As Director of Digital Strategy, Lauren oversees all things related to PPC, SEO, and other digital advertising campaigns.View all articles written by this author
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Social media advertising is a must if you’re looking to reach a new, targeted audience—fast.
Runner up: Pinterest Ads
Runner up: Linkedin Ads
Runner Up: Youtube Ads
A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Advertising
Social media advertising is a must if you’re looking to reach a new, targeted audience—fast.
Of course, it can be scary to move from an organic social strategy to putting real money on the table.
So, it’s important to understand all the options.
We’ve reviewed numerous how-to articles, definitive guides, and best practice listicles, and then added our own social advertising experience (from launching hundreds of campaigns) to bring you a refined and efficient beginner’s guide.
By the end of this guide, you’ll easily be able to answer these common questions:
- What is social media advertising?
- Which social media platforms are best?
- Are my social ads properly set up?
- Am I targeting the right audience?
- How do I design effective social ads?
- My social ads aren’t performing well. What do I do?
What is Social Media Advertising?
Social media advertising is a term used to describe online advertising (paid efforts) that focuses on social networking sites. One of the major benefits of advertising on a social networking site (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) is that advertisers can take advantage of the user’s demographic information and target their ads appropriately.
Social media advertising combines current targeting options (like geo-targeting, behavioral targeting, socio-psychographic targeting, etc.) so you can identify and communicate with a precision you can’t achieve in traditional advertising channels. With social media advertising, you can also target users based on their behavior, enabling you to display different ads to customers who have visited your website, abandoned their shopping cart, entered your physical store, or liked your ads.
Which Social Media Ad Platforms are the Best?
This depends entirely on your campaign goals, target audience, and budget. Each platform has its own inherent strengths, which may give you a slight edge in your next ad campaign. For getting lots of different types of content in front of niche audiences, such as a video, a blog article, or a lead form — Facebook stands out as one of the more powerful advertising platforms.
Instagram, which benefits from the same targeting capabilities as Facebook, is typically best for leveraging visually appealing content such as videos and photos. This can be a great platform for showcasing products or a work portfolio.
If the target market for your product or service is DIY-related, consider advertising on Youtube or Pinterest, where users are going for inspiration and how-to videos.
But again, the best platform for your business will vary. Here are some of our recommendations based on your social advertising campaign goals.
Best Social Advertising Platforms for E-Commerce
Facebook and Instagram are currently the preferred social ad platforms for growing eCommerce sales.
Facebook’s robust targeting capabilities, combined with its nearly seamless integration with eCommerce CMS sites like Shopify, create a low barrier of entry for marketers to show highly relevant ads to niche audiences.
Facebook’s new value-based optimization machine learning utilizes an algorithm to determine your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS). Using Facebook’s data, this algorithm will learn who your ideal customers are, and before long, you’ll have the option to bid on advertising to achieve a specific ROI. This can be VERY powerful if you are looking to keep your marketing costs at a certain percentage of sales while scaling your eCommerce sales.
Facebook’s targeting capabilities, data, and algorithms put unprecedented power in the hands of today’s advertisers. With the right strategy and the benefit of experimentation, you may soon find yourself with a virtual customer-generating machine that empowers you to spend money to grow your business profitably.
Runner up: Pinterest Ads
Pinterest has proven that it is a platform where users are primed for making purchases. They are looking for inspiration and finding products that help them achieve an aesthetic, function, or other benefit from a future purchase.
Best Social Ad Platforms for Lead Generation
The social media platform that will be most successful in generating leads for you is likely to be the one on which your target audience typically spends the majority of its time. That said, for most of our clients today, whether B2B or B2C, Facebook Lead Generation ads have proven to be particularly effective.
The beauty of Facebook Lead Ads are their speed and simplicity. Users who are scrolling their feed simply click a “Learn More” button and their contact information is preloaded into the lead form. All the user has to do is hit “Send”, then it’s back to scrolling the feed, marketplace, messages, or other areas of the ever-reaching platform.
