Social media is continuing to consume an ever-increasing portion a brand’s marketing budget. In 2016, digital represented 36.8% of total media spend in the US (and is a similar story here in the UK too), overtaking TV spend of 36.4%. This is a trend that’s expected to continue, with more and more brands using social media to reach their target audience.
For this reason, it’s more important than ever to make sure that you’re using social media to its maximum potential.
The good news is that you can make the most of social media by putting a ‘paid’ strategy behind it. This means paying to get your social media posts in front of a relevant, targeted audience to achieve a particular purpose, such as visiting your website and converting into a paying customer.
This guide will walk you through paid social – how it works, which platforms you should be using and how to make the most of the money you’re spending.
Where to start
Launching a paid social campaign involves many steps. More steps than you may initially imagine! It’s not just a case of putting some money behind a post, as you’ll quickly learn to if you jump in too quickly.
Instead, follow a step by step process. The flow chart below shows how to work your way through the stages of devising and implementing a paid social campaign, beginning with outlining your aims and objectives, right the way through to scheduling and delivery.
Identify your target market
Before you start investing money in paid social, take the time to really understand you target market. Who typically buys your product? Who do you want to buy your product?
Once you have a rough idea of who your ideal customer is, learn more about your audience demographic: we’ve created a tool to help you do this called The SocialProfilr. You can The SocialProfilr to segment your social media audience, enabling you to create the most successful paid social strategy possible.
Once you’ve used this tool to gather useful information on your target audience, go a step further. The social media platforms themselves can actually be a treasure trove of information. Facebook holds valuable information about its customers that you can access via ‘Facebook Insights’, digging deeper into your audience’s age split, gender split and relationship statuses, for example. You can then use this data and input it into the Facebook Audience Insight Calculator.
You can also use third party data (that is, information that neither you or a social media platform hold about your target audience), using it to find out about your audience’s salaries, spending habits, and more. We recommend using tools such as You Gov, Comscore and GWI, as well as tools such as Answer the Public (as this final example will tell you about your audience’s pain points and micro-moments).
Once you’ve done thorough research on who your target audience is, spend a little bit of time creating some basic personas to represent some of the people you’re targeting. If you refer to these personas while you’re writing tweets, editing images, sharing stories or scheduling videos, you’ll be confident that your paid social content is going to resonate with the people you intend it to.
Choosing your platform
Next, you’ll need to choose which social media platform to use for your paid campaign. You may want to focus your attention on one particular platform, or you may choose to combine a number of platforms together for a wider reach. Whatever the case, you’ll need to have a good idea of how your target audience behaves on each social media platform, and what they expect from it.
Here is an overview of some of the most popular social media platforms to choose from, and the kinds of paid ads you can place on each.
There are more than one billion active users on Facebook. And, more than 95% of marketers said that Facebook produces the best return on investment (ROI) for them. So, it’s well worth choosing this platform for your paid social strategy (provided it’s where your target audience actually hang out, of course!). There are a few different options you can explore when it comes to paying to promote your social content on Facebook, discussed below.
Facebook uses a 300 x 250 MPU – a standard advertising unit. This is where an advert sits on the side bar, outside of the news feed. This form of paid social is good if your budget is a little on the low side, or you want to target an older demographic. This is because the advert can only be seen on desktops rather than across all platforms, changing the audience that’s likely to see it.
However, according to Facebooks financial results for 2015, 90% of daily active users access the platform via mobile, which means only 10% of Facebook users would see an MPU advert in the sidebar. So, think carefully about whether or not an MPU is really the best use of your paid budget.
Promoted posts are another form of paid advertising on Facebook. This is where the post looks like as a normal post on a user’s news feed, but has budget behind it so that it’s seen by the right people at the right time.
Another advantage to promoted posts is that you have a lot of creative freedom: you’re able to craft a post as you’d like, using text, links, videos and images. You are also able to target anyone on Facebook, rather than just users who have already connected to your page, for example. The post sits within the news feed and looks very natural.
However, as these posts are in peoples’ news feeds (an area that’s considered a ‘personal space’ by many Facebook users), it is important to ensure you don’t accidentally spam anyone with too many promoted posts, or communicate in a tone that feels overtly ‘salesy’.
Multi-product ads (or ‘carousel ads’) are best for e-commerce brands who want to promote multiple products from their store. However, even if you’re not in the e-commerce business, it can be a good method of paid social to try as it will allow you to promote different posts to see what attracts your audience.
You can select up to five products and links, which means you’re essentially maximising your chances of getting a click to your site by five times.
Dynamic product ads
This form of paid social will target your audience based on their past actions or inactions with your website. For example, have you ever spent fifteen minutes looking at a pair of jeans on a fashion website, decided not to buy them, and then hopped back over to Facebook and found that those same jeans are being advertised to you? That’s how this ad works.
The ad is timed for your brand so that it’s put in front of your target audience at exactly the right time. You will need to upload your product catalogue to Facebook in order to do this, and you’ll also need to correctly install a Facebook Pixel onto your site’s pages so that the dynamic product ads can be automated and targeted at the right time.
