A Beginner’s Guide to Social Advertising (aka Paid Social)

Paid Social

By Will Hayes

The advent of the internet introduced new mediums through which people could communicate — and new ways for marketers to reach potential customers. In the internet’s early days, online advertising was focused on banner ads and emails targeted to audiences based on traditional methods built on demographics. But with the near-ubiquitous adoption of social media, marketers can now refine their targeting thanks to information users willingly provide in the form of a profile. Couple that with advancements from social media companies in the ways brands can communicate, and you have the creation of one of the fastest growing forms of digital marketing.

From 2014 to 2016, the amount of money spent on social media advertising in the U.S. doubled, and nearly every one of the top 100 global brands have used some form of social advertising in the past year. It’s no longer just Facebook, either. YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have all gotten into the marketing business and brought with them intelligent engineers who have helped shape the next generation of paid advertising by offering a host of new features, like targeting, testing, and engagement.

There are plenty facets of paid social that make it a unique and constantly growing way to gain clients and increase revenue. The following are some of the most essential aspects of the practice.

Laser-Focused Targeting Tactics

Social advertising has transformed the way advertisers can target ads, reducing the wasted spend that comes with traditional media such as television or radio. Traditional ads are purchased based on impressions and target demographics, meaning marketers are forced to pay for every impression, even if, for example, only 80% of a program's audience fits the marketer's target audience. With social, we can eliminate this waste.

Thanks to all the personal information people willingly share on social media, marketers no longer have to rely on assumptions when trying to reach potential customers. We can target based on age, gender, geographic location (both in real time and your listed residence), interests shown from your comments, social interactions, pages you like, your friends’ social interactions, relationship status, trending topics, people interacting with events and live television shows, and on and on.

With new features like Facebook’s Pixel service, marketers can now even retarget — or show ads to people who have been to your website previously or are part of your customer database — next time they log in to Facebook. To take it a step further, we can utilize “look-alike” audiences to increase our reach to potential customers by allowing social platforms to analyze your customers and place ads to those that share similar characteristics.

Unparalleled Reach

It’s hard to argue with the reach of social platforms. In mid 2017, Facebook surpassed 2 billion monthly users and one in five pageviews happens on Facebook. Roughly 71% of all online American adults use Facebook and with new people signing up every day, there are very few entities that allow you the same reach that social platforms can offer. Add in frequency capping and you have the benefits of reach without having your ad shown to uninterested viewers.

Low Barrier to Entry

With traditional media like broadcast (TV and radio) or print (newspapers or magazines), marketers pay for the advertising space up front. Digital platforms blew that model up years ago with the introduction of cost per click, or interaction, as social channels have come to define it. What does that mean for digital marketers? We no longer have to worry about spending for lost impressions, and instead we now only pay for results. Couple that with the ability to bid in real time and with no minimums, and you have a platform that’s advantageous for any size business.

Ability to A/B Test and Optimize Ads

Not sure if you’re using the right image or if the copy you chose is driving people to action? Thanks to the ability to stop, pause, or edit campaigns in real time, we can analyze and optimize data from our campaigns as they happen and make immediate changes.

A skilled marketer will no longer have to guess when it comes to determining whether and why a campaign was successful. We can run variations of ads simultaneously and see which are producing better results. Really, we can A/B test every aspect of the campaign, including targeting, bidding, images, copy, and even placements to determine the best course of action. And if nothing is working — or worse, something went wrong — we can turn it off immediately.

Increased Engagement

Social advertising has evolved from only sending a user who clicked on your ad to your website. Now, marketers test the power of social media channels through engagement — direct interaction between a potential customer and the business. For example, an ad may now encourage a user to share a video with their friends or comment on a question, all of which can help increase a brand's social equity.

Engagement can also help spread the brand’s message to a user’s network, furthering organic reach and creating a form of third-party validation. Because people can see others’ responses, oftentimes a positive comment can increase the likelihood of your message being believed. Thanks to YouTube and the proliferation of streaming video, advertisers can create rich media ads that keep users engaged and increase the likelihood of users remembering them. Social sites like Facebook are even taking it one step further, allowing users to autofill lead-generation forms. After all, your personal information is already packaged up and ready for shipment.

Social advertising has quickly become a requirement of any respectable marketing strategy. Thanks to social advertising’s ability to better target, unmatched power to reach potential customers, and low cost of entry, if you’re not taking advantage of everything social advertising offers, you may well be behind the times.

Social Advertising at General Assembly

In General Assembly’s part-time Digital Marketing course, both on campus and online, we walk our students through the process of setting up social campaigns. As we move through the back end of these platforms, we highlight the features that allow you to become proficient as a marketer and make this channel so essential to the new age of marketing.

Through hands-on experience, our students become knowledgeable in all aspects of social advertising, including utilizing the latest techniques in targeting, data analysis, and optimization, adapted from our real-world examples. By highlighting integration techniques, we move our students from the idea of single-campaign tactics on separate platforms to fully cohesive campaigns that build off of one another. The cohesive campaigns can then be tracked through platforms like Google Analytics to measure desired outcomes and return on investment (ROI), and compare them against all other forms of advertising.

Meet Our Expert

Will Hayes is a marketer, entrepreneur, and Digital Marketing instructor at GA’s San Francisco campus. A former media buyer, account manager, and public relations specialist, Will currently owns and operates The Grill House restaurant while consulting for clients on the side. He graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a B.A. in journalism and strategic communication.