Runner up: Linkedin Ads
LinkedIn Ads also offer this type of lead generation objective. However, in our experience, cost per lead (CPL) is significantly higher on LinkedIn today than on Facebook. This is typically due to the higher cost per click (CPC) that Linkedin charges to advertise on its platform.
That said, due to its higher costs, there is less competition today on LinkedIn. Especially for clients for whom each lead is highly valuable and whose customers spend significant time on LinkedIn, it may just be the right platform to achieve your goals.
Best Social Ad Platform for Brand Awareness & Top of Mind Retargeting
Any platform you choose has pros and cons. However, if done right, Facebook and Instagram stories can be an incredibly effective way of getting your brand and its identity in front of your customers. With 1.6 billion daily active users on Facebook alone, and 500M daily active users on Instagram, these two platforms are truly juggernauts in reaching large, highly targeted audiences.
When building a brand awareness campaign, most platforms strongly prefer video ads compared to static ads that link to a website and take the user’s attention away from the platform. This preference means that video ads, which are often more effective at creating an emotional connection with a brand than more static ads are, also help stretch your brand advertising budget farther.
Runner Up: Youtube Ads
With 5 billion Youtube videos watched per day from 30M daily active users, Youtube cannot be ignored as a platform for raising awareness or retargeting previous visitors to your site. Generally a younger audience, Youtube can be a great tool for getting in front of an upcoming generation of customers.
Moving forward with this article, we’ll be referring to Facebook and Instagram advertising, since there is plenty to discuss on those platforms alone. But don’t worry, we’ll be covering those other platforms soon!
How do I advertise my business on Facebook & Instagram?
The correct way to create, launch, and manage ads on Facebook and Instagram is through Facebook’s Business Manager.
Facebook Business Manager is an incredibly powerful platform that allows marketers to manage all assets that are included in a campaign, such as users, pages, ad accounts, pixels, product catalogs, and more.
The robustness of this platform comes with obvious drawbacks. It’s slow and it can be incredibly frustrating if not set up correctly.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure you’re doing it right.
5 keys to properly set up your Facebook Business Manager Account.
You’ve created a Facebook Business Manager account and connected all of your existing assets; Facebook page, Instagram page, employees, etc.
You have created an Ad Account that contains your desired billing information and given it permission to your existing assets.
You have created a Facebook Pixel that is assigned to your brand’s ad account, and have verified correct installation using Facebook’s Event Setup Tool.
Here are a few standard events that we recommend setting up:
View Content. Set this event to fire on a key page view such as a landing page.
Lead. Any form fills that represent a possible lead should be given this standard event. Adding a value to this event is recommended if it is known.
Contact. We use the contact standard event to track clicks to call a business and chatbot engagement.
Any employee that you wish to manage, create, or edit your ad campaigns have been added to your FBM account and given permissions to your assets.
Great! Now that you have your Ad Account all set up, it’s time to start building your campaigns.
Targeting the right audience for Facebook & Instagram Ads
As we mentioned before, one of the biggest advantages of Facebook’s advertising platform is the ability to target specific, niche audiences. For some of you, diving into the different ways you can target your potential customers will be an exciting adventure. For others, it’s a nightmare.
To help those of you who are looking to get started with Facebook and Instagram ads quickly, without wasting your budget by targeting the wrong audience, here are a few targeting strategies to consider.
Retarget Customers with Custom Audiences
Generate repeat sales from your existing customer base by advertising to customers who have visited your website, engaged with you on Instagram, or even by uploading your current client email list into Facebook.
Doing this helps to ensure that your advertisements are reaching relevant audiences, and not wasting budget.
Pro tip: if your custom audience sizes are too small, consider combining them to increase your audience size, which should improve ad delivery.
Create a Lookalike Audience
Lookalike audiences are created from custom audiences that you have previously built. Building an audience this way gives Facebook the power to deliver ads to users who have similar attributes as those in your custom audience.
