Where do your customers hang out? If you’re thinking of pubs or golf courses or concert venues, think again. Because if they’re anything like 60 percent of the global population (4.6 billion people), they’re probably spending a lot of their time hanging around their favorite social media platform.
To effectively reach your target audience, you need to hang out on their turf. But it isn’t enough to schedule posts and cross your fingers. If you want to ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message so they take the action you want them to take, you’ll need to leverage the power of paid advertising, specifically, paid social media ads.
What is Paid Social Media?
We’re going to wager a guess that if you’re here, you’re also one of the 4.6 billion global social media users, and you have at least some idea that it can help you grow your brand.
You’d be right about that. Recent research from Hootsuite and We Are Social shows continuous growth in social media ad spend.
This year alone, social media ad spend will top $154 billion. That means the competition is fierce. But with the right strategy, you can find your audience and get a piece of the paid social media pie.
Let’s take a deeper look into the world of paid social media advertising, and find out exactly how you can get started with a strategy that puts your brand in the center of the action and helps it grow.
Benefits of Paid Social
How does paid social media work? Often, it depends on the platform (which we’ll discuss in detail further down), but overall, paid social media works much like any other form of paid advertising — you set your budget, and it gets used up as more people see and click on your ad.
But within the realm of social media, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make regarding the type of ad you want to deploy — everything from single-image ads or carousels, inbox or messenger ads, sponsored or boosted posts, to collections, stories, and more.
Sound overwhelming? Yeah, it absolutely does. But in this case, the reward is worth the effort. So why choose paid social?
Get insta-visibility on Instagram. Or get in with the right crowd on LinkedIn. Whichever platform you choose, paid social media guarantees that your brand will be seen. Organic social…not so much.
In fact, organic reach on social platforms hovers around 5%. And that’s not total users — that’s the percentage of your current followers. So for every 5,000 followers you’ve carefully curated and engaged, only about 250 of them will actually see your unpaid posts.
That all changes with paid ads. Of course, the success of your paid social media campaigns will depend on the platform, the targeted audience, and your budget. But a great strategy will help you nail down those critical components and ensure your message is hitting the right people.
Learn more about your ideal audience
One of the best parts of paid social media advertising is the in-depth targeting it allows. You can get extremely granular with your targeting to reach a tailored audience who wants just what you’re selling, or you can go broader for more general brand awareness.
Whatever you choose, the side benefit here is all the data you’re going to collect from your campaign. You don’t even have to wait for the campaign to end to learn more about your target audience. As you go through the targeting process, you’ll be able to learn more and more about your ideal buyer with each criteria you add.
In the example above from Facebook Audience Insights, you can create an audience by adding relevant demographic information, then adjusting and narrowing based on other factors, including interests and affinity.
This is your ideal audience. And once you start getting data from your campaign, you can continue making adjustments and honing in on your real audience — the one that will want what you’re offering, will click on your ad, and (hopefully) convert.
Target relevant audience
But what if they’re not clicking and converting? In that case, it’s likely you’re missing the bullseye with your target audience. Consider it a valuable learning experience, and use your findings to adjust your targeting.
The choice you have to make here is how you want to handle creating your targeted audience. You can DIY it, trust the automated ad services many social platforms provide, or you can seek the advice of a trusted paid social media agency.
Boost brand awareness
Brand awareness is critical whether you're an established B2B company or a tech startup. It's crucial to increasing your traffic, improving conversions, and building trust and authority. Paid social media advertising is one of the best ways to raise brand awareness. Why? Because social media is one of the top ways customers prefer to interact with brands.
By now, we’re all used to seeing ads as we scroll through our newsfeed. Now that they’re less intrusive and generally highly targeted, we’re more likely to pay attention to what appears. So even if users aren’t clicking on your ad, you’re still living in their brains rent-free (okay, it’s paid, so there’s a little rent involved).
Access mobile users
When you see people scrolling their smartphones everywhere from the drive-thru lane to the doctor’s office waiting room, you can be pretty certain that, at some point, they’re browsing social media.
Mobile usage continues to grow YOY, and as it does, the amount of time spent on mobile social media apps grows, too. Paid social ads are one of the best ways to ensure you’re getting to the right audience in the place they like to hang out…on the device they most frequently use to get there.
Collect valuable data
The insights you’re able to glean from your paid social campaigns will be brand-altering. Seriously. Maybe you’ve spent all this time marketing to men ages 40+ with a six-figure income, but the users clicking on your ads are primarily moms ages 25-35.
The data you get from running paid social media will help you adjust your buyer persona, and it may even uncover hidden audience segments you weren’t aware of before or had simply overlooked.
