results pages (SERPs) through creating content and using search engine optimization(SEO), advertising lets you essentially jump the line and show your ads to your targeted audience.
By 2025, social shopping is set to become a $1.2 trillion channel according to Accenture Research. And Sprout Social reports that 68% of consumers making at least one purchase directly from social media in 2021.
Defining Your Advertising Goals
The first step in developing your social media advertising strategy is to define your goals. If you’re new to this type of advertising it can be hard to set goals because you don’t know what to expect. Here are some popular advertising goals:
Generating Leads and Conversions
Small business owners with a clear compelling product may be able to get new customers directly by using social media ads. If your ad is compelling and the value is clear, it may be enough to convince your customer to hit the buy button.
In many cases, though, your prospective customers will need to see your product or brand multiple times before they buy.
Driving Traffic to Your Website
Some digital marketers will create ad campaigns to drive website traffic. Once the customer clicks through to the website they will try to get them to sign up for an email list or webinar, for example, so they can market to them directly. In this scenario, you’ll want to send users to a landing page with a strong call-to-action (CTA).
Increasing Brand Awareness
Brand awareness is another goal that is more often used by larger companies than very small companies, simply because it can be harder to measure and expensive. However, it can be a legitimate business goal. If your budget is limited, you may want to spend toward more specific goals like sales or leads.
Know Your Target Audience
Defining your audience should be a number one step in any marketing effort, but it’s absolutely essential for a successful social media advertising effort.
As a channel, social media represents a truly unique opportunity to engage with users, and that means understanding what drives them. Companies that understand their target audience can provide their followers with valuable content, and in an oversaturated digital space, it’s “value” that will keep consumers engaged and increase loyalty.
Knowing your ideal customer’s profile can also help you pick the social media sites where they hang out. Pew Research Center has found, for example, that men are far more likely overall to use Facebook than Instagram.
Choose the Right Platforms
There are a lot of social media platforms available to consumers and business owners alike — traditional social networking sites, like Facebook and LinkedIn, to photo and video sharing platforms, like Instagram and Pinterest, to video sharing sites like YouTube and TikTok.
Just because a platform exists doesn’t mean you should push content out on it. Instead, your social media strategy should focus on the channels that matter most to your target audience.
For example, if your business is a B2B, you may find that channels like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook may be your best options, Targeting a younger audience? Consider adding Instagram, TikTok or SnapChat to your list.
Many small businesses will find more success by having a social media presence is important in addition to paid ads. Social media management tools like Social Bee, Hootsuite, Buffer and SocialPilot can help you automate at least some of your social media account management to save time and ensure consistent posting.
Create a Content Calendar
Another common roadblock in the path to a strong social media advertising strategy is determining what content to share and when. A content calendar can be an invaluable tool when making those decisions.
To create your content calendar, you’ll need to answer these questions:
- How much content do I already have, and can I use and repurpose it?
- What themes, seasonal needs, key events, or important dates do I need to accommodate? (e.g., a pet care company may want to focus on flea and tick content at the start of spring or fall)
- How much quality content can I create and distribute in a given week? Month?
- Are there any gaps in content or content creation capabilities?
- How will the content flow from creation to distribution?
Avoid Over Promoting Your Brand
Yes, one of your goals will likely be to increase brand awareness, but that doesn’t mean filling feeds with constant promotions. Consumers are quick to see through ongoing blatant sales pitches and will quickly unfollow or hide your business from your feed.
That’s not to suggest that you have to completely avoid promotions. Instead, build a strategy that showcases your brand as a resource to your target audience, sparkling obvious promotions in as needed. It’s all about value.
Vary Content Type
The term “content,” often lends itself to things like blog posts and articles, but that’s not the only thing you should be sharing. Live video, infographics, quizzes, gifs, giveaways, etc. are all types of content you may want to consider.
And since different people respond to different types of content, a healthy social media advertising effort should include various types of content.
In addition, it’s also helpful to consider and measure which types of content perform best on which platforms. For example, long-form articles and videos that are 30 seconds or less perform well on LinkedIn, while photos and infographics may perform better on platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.
Of course, even though statistics are helpful in determining what type of content to share, the real answer will depend on your specific audience. Make sure to record performance and use the information you gather to dictate your advertising efforts.
Engage With Followers
Unlike other marketing channels, like email marketing, social media is a two-way street. In order for your efforts to be successful, you must engage with your followers. That means encouraging followers to interact with your posts, or even to share user-generated content. It also means responding to their questions, praises, and criticisms.