Pro tip: When utilizing this targeting strategy, narrow your audience further with other audience requirements such as income, education, or interests.
Determining the Best Audience Size
The best audience size for your Facebook or Instagram will depend on many factors (as does most things in this guide). However, here are 3 key factors to help you find the perfect audience size.
Geographic population size. Consider how many people live in the selected geographic area. What percentage of that population are you trying to target? Another way to think about geographic locations is to consider the number of individuals who qualify for your ads based on other targeting factors. For example, if you are targeting specific niche interests, such as online data security, then you may want to consider increasing your geographic scope so that your ads are eligible for a larger audience.
Marketing funnel location. How far down is your audience in the buying process? Are they near purchase? Or seeing your product or service for the first time? Naturally, audiences near the purchase stage of your funnel will be much smaller, but hopefully more qualified and more likely to convert into paying customers.
Your marketing budget. For more modest marketing budgets, start testing your audiences with small daily spends, maybe only $5. If your ads are getting delivered to your targeted audience, and your event tracking is showing that customers are engaging with your site the way you want them to, then you can start to scale your ad budget more confidently.
Pro tip: Segment your campaign spend by stages in your marketing funnel. Create a campaign for retargeting audiences and a campaign for new (cold) audiences. This will give you greater control over your budget, and make reporting much easier.
With your audience targeting in place, it’s now time to design the ad creative.
How to design effective Facebook & Instagram ads.
There are multiple factors to consider when designing effective social ads. First, you need to determine a clear campaign objective. Second, you need to consider the design capabilities and limitations of each social platform you’ve selected. And finally, you need to determine what type of ad unit and design asset (e.g. video, photo, copy) is best suited to highlighting the features of your product or service.
Let’s examine each of these steps in turn.
Choosing the Best Social Ad Design by Campaign Objective
When you begin creating your advertising campaign on Facebook, Google, or another online advertising platform, you’ll be asked to select your campaign objective. Reading the descriptions of each objective can sometimes be confusing. What campaign objective is best suited to your goals?
To select the right objective, ask yourself the question, “What is the goal of my campaign?” And to help answer that question, ask yourself, “How familiar is my audience with my brand, product, or service?”
- Is your campaign retargeting people who have visited your site with the goal of increasing your eCommerce sales?
- Have users already visited your site? Even better, have they viewed one of your products or services?
If you answer “yes” to both of those questions, your campaign objective should probably be set up for Conversions, such as “Adds to Cart”.
You might then choose to highlight product features in a carousel ad might be a great design strategy.
To take another example:
Are you warming up a cold audience who is new to your brand?
If so, you might want to lure them in with a branded lifestyle video featuring the product or benefits of the service.
Pro tip: Use your initial brand awareness campaign to build a retargeting audience. Then create a campaign for users who viewed 3s or 10s of your cold audience video campaign to warm them up with additional selling points.
Design Social Ads According to Ad Placement
When building your campaign, you specify your ad placement at the “ad set” level.
Your ad placement settings determine where in the platform’s network your ads will appear. For example, are you going to show your ads to mobile users or restrict them to desktop users? On Facebook, do you want your ads to appear in the Newsfeed only, or do you also want them to appear on Instagram? Here you will want to be mindful of where and how your ad design will be used by the various platforms.
When deciding your ad placement, you ought to consider whether your ad creative is best suited to a particular ad placement. For example, Facebook Newsfeed and Instagram Feed display text differently. The ad unit on Instagram doesn’t show the headlines that Facebook’s ad unit does, so you want to be sensitive to how your ad looks on both feeds.
Pro tip: Create separate ad sets if you’re going to use Stories ad placements. When you have a specific ad set for Stories, you’ll have more control over the text that overlays your story.
In most cases, you’ll find that you want less text in your story ad since the platform automatically adds a “Learn More” button at the bottom if you wish to send a user to a website.
