The Merits of Social Media Advertising

How many times has this happened to you? Be honest. You’re putting together a new “integrated” marketing campaign. You cover “all” of your bases. Creative starts working on the broadcast TV and radio ads, Digital starts nailing down paid search words, display ads are purchased on relevant networks, direct mail is going out, e-blasts are in queue. You’re ready, right? WRONG!

You’re missing social media! Granted, it might be second nature for you to coast right over social media because, on the content side, it doesn’t often require you to negotiate with third parties to place content. However, there is a whole other dimension to social media…and it has to do with the fact that, like almost all other websites, in order to be profitable, social media has to have some sort of funding model.

Who wants to take guess what that is?

It’s advertising! Yes, right there on your social media networks, advertising exists. If you think about it, it’s actually kind of infuriating. Not only are these brilliant platform creators basking in the fame and glory of providing the social glue for today’s civilization, but they have also figured out how to monetize these things!

Photo of a stack of coins by Flickr's JDevaun

More advertisers are investing in social media than ever before, and this trend is only going to accelerate over the next several years. According to one report from eMarketer, social media network ad spending is expected to hit $41 billion worldwide in 2017—an increase of 20% from the $32.91 billion estimated for 2016.

Those seem like big numbers, right? Now just imagine for a second that, as an advertiser, you have access to the age, location, gender, religion, college, likes and dislikes of your audience. It sounds like a dream, right? No…it sounds like social media advertising. Social media advertising puts you into a unique and possibility-ridden position. The nature of the profile-driven social media site, like Facebook and Twitter, makes it a goldmine for advertisers, who—until breakthroughs in digital advertising—were relying on traditional broadcast demographics provided by companies like Nielsen to identify who might be tuning into a nightly sitcom or flipping the pages of an industry magazine. But social networks, on the other hand, basically lay a prospect’s life story in front of you and dare you to market to them. It’s targeting on steroids.

It’s similar to digital advertising in the sense that social media is using online behavior to target prospects. But unlike digital advertising, social media targeting is based on user-disclosed data. Digital, on the other hand, relies on a psychographic profile based on browsing behavior. And, in these cases, we’re relying on varying ad networks to do this legwork for us. With social media, that information is already gleaming in front of you. We may as well put it on a platter.

So, let’s talk about some of your opportunities. For purposes of condensing this down to a readable post, we are only going to focus on Facebook and Twitter, though we realize there are plenty of other opportunities within the social media umbrella:


*Before you read, please note that all of these Twitter advertising options can target by location, gender, age, language, devices, platforms, carriers, keywords, followers, interests, tailored audiences, TV targeting, behaviors, and event targeting:

A list of Twitter advertising objectives

There are a number of different options you can select depending on your goal and Twitter is constantly rolling out different ad types for users to choose from. Twitter guides you through the ad selection process by first defining your goal, as you can see in the screenshot above. This will determine what type of ad Twitter recommends. The most common ad types are Promoted Accounts, Promoted Tweets, Cards and Promoted Trends.

  • Promoted Accounts – Using the Promoted Accounts feature on Twitter, you have the opportunity to get in front of a targeted audience who might not have heard of you, or might not already be following you. These appear on the homepage of the Twitter platform. If you look at the screenshot below, promoted accounts are featured in the “Who to Follow” widget below as well as in the Twitter feed.

Twitter Promoted Account from The Yellow Shoe Shop

Image of Twitter Promoted Account

  • Promoted Trends – Similarly, with Twitter trends, your sponsored hashtag will be featured under the Promoted Accounts section on the Twitter homepage. This is a great way to get people talking about your brand. In the photo example, you’ll see that The Hobbit has paid to promote the trend #TheHobbit in the Detroit market.

Image of Twitter Promoted Trend

  • Promoted Tweets – This allows you to capture the top spot on a user’s tweet stream, depending on how you target. In the example below, it shows a promoted tweet by Transamerica after I typed in the trend “soccer.”

Image of Twitter Promoted Tweet

  • Twitter Cards – This ad type allows you to attach rich links, photos and videos to tweets along with a call to action. These buttons appear within the tweet and can be used to generate app installs, drive traffic to your website or even gather user information to create leads. There are a number of card types such as Summary Cards, App Cards, Player Cards and Lead Generation Cards.

Lead Generation Twitter Card from Meridian & Co.

According to Twitter, Promoted Tweets work! A study conducted by Nielsen, found that Promoted Tweet exposure drives stronger message association, amplifies brand lift with multiple exposures and engagement influences brand favorability and purchase intent.

A case study of Consumer Media Network (CMN) confirms similar results for Promoted Trends. After a campaign using Promoted Trends, the company was able to accomplish its objective of driving people to read its blog on privacy concerns and scam avoidance. By promoting the trend “employment,” CMN was able to increase its followers by 350% and was consequently able to make Twitter the number one website referrer.

If you’d like case studies from a viewpoint other than Twitter’s, check out three examples Jeff Bullas pulled.


*Before you read, please note that, on Facebook, you can target by age, location, gender, interests, categories and whether or not someone is following you, among many other options.

A list of Facebook advertising optionsA list of Facebook advertising objectives

Similar to Twitter, Facebook also offers many goal-based ad types. As you can see from the screenshots above, you must select an objective for your campaign. Some of the objectives have multiple options available within. The most common ad types are Display Ads, Page Post Engagement Ads, and Page Like Ads.

Facebook, too, offers contextual native ads that appear within the user’s activity stream on a social media network. For instance, like Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, businesses can now purchase Promoted Posts that appear within a user’s real time News Feed. Here are the details:

  • Display Ads – Display ads work in much the same way that traditional digital display buys function. You choose your headline, body text and image and then target using your own criteria. Your ad will appear on the right-hand sidebar of the Facebook window.

Photo of Facebook Display Ads

  • Page Post Engagement – These promoted posts allow a company to augment the reach of its status update by placing it in more of its fans News Feeds. Actually, this was the cause of much outrage in late 2012 when Facebook changed its EdgeRank algorithm to simultaneously decrease the reach of a Page status update by as much as 40%, therefore encouraging businesses to pay to reach the same amount of people.

Facebook Page Post Engagement ad from Jasper's Market

  • Page Like Ads – these ads allow businesses to find customers who are important to them by prompting them to like the advertiser’s page. They can appear in the news feed on desktop and mobile, and in the right column on desktop. Page Like Ads allow users to like a page without being redirected to the page.

Facebook Page Like Ad from Jasper's Market

Facebook advertising, for some, works. Take State Bicycle. Using a combination of display ads, sponsored stories and engaging content, State Bicycle increased its annual incremental sales by $500,000 with traffic coming directly from Facebook, and in comparison, cost per click was 1/5th of that on other digital platforms. They also multiplied their Facebook page likes by 10, taking them from 4,600 to 46,000 in a 12-month period. But, of course, this is just what Facebook wants you to read. Check out SocialFresh’s 105 Facebook Advertising Case Studies for more examples.

So, could this happen for you? Maybe. It depends on how you utilize these social media networks. First of all, are your prospects using them? Secondly, just like digital, it will take some experimentation to find the best targets, messaging and creative to incent people to take that next step.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Photo Credit: Flickr’s JDevaun 

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