Social advertising is the hottest topic in advertising right now. Salesforce estimates that by 2017, the global market for social ads will be worth about $11 billion. That’s some serious advertising cash.

This means it’s time for brands, big and little, to develop a strategy to capitalize on the power of social advertising. The customers are there; people are spending lots of time on social media, particularly on mobile devices — 30% of the time spent on social media is on mobile, and that figure is likely to continue to grow.

Brands have the learn how to optimize ad content to deliver an effective message and call-to-action to their audiences. This sector of advertising is not as aggressive as TV; it actually fits in with the way people absorb content on social networks. Facebook and Twitter have expanded their advertising options to suit a variety of budgets and business goals.

The goals for social ads typically include:

  • Increasing the number of fans or followers.
  • Distributing content, such as videos, photos and other items that live on the feeds of the network.
  • Driving direct responses, such as e-commerce, application downloads, etc.

But how do you set up your ads for success? Social media present so many opportunities that making a choice can seem daunting. Here are five keys to keep in mind:

1. Content is king: Within social networks, you have access to a massive amount of data, charting your content’s effectiveness and how well it resonates with your audience. Promote and push the content that is working. If you’ve got good content, you’re ultimately a winner.

Look at the success of previous posts and promote the ones with a high amount of “likes” or comments. Know that photos and videos work better than text-heavy posts, and focus on spending money to promote your original content, such as infographics, in-house videos, podcasts, etc. You can use network data from testing to determine which markets interact best with certain content.

2. A/B test: Put your campaigns to the test. Assign funds to several ads and target groups in the beginning, and after one week or so, take a look at what is working Don’t go crazy; granular, but not too granular. Use any existing customer data you have to determine audiences and key demographics.

What is a good amount of “granular”? Let’s say your brand sells a light-up cooler similar to Coleman. Targeting an audience that “likes” Wal-Mart, camping and is male would probably be ideal. But if you have a durable, Army-colored $200 cooler, targeting an audience that “likes” Cabela’s, hunting, fishing and are males over 30 would be ideal. Lastly, if you have a fold-up cooler that weighs less than competitors, targeting an audience that “likes” REI, hiking and camping would be ideal.

3. Think about placement: With Facebook, remember that the click-thru and engagement rate is higher when you place an ad in the Newsfeed. Considering mobile use, stick with the middle of page on Facebook; not to say other types of ads aren’t effective, though. With Twitter, there is a higher engagement rate (greater than 3%) when you target ads specifically on mobile. Remember that video content doesn’t work well on mobile, but does work well on desktop.

4. Target well: Choosing the appropriate ways your ad content is delivered to your audience is imperative. You have several options when targeting audiences and paying for their responses. A few of those include:

  • CPC: Cost per Click (pay every time someone clicks on your ad).
  • CPA: Cost per Action (only pay for the action you want to get, such as likes, and no other engagement).
  • CPM: This is Facebook exclusive and you pay for impressions. Facebook will optimize your ad to show to the people who are most likely to help you meet your goal.

Twitter allows you to target on specific phone devices, desktops, laptops, and Web on smartphones and tablets.

Thinking about what content you’re advertising and what kind of reaction you want from it is the most important aspect of targeting. When determining the audience, Facebook gives you a multitude of targeting and segmentation options, from demographics to custom interests, their pre-determined broad categories, audiences and more. The two key factors to keep in mind when selecting audiences:

  • Keep them focused, but not too focused. Again, using any existing data you have in order to determine the most applicable audience for your promotion is a smart way to target.
  • Test, test, test: Can’t emphasize it enough. The best way to find what works is to eliminate what doesn’t. Test different keywords, audiences/interests and interaction options.

Remember that some users face special circumstances.

First-time ad buyers should use the audience you already know is on social media and just target them in your first round of ads. If you know your customer base is females over 50 that live in Reno and love knitting, crafting, etc., then target only those to start with, and forget going after 20-somethings that have a much slimmer chance of interacting with your brand.

B2B users should remember that your potential clients and customers all work somewhere — right? Or a company you’re looking to set a meeting with has multiple employees that have Facebook profiles, correct? You can target by workplace and receive positive attention from the company’s personnel by sending them specific and applicable content through ads.

5. Use the right metrics to measure success: Make sure you are collecting and analyzing your ad campaign data to see if it’s working for you.

The great thing with online advertising is you can track it in real time. No need to fork over $1,000 upfront and cross your fingers that it’s going to be successful. Because of this, monitoring is huge. You need to watch your ads daily and adjust as necessary to make sure your advertising campaign is successful. Each platform has its own advertising monitoring interface so you can keep track of the results on there. You’ll know if your advertising campaign is successful by creating your own metrics to measure by:

  • Are you trying to drive online sales? Then you’d better make sure you are using ads that drive people off Facebook and Twitter and convert into off-site sales. If this is the case, measure how much money you are spending on the advertising campaign based on how much money you are making in sales. This will show you your ROI and you can decrease or increase your spending as necessary. If the ads are not generating any traffic, you might want to consider changing the copy or design of the ad.
  • Are you trying to increase your fans or followers? The same goes for increasing your audience. How much is 1,000 fans worth to you? Put a price on it and follow the same methodology as No. 1.
  • Are you attempting to make a video go viral? Make sure you’re using desktop options more than mobile.

The key is to experiment. The opportunity social provides is incredible, but your must have some time to invest in the process and understanding of social ads. The best part of social ads is that they can user generated, too! You get to pick what content works and who sees it when spending your money. That’s the new wave of advertising and it’s a process worth investigating and investing in.

A wordsmith turned tech junkie, Joshua Parkinson has a passion for conversation and content that led him around the world, and eventually to bootstrap Facebook content manager Post Planner.

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