There are a number of other forms of paid ads you can use if Facebook is the social platform you want to use for your paid campaign, including ads that encourage users to like your page, attend an event or simply receive an offer. Research what Facebook is capable of doing for your paid social campaigns and use your targets and objectives to decide which forms to try.
Like all other social media platforms, Twitter uses an algorithm, and that can mean that your paid posts can be lost if you’re not using the platform to its full potential.
However, similar to Facebook promoted posts, Twitter allows brands to be very creative. You can use a variety of different types of content to engage with your audience, including images and GIFs (and even better, these types of media do not count toward the maximum character limit).
Promoted tweets will be seen in your audience’s Twitter feed over and over again, but (just as is the case for Facebook), a Twitter timeline is seen as something of a personal space. So, it is important you don’t bombard your customers – spam advertising will turn your target audience off!
It’s up to you what you decide to promote, but the smart thing to do would be to begin by picking the type of tweet that does best with your followers. See which of your tweets have earned the most retweets, replies and other types of interaction, and see what impact promoting that kind of material has on your objectives to begin with.
Alternatively, you can choose to put some money behind making your brand’s account a promoted account. This will suggest your account to users who don’t currently follow your brand but may find it interesting (and therefore follow). Promoted accounts will be displayed in timelines, in the ‘who to follow’ area and in search results too.
Trending topics on twitter are the most tweeted about topics on the social network. These appear on the left hand side of the page (if you’re using desktop), but you can pay for a promoted trend to allow you to put your topic on the top of the list.
Your audience will be able to interact with your promoted trend in the same way they’d interact with any other trending topic. Clicking on it will reveal all the tweets containing the trending hashtag or trend terms.
LinkedIn is another platform you can use for paid social if it’s where you know your audience is hanging out. LinkedIn enables you to target specific people under a range of criteria, including:
This means you’ll be able to target exactly who you want to, making it a form of paid social that’s very specific to your intended audience. However, one of the main disadvantages to LinkedIn is that it can be a very expensive platform when it comes to paid social: being able to identify key decisions makers doesn’t come cheap!
However, you can make it cheaper. Instead of using managed campaigns on LinkedIn, you could opt for self-service advertising on LinkedIn, which means you can set your own budget, chose clicks or impressions, and also stop your ads whenever you want to.
There are four main types of LinkedIn adverts for you to consider as part of your paid social strategy:
If your target audience uses Snapchat, you should look at the various ways in which you can put some money into advertising on the platform.
Snapchat recently made a deal with Oracle Cloud Data, which means that Snapchat now has offline user data to offer. This partnership will allow some brands to target Snapchat more precisely based on recent purchases made offline (such as using data from loyalty card behaviour, for example) – and if that’s something your brand could tap into, you might find this platform offers a good return on investment.
There are several advertising opportunities on Snapchat for you to consider.
Snapchat Discover shows trending stories and viral topics. Brands can get in on the action by having their story be featured on the ‘Discover’ tab. Although this can be one of the more expensive options, it is likely to reach a large quantity of the app’s users.
Sponsored Lenses appear when a user takes a photo with the app while being located in a targeted location. Different lenses appear, allowing users to change their appearance, voice and add animations to the photograph/ video. This is the most expensive ad on the platform, but many brands find it’s a good investment: the sponsored lenses can cover a very large area, and it can result in receiving a lot of impression due to users enjoying trying out the lenses.
This kind of paid advertising on Snapchat tends to be used for campaigns with a very high budgets. For example, an upcoming movie releases is the perfect opportunity to try out this form of paid social. L’Oreal used this form of paid social for Valentines Day – something you can read about here.
Nationwide sponsored lenses
This is one of the newest forms of paid advertising on Snapchat. The Nationwide lenses are available for everyone to access across the country rather than just targeted locations. McDonalds recently ran a campaign using the a sponsored lenses, which you can see here.
However, there are options if your paid social budget is a little smaller…
Snap ads appear in between the content featured on the discover tab. The video is usually up to 10 seconds long with the option to swipe up to access more information. However, some users consider it to be an invasion of personal space on the platform, so it’s best to keep videos less promotional in tone if you can.
Snap to unlock filters and codes
This is also a relatively new sponsored option on Snapchat. Basically this works in a similar way to QR codes: users can scan the snap code, which then allows them to access unique offers and filters.
This is a great option for events and exact locations. It’s very similar to the Sponsored lenses options, however, it’s intended for a very specific location. You can design a filter to work alongside the event you are hosting before then stipulating the size of the area you want people to access the filter from, and the duration you want the filter to be live. People who are at the event can then access your filter, providing an inexpensive method for generating brand awareness.
Finally, Pinterest is a platform that is often overlooked when it comes to paid social, but that’s all set to change in 2017. The platform exceeded over 150 million monthly users in 2016 (a 50% increase from 2015), and men are slowly but surely beginning to take to the platform too (it’s historically been a platform used disproportionality by women). It’s a highly visual platform which means being clever about the content you share on here, but it’s particularly useful for driving traffic to websites or for businesses operating in e-commerce: 55% of users visit the platform purely to find buying inspiration and to shop for products.