All that data can be used to make changes to your social campaigns, but it can also be put to good use across all your marketing channels. You’ll likely find that each platform’s insights give you great information, but if you want to dig even deeper, you can use a social media management platform to help compile the data and pull insights from it.
When Should You Invest in Paid Social Media?
So, you’re ready to dive into the world of paid social media advertising. Before you strap on that SCUBA gear, hold up a second. Yes, social media ads are effective and valuable to your brand.
But, like all things, it pays to wait for the right time. So, how do you know when you’re ready to jump into the deep end?
You're a new brand building your audience from scratch
As we previously mentioned, paid social media is an excellent way to build brand awareness, especially when you’re starting from square one. Most users who follow brands on social media do so because they want to stay on top of new products or services.
So when you’re preparing to launch, you want to make sure that paid social media is a key part of your strategy. You’ll gain new followers and glean in-depth insights about your audience.
To diversify your audience demographics
Many brands have more than one buyer persona. If you’re finding that it’s hard to cram all the demographic and psychographic info into one persona, there’s probably good reason for that. Using the highly-detailed targeting that paid social media allows, you can hone in on different segments within your larger audience and reach each of them with the right messaging on the right platform.
You might want to use geotargeting to hit audiences in different locations (e.g., when you’re opening a new brick-and-mortar store or expanding your shipping services to other countries), or you could break out your targeted ads by users in specific professional industries.
To scale your audience
Let’s say you’ve already been putting in the work on your social media platforms, and you’ve built up a good following. You might have experienced tremendous growth early on, but now you’re finding that you’ve hit a plateau. It’s the law of diminishing returns, and it’s a pretty common experience for brands on social media.
Luckily, you can build a “lookalike” audience on most platforms and target those who demonstrate similar traits, characteristics, and behaviors to your existing followers. Targeting lookalike audiences will bring in more qualified leads, increase conversions, and scale not only your audience but your brand as a whole.
To increase organic reach
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but paying for social ads can also help improve your organic reach. Social media these days is pay-to-play, and the rest is just background noise.
Paid ads make your brand stand out, and it signals to the algorithms that your existing followers like seeing your content. Plus, if and when they engage with your brand, it might pop up in the newsfeed of someone in their network who might also be interested in learning more.
As an example, let’s say Person A is a follower of your brand. Because they’ve clicked on one of your ads, your organic posts show up more frequently in their newsfeed. When they comment on one of those posts, it shows up in Person B’s newsfeed. They weren’t part of your targeted audience, but they’re still interested in your product. And because they know and trust Person A, they’re now more likely to give you a follow.
5 of the Most Popular Platforms for Paid Social
Okay, we’ll be the first to say it — there are no bombshells here. The top five social media platforms haven’t budged much over the last few years, and the top platforms for paid social pretty much fall in line.
But they will vary in how much of a punch they pack for your brand, based on your audience and your goals. Check out the biggest benefits of the big five below:
If you want to get your brand top-of-mind with a B2B audience, LinkedIn is your best bet. It offers better leads and more conversions than any other platform among this audience.
LinkedIn ads can be highly targeted using keywords and selecting different audience categories. You can also take advantage of in-app form fills to make it easy for leads to hand over their information.
Users can also engage with an ad just as they can with an organic post by liking, commenting, or sharing. When you create ads that are interactive, provocative, and shareable, you’ll find you make the biggest impact. Just be sure you’re ready to engage with your audience, as that will improve your organic reach as well.
If you’re looking to hit a much broader audience, you really can’t go wrong with Facebook. On track to surpass 3 billion users, the social media giant is also the second-most used digital advertising platform in the U.S.
Facebook Targeted Ads work very similarly to other PPC campaigns, in which advertisers make bids for ad placement. However, Facebook differs slightly in that it then enters ads into a lottery, and the lucky winner is shown to the target audience.
The Facebook ad platform is robust and powerful, and while targeted newsfeed ads are the most popular, there are many other avenues you can take to reach your audience, including Marketplace ads, Stories, Messenger, and more.
Facebook ads are a perfect choice for building brand awareness. But don’t forget that the in-depth targeting you can achieve also gives you a direct path to your buyer persona.
Visual storytelling has reached its peak with Instagram, which now boasts over 2 billion users (60 percent of which visit the app daily). And in a pretty shocking statistic, 90 percent of all Instagram users follow at least one brand. Influencer marketing is one of the most widely used tactics on the platform.
And according to the same source, 70 percent of shoppers research a brand on Instagram before making a purchase decision. Overall, Instagram users are brand-savvy and look to the trusted voices in a given industry before deciding to buy.