Designing Social Ads for a Product or Service
Some products or services lend themselves to video, whereas others do not. Do you have beautiful product photography? Use it. Consider how you can use your existing assets as leverage to design higher-performing social ads.
Key design flaws to avoid when creating your social ads:
Avoid text overlays more than 20%, Facebook will reduce your ad reach if your ad is detected to have too much overlay. This includes your video thumbnail.
Edit your image assets to use as much of the real estate provided by the ad unit as possible. Currently, for Facebook and Instagram, you should do your best to select images that are 1080×1080 pixels with a 1:1 aspect ratio.
Facebook truncates (cuts off) your body copy at 90 characters, so you need to win over the user’s attention quickly. Instagram will truncate your ad after 125 characters.
Be sure to include a UTM tracking parameter for each campaign. This will help you affirm your ad’s performance.
How to Improve Your Social Ad Performance:
Having well-defined marketing goals at the beginning of a campaign is crucial to the performance of your social ad campaigns. Choosing the right goals empowers you to set the correct objective, define more effective messaging, and test more intelligently.
Believe it or not, 90% of your campaign’s success is determined BEFORE a single ad is shown on the platform.
Pro tip: Proper planning and execution of a strategy will beat 100 A/B tests that stem from a half baked idea, every single time.
Here are a few common situations and how you might better define your goals to improve your campaign.
Why are my social ads not delivering enough impressions?
Poor ad delivery is usually caused by a few leading culprits: wrong campaign objective, inadequate audience targeting, or ad design that doesn’t generate enough engagement.
Duplicate your campaign with a new objective. Try for something higher up the funnel.
Create a new, larger audience. If you are retargeting users, consider expanding that to users who have engaged with your social media account, or watched a video.
Create new, more engaging ad creative. If your advertising hinders the user experience, Facebook will not show it across their platforms— simple as that.
Why aren’t my social ads spending their budget?
When your ads aren’t reaching their daily or lifetime budget, there are usually multiple root causes. Try these potential solutions to reach your ad budget:
Look at your daily reach. If it is low, consider building a larger targeted audience. You’ll spend more of your budget if your audience features several million users than if your audience is several thousand.
Review your campaign objective. If your campaign objective and creative is too far down the funnel, sending the signal to the platform that it has to deliver a high conversion rate, try modifying your campaign to focus on a goal that warms up your audience instead. For example, send them to a blog post, or ask them to sign up for your newsletter.
Look at your engagement. If users stop engaging with your ads, Facebook will stop serving your ads. The solution to this problem is simple in concept but sometimes difficult in practice: create fresh ads that are more engaging to your audience (or find an audience that is more likely to find your existing ads engaging).
Why aren’t my social ads converting?
The most common reason your ads aren’t converting is either because your campaign goal was too obscure or it was set up incorrectly.
In other cases, marketers start too far down the funnel, asking users to pick up the phone and call them after seeing a social media ad. Rarely will the user do so without a foundation of trust.
Think of yourself as a consumer— surely you’ve seen an ad on Instagram. How often do you go from seeing an ad for the first time through to checkout?
Pro tip: Consider running conversion campaigns that are farther up the funnel. For example, has the user viewed a key page of content?
Show the product with added benefits, features, or even a discount.
If none of these apply to you, consider digging deeper in your reports. Facebook is notorious for stripping UTM’s, and while the platform is incredibly robust, tracking standard events is surprisingly difficult to nail down at times.
Having multiple methods for tracking the success of your campaign can reveal that ads are in fact working better than you originally thought.
In 2020, it is relatively easy to build and launch a social media campaign. Social advertising platforms are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been. Targeting specific audiences has become so accurate it has people thinking, “…is my phone/computer listening to me?”
For example, business owners can show an advertisement to a new home builder looking to appraise their current home. Or, advertise to someone who recently purchased a bicycle online, and now needs accessories such as a helmet or shoes.
However, while these platforms can be incredibly robust, they can also be difficult to navigate. We want to make sure that you have the necessary tools to part your way through the sea of social media advertising.