For most businesses, social media is a valuable channel that can help engage users and grow brand awareness. As such, it’s important to create a social media advertising strategy that establishes value and recognizes the needs and wants of your target audience.
Leveraging Social Media Advertising Features
Social platforms want your advertising dollars. That’s how they make money. As a result they often make it easy to get started as an advertiser. They also offer a variety of marketing tools to help you create ads, promote those ads, and data that allows you to learn from those efforts.
Facebook Ads Manager
Now part of Meta for Business, this hub offers everything you need to advertise on Facebook and Instagram. You can set up your Ads Manager account, define your target audience including custom audiences and lookalike audiences , create your ads and ad campaigns, and choose where to run them across the two platforms.
It offers detailed analytics and reporting tools that can help you understand how your ads are performing, and suggest ways to improve.
Instagram is owned by Meta and you can advertise on Instagram using Ads Manager. You can turn any Instagram post into an ad and use a variety of curated formats to create ads.
You may want to consider Twitter Ads if your customers are active on Twitter. Twitter provides several ad formats to choose from, including promoted tweets, promoted accounts, and promoted trends.
If your target audience is on LinkedIn, you may want to consider LinkedIn Ads. Advertising options include sponsored content, sponsored messaging, dynamic and text ads.
YouTube is owned by Google, and YouTube Ads uses Google data to match ads to potential customers. Google’s rich data can help you reach very targeted audiences who will see your video ads before or during the video content they watch.
Setting a Budget and Monitoring Performance
Every dollar counts in your business, and social media ads can be cost-effective, or they can be a huge waste of money. It all depends on how your ads perform.
Defining Your Budget
The good news is that many platforms let you set up a small budget to start testing ads. The challenge is that a small budget may not give you enough data to really understand how your marketing campaign performs. Still, it’s possible to get started on a limited budget.
If you’ve hit upon a formula that works, you can increase your budget. Some digital marketers find that charging their ad spend to a business credit card (ideally ones that earn rewards) will allow them to invest in high performing ad campaigns while maintaining cash flow.
Tracking Key Metrics
Depending on which social media network you’re advertising on, you’ll get several different types of data you can use to track performance. These include:
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS)
This is a key metric that measures the amount of revenue generated for every dollar spent on advertising. ROAS is used to track the profitability of their social media ad campaigns.
A popular advertising metric, here impressions refers to how many times an ad is displayed on social media user’s screens. Don’t assume that just because someone your social media ads or social media posts have appeared on user’s screens that they have actually seen them. Ad blindness is real, and users are inundated with social media content.
This metric measures interactions with an ad. Depending on the platform this may include likes, shares, saves, comments or (in the case of Twitter) retweets. High engagement means that users are taking some form of action when they see the ad.
Click-through Rate (CTR)
Some advertisers prefer to measure CTR, which is the ratio of clicks versus impressions. If your ad has a high CTR, people are noticing it and taking action. There is no set number that defines high or low CTR, though. In part it depends on the industry, and the type of ad.
Here advertisers measure the percentage of users who take a specific action defined by the advertiser. For example you could run an featuring an upcoming webinars and the number of sign ups would determine the conversion rate.
Optimizing Your Campaigns
Most social media platforms have a very strong visual component. That means you’ll need high-quality images and/or videos to get attention. Social media tools like Canva or Adobe Spark can help you create compelling ads using templates. These tools are now often incorporating AI to help you design better CTAs and ads.
If an ad is a complete flop, you may decide to stop running it. But good ads may become great ads with some tweaks. A/B testing allows you to run various versions of an ad with a slight difference in each one (for example, the image, headline or CTA). You’ll then be able to deliver these different versions to audiences to find out which ad “beats the control,” or performs better.
Measuring Success and Adjusting Strategies
All of the top social media platforms include tools that allow advertisers to monitor performance and adjust strategy based on what’s working, and what’s not working.
Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) measures return for advertising dollars. Return on Investment (ROI) can provide a broader measurement of your return for your social media marketing efforts. It may include the costs of organic as well as paid social efforts. You may want to include the cost of the tools you use to create social media posts, and other costs such as influencer marketing campaigns.
You may not see a positive ROI from your social media marketing efforts right away, but over time you want to see a positive ROI so you can continue to justify the expense.
Staying Updated with Social Media Trends
The social media landscape can change quickly. There are a number of ways to keep up with social media trends.
- Follow social media influencers in your niche
- Follow relevant and popular hashtags
- Use Google Alerts to notify you of your choice of news
- Subscribe to popular social media sites
- Attend digital marketing and social media conferences and events
This article was originally written on May 27, 2019 and updated on June 12, 2023.