Even better, since Meta owns both Facebook and Instagram, you can sync your ads across both platforms to run simultaneously, targeting either similar or unique audiences.
Ad revenue on Twitter increased to $1.4 billion in 2022 and is on pace to exceed those numbers in the coming years. It also offers the lowest CPM compared to other platforms, so if you’re looking to go wide, you might want to start with Twitter’s 329 million users.
Most users turn to Twitter for news updates, with many following specific brands or using the platform to do pre-purchase research. But be warned — Twitter also has the lowest daily time spent of the major social media platforms.
That means your ads will need to be bold and engaging if you want to catch their (very brief) attention.
While it may still be the new kid on the block, TikTok is taking social media by storm, with more than a billion active monthly users. It also has the largest in-app consumer spend, at more than $2.3 billion in 2021.
According to the same source, TikTok users say the platform “inspires them to shop,” especially since a partnership with Shopify allows users to make purchases without ever leaving the app.
8 Tips for Creating a Paid Social Media Strategy
Ready to jump into paid social media advertising? Slow your roll for just a minute because we’ve got some tips to help you put together a strategy that will boost your chances for a successful campaign.
1. Define objectives and goals
Looking for increased brand awareness, more traffic, or a higher conversion rate? Set these goals before you begin any social media ad campaign, and lean on your selected platform to help define your parameters.
Remember that whatever goals you hope to achieve, you have to have your website and your content in order before you start declaring your success. Make sure landing pages are optimized, content is buttoned up, and you’re working in conjunction with your SEO and lead gen efforts. Social media advertising can’t work in a silo, so be sure your marketing channels are ready to join forces for maximum impact.
2. Decide which platforms to prioritize
Remember what we said about hanging out where your customers are? That’s the first and most critical step when building your paid social media strategy. But how do you choose?
If you already have a strong presence on a particular platform, that could be a good bet to increase loyalty and get repeat customers. Or you might want to expand to another platform to build brand awareness with a new audience.
To help you decide, there are two things you need to do:
- Dig into your buyer persona. What can you learn about your audience and their attitudes and behaviors? Are there segments within this audience you can target? Are you aiming to hit broad demographics or narrower, niche segments?
- Do some research into who’s using which platforms the most. If you’re targeting C-suite-level executives, LinkedIn is probably a better choice than TikTok. But if you’re looking to increase awareness among women ages 18-25, that’s a different story. There’s plenty of data out there so you can determine which platform best aligns with the audience you’ve got and the one you want.
3. Leverage the power of keywords and hashtags
You can’t target keywords on Facebook ads, but you sure can on Twitter. Something to keep in mind — Twitter keywords will be much more casual and conversational than what you might optimize for Google search. Use natural language, and don’t shy away from slang or popular abbreviations (e.g., FOMO or YOLO).
And definitely don’t forget about hashtags. If you’re not sure what’s trending, start by looking at your competitors and their followers. Then, you can target those specific hashtags to hit a highly targeted and extremely engaged audience.
4. Determine budget
Good news first: paid social media advertising is some of the most cost-effective out there. The not-so-good news? The bidding/lottery system is part strategy and part chance, so you’ll have to find the right balance to get good ad placement without going broke in the first 24 hours.
Just like PPC and paid search, once the money is gone, so are your results. Be sure your budget is enough to stretch for the planned length of your campaign.
And a quick pro-tip: The platform will charge your credit card as your budget is used up, so if you’ve imposed strict spending limits, consider raising them for the duration of the campaign so you don’t lose time or momentum due to card rejection.
5. Use demographic targeting to hone in on your audience
If you’ve done PPC before, particularly paid search, demographic targeting is nothing new. But what might be uncharted territory is navigating the 2,000+ demographics you can target using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
This is far more granular than Google Ads allows you to go, and it really helps you pinpoint your exact audience. You can (and should) target the basic demographics, like age, geographic location, income, etc. But with many social platforms, you can dive much deeper, also targeting behaviors and life events, such as getting married or having kids or even people planning to travel to a certain location or event.
6. Get inspiration from successful competitor campaigns
We’ve all spent some time at work browsing social media (we won’t tell if you don’t), but now it’s actually part of your job. Take a look at what the competition in your industry is doing on social media, both organically and through paid campaigns. Be sure you’re looking at a broad range of competitors — not just the big brands, but the smaller, niche brands, too.
The easiest way to get an overview of the kind of ads you’ll need to compete with is to conduct a search on Meta Ads Library. Here, you can type in your keywords and search ads past and present on both Facebook and Instagram (and any other platforms Meta eventually acquires).