But what are your options when it comes to paid social on Pinterest? Well, the first thing to bear in mind is that, for some people, Pinterest is less of a social media platform and more of a search engine. However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be part of your social strategy – it just means you need to be mindful of how your target audience use it.
Search ads and promoted pins
Before search ads, brands needed to buy promoted pins. These pins would appear when a user entered a relevant search term. But, the new search ad allows brands to automatically create pins from a product inventory, giving brands the ability to pay per-impression, pin click or an engagement basis. L’Oreal Paris have had success using promoted pins and are now moving towards search ads.
Pinterest have also recently introduced the ‘Lens’ where you are able to shop the look. The visual search tool allows users on the platform to search for products by using the phones camera. For example, if you take a picture of an item, Pinterest will then show various different options similar to the one you have taken the picture of. By offering this visual search function, Pinterest is able to separate itself from traditional search platforms like Google. Shop the look feature also allows pinners to tap a blue icon and see similar products that they can shop via buyable pins on Pinterest.
Decide on the content
Now that you have an overview of the platforms you can use, think whether or not your content fits the platform you’re targeting. You have an extensive collection of content ‘types’ to choose from, including sponsored posts, promoted tweets, video or live streaming, just to name a few examples.
But, a highly visual platform such as Instagram would be an unlikely choice if you’re promoting a whitepaper or an eBook. Similarly, a well designed image would work very well on Pinterest but may get lost on Twitter, whereas a human interest story would work well on Facebook but not so well on Instagram. So, give some thought to how your choice of platform and content type fit together.
The best way to tackle this is to tailor your platform to your content, or tailor your content to your platform. If you have an in-house graphic design resource, visual content may be the best route to go down (especially if your target audience research has shown that your customers like to consume content in this format). However, if you have a strong writing resource in your business, informative blog posts with a compelling headline, witty tweets or persuasive multi-product ads might be a better option.
It all depends on the resources your business has, and the way in which your target audience likes to consume content.
Decide upon your tactics
As well as picking the right platform, and accounting for the right ‘type’ of content, you should give a little bit of thought to a few key tactics: frequency of posting, engagement, and reach.
As we’ve briefly touched upon above, it’s important to remember that social media platforms are very much perceived as being people’s ‘personal space’. Users expect to only see posts from the friends, family members and influencers they choose to follow, so seeing promotional content from brands can be a little jarring if you’re not tactful about presenting it to them.
Therefore, take care not to overload your target audience with the same content over and over again – they will start to overlook the information, or perhaps even think badly of your brand.
Instead, carefully calculate the optimum frequency for pushing your posts, walking the fine line between being useful and being irritating. Some people subscribe to this ratio: Frequency = Impressions / Reach, whereas others review their analytics regularly to see how often people are clicking, reading between the lines to see when people are ignoring a piece of promotional content. Use data, use your common sense, and consider asking your customers for feedback to see how you’re being perceived off the back of your paid social campaigns.
If your paid posts are earning lots of engagement, it means the content you are creating is interesting – the audience likes your band and the content you’re sharing.
So, pay attention to engagement – if you know what your audience likes, you can do more of it! Post a variety of content types at various times of day, but make sure you set some time aside to analyse the effectiveness of this: which format does your audience find most compelling? Which of your posts are getting the most interaction, and what times of day are the most effective use of the money you’re putting into paid social?
Some of the most engaging content of 2016 can be seen on Ad Week here. You’ll notice that there’s not a single type of content that ‘wins’ on the engagement front, but video is undeniably very popular. However, other forms of media have also made it into the most engaging posts of 2016, so don’t be disheartened if video isn’t your brand’s ‘thing’ just yet.
Engagement is important, but so is reach. While engagement is all about capturing impressions and seeing what your target audience is interacting with, reach focuses on getting your brand in front of as many eyes as possible – perfect if one of your KPIs is improving brand awareness. Paid campaigns that target reach instead of engagement are generally cheaper too (as it’s easy for a platform to disseminate your content to users who haven’t seen content from your brand before), so don’t forget to factor in your brand’s reach if it’s an objective you want to improve upon.
Final top tips
As you can see, making the most of paid social means doing plenty of legwork before you get to the scheduling and delivery stage. However, it’s well worth if it you want every penny to count. Throughout all of the stages, keep referring back to your targets to ensure you’re on track: after all, if you’re putting money behind a social media campaign, you want to make sure you’re meeting your objectives.
Finally, take a little time to assess the effectiveness of your paid social efforts. Sometimes you will be able to assess the effectiveness of a sponsored post within a few minutes of it being live, but taking a look at the data you gather over a longer time frame will be useful too, especially as some of these platforms operate with an algorithm that means your posts will be seen well after you’ve published them.
Adapt, be flexible and be prepared to make changes to your future paid social plans to guarantee maximum effectiveness. Good luck!