Click on the campaigns for more information on each, including when they ran, what platforms they appeared on, and different versions of the ad that were used.
7. Use in-market segments to increase commercial intent
If your goal is to increase brand awareness, you can’t really do better than a broad campaign on one of the major social media platforms listed here. But what if your goal is conversions and revenue? Will paid social media still work for you?
It absolutely can. To find an audience that’s primed and ready to buy, you’ll want to leverage in-market segments. These segments are reliable indicators of commercial intent — proof that your audience wants to buy what you’re selling. Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms collect a lot of data — and often, that includes information on what users are buying, where they’re going, and exactly how they’re spending their money.
Targeting these in-market segments is a surefire way to hit an audience that has already shown interest in the type of product or service you’re offering and has already spent money on similar items.
8. Use data to track, measure and optimize
First, you’ll need to determine how you’re going to pull all the data and analytics that a paid social campaign provides. You can opt to use the platform on which you advertised, which will give you a lot of data to sift through. You can also choose a social media management platform, like Sprout Social or Hootsuite, which will give you all the data and will also help you pull out insights so you can optimize your campaigns.
Make sure when you’re analyzing your data that you’re comparing your organic social media efforts with your paid campaigns and that you’re keeping a close eye on ROI. As soon as you see a paid campaign isn’t working the way you want, you can make informed decisions to alter copy, visuals, or CTAs; change your targeting to reach a new audience; and quickly test out new ads.
Paid vs. Organic Social Media: How to Harness Both for a Holistic Strategy
When it comes to social media, it isn’t really an either/or situation. To get maximum impact and results, you’ll want to have a strategy for both organic and paid social media, and you’ll want to make sure those strategies complement and support each other.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Use paid social to boost your best organic content
The only real investment with organic social media is time, but the return can often be measured in dollars. If you have a robust audience on a particular platform, pay close attention to the content that seems to resonate most with them. Look at your engagement numbers, and keep tabs on which posts are getting likes and shares.
When you identify a top-performing organic post, pay to have it boosted. In this way, you’ll reach a whole new audience with content you already know speaks to your followers. As a bonus, it’s content you’ve already created, so you don’t have to build a whole new ad entirely from scratch.
Some paid social media management platforms will even allow you to set triggers for high-performing posts. So, for instance, if you have a trigger set at 500 shares, your posts will automatically be boosted once you hit that mark.
2. Ensure the audience for ads matches your audience for organic
The followers you get organically on social media are there by choice, and that’s a pretty powerful thing. They follow your brand because they want to hear from you and because they value the content you provide.
This is your gateway to creating a highly customized and highly motivated audience for your paid social media ads. Use your existing followers to create lookalike audiences. These will mimic your followers’ demographics and behaviors but will consist of those who haven’t yet been exposed to your brand.
3. Use retargeting campaigns to reach your organic audience
Retargeting is a great way to woo back previous visitors to your website. With far higher conversion rates, it’s a tactic that’s frequently leveraged in PPC and display advertising. However, some marketers overlook social media retargeting, which is a serious misstep.
Retargeting ads on social media typically have greater visibility and aren’t reliant on your keyword ranking to appear in your audience’s timeline. All you have to do to create a retargeting ad is select the option in your chosen platform to customize website audiences. This will ensure your ad hits users who’ve already visited your site.
You can also utilize product ads on Facebook, which allows you to customize the products your audience has previously browsed and can reduce your abandoned cart numbers.
4. Use A/B testing to optimize your post
A/B testing is one of the core components of growth marketing. Experimentation is a necessary step to achieving growth, and A/B testing allows you to do so easily and effectively. You might choose to try out similar ads with different copy or visuals to see which leads to better results, or you might want to try testing out different segments of your audience.
A/B testing is a great early step to crafting a paid social media ad campaign, but remember to keep your budget smaller in the beginning so you don’t throw it all down the drain for an ad that won’t drive results.
5. Embrace automation
Social media takes a lot of time and effort, especially if you want to build an organic audience for your brand. Fortunately, there are numerous automation tools out there that can make the process easier.
You can schedule posts in advance through many social media platforms, but if you’re looking to really make a splash, consider using a dedicated social media tool (like Hootsuite or Sprout Social, as mentioned above). These tools allow you to plot out months’ worth of social content at one time and get them scheduled at the ideal days and times.
This way, you have all your social efforts in one convenient spot where you can manage both organic and paid posts, set triggers to automatically boost high-performing posts, and collect and analyze your data to make informed decisions.