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Written by Caroline Cox on Feb 26 , 2020

The 411 on social media marketing, from LinkedIn to Instagram and everything in between

Here, you’ll find:

Whether you’re a constant Twitter feed refresher or barely remember to check your LinkedIn messages, social media’s influence on current culture can’t be denied. 

As a society more interconnected than ever, these platforms help us keep up with friends and family, stay informed about current events, foster professional connections, and offer glimpses into our real lives — whether filtered or not.

So it’s no surprise that paid social, also known as social media marketing, can be a huge boost for digital marketing programs — if you know how to do it right. For tips, best practices, expert advice, and more, read on.

What is paid social?

When we say “paid social,” we’re talking about sponsored or promoted posts on social media platforms. These posts are a form of advertising that appear in a social media feed, timeline, or on a page. These posts can pop up on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more. (We’ll dig deeper into the various platforms below.)

Brands often use paid social to expand their reach and target their audience in a way that’s both hyper-focused and seamless. Since most audience types are already on some form of social media, paid social posts can be a highly effective way to meet your ideal personas where they already are.

HawkSEM: Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

A paid social ad on Twitter (Image via Twitter)

The main players in paid social

When it comes to paid social, the platforms you choose to advertise on will depend on a few factors: mainly, your product or service, the type of ad, and your audience. While the list isn’t stagnant or set in stone, the main players when it comes to paid social platforms include LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube (owned by Google).

As with many other parts of creating a digital marketing strategy, knowing your target audience is key. If you don’t already have your personas mapped out, start with creating one to three profiles using resources like market research, your ideal client persona (ICP), and the demographics of your current customers.

For a paid social ad campaign, you also want to know which platform or platforms your audience gravitates towards. Generally, professionals favor LinkedIn. Gen X and Boomers tend to spend more time on Facebook than others. Pinterest is mostly visited by women, while Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter all tend to skew more Millennial.  

There are other platforms, of course, including Snapchat and TikTok. These apps aren’t as popular when it comes to advertising (though they do offer these services), either because they’re newer or because they’re more popular with younger generations who don’t have as much buying power.

Perhaps your audience overlaps multiple generations or other demographics. If so, you can always begin with the more affordable platforms, conduct a few A/B ad tests, see how your audience reacts, and iterate accordingly.

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

A sponsored post above an organic post on HawkSEM’s Twitter feed (Image via Twitter)

How is paid social different from organic social media posts?

One benefit of paid social ads for the brands leveraging them is how well they fit into a user’s existing social feeds. These feeds are mostly populated with what’s called organic posts. These are free posts published by people you follow and brands whose pages you like or subscribe to.  

Basically, organic content is what you post on your business or personal page, whether directly or through a scheduling platform like Hootsuite. This content is seen by your followers and subscribers, though the exact percentage of followers who see this content varies by platform. These posts can also be shared by other individuals and spread further than just your following. 

With sponsored content —aka paid social — you’re paying the advertiser (which is the social media platform in this case) to put your post or ad in front of people beyond your current following. You choose the audience you want and the platform places the ads accordingly, per the parameters you set. 

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

78% say Instagram posts are the most effective content format for influencer marketing — 73% say it’s Instagram Stories. (Image via Unsplash)

Which paid social platforms should my company leverage?

As we mentioned above, the social platform your company opts to advertise on will depend on your audience. It’s good to have an understanding of what people use each platform for (we’ll get into that next). SaaS brands aren’t likely to find much success on Snapchat, for instance.

Once you understand your demo (age, gender, et cetera), check out the breakdown of their profile or subscriber averages per platform. Sprout Social has compiled data that breaks down demographics by platform in a handy infographic. 

After deciding on a platform, you’ve still got to determine which ad type you want to go with. Luckily, platforms like Facebook have ad managers that make it easier to decide which ad is right for you.

Tips for creating a successful paid social campaign

After you’ve determined the social media platform you’ll leverage for your campaign, you can start the work of actually building it. The must-haves for a good social campaign include:

  • Determining your goals: There are a lot of options for the type of campaign you can run. Begin with deciding what you want from these efforts first, whether it’s purchases, profile follows, subscribers, or something else.
  • Keep user intent in mind: What is the user’s purpose on these social channels? For example, Facebook is more for leisure, connection, and entertainment, while LinkedIn is more for networking and professional opportunities. Keep these things in mind when choosing the audience you want to target — and what you want from them. 
  • Content is the key: No surprise here: The content of your paid social ad is the most important factor in its success. Make sure the imagery is high-quality, the copy speaks directly to your target audience, and it links to a consistent landing page with a clear call to action (CTA).

Pro tip: Make sure you know the parameters of the social media platform you’re using. Some platforms are more strict than others when it comes to the quality of your image or video, for example. Different types of ad creatives may require varying specs, text lengths, video length caps, and more. Check out the platform’s website to learn more about each and find the one that best fits your campaign creative.

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

Instagram’s ad targeting options (Image via Instagram)

What are some stats on social media marketing?

  • 89% of marketers use Facebook in their brand marketing efforts.
  • More than 90% of millennials, 77.5% of Gen X, and 48.2% of Baby Boomers actively use social media.
  • Twitter ads are 11% more effective than TV ads during live events.
  • Instagram has over 1 billion monthly active users — a more than 40% increase from 2017, when it had 700 million.
  • 80% of social media B2B leads are sourced from LinkedIn.
  • YouTube is the preferred form of social media marketing worldwide — 83% of all consumers prefer it.
  • 78% say Instagram posts are the most effective content format for influencer marketing, while 73% say it’s Instagram Stories.

What are the benefits of paid social?

The powerful targeting capability is one of the biggest benefits of leveraging paid social as part of your digital marketing strategy. Not only can you reach people based on their interests, hobbies, past internet usage (cookies), demographics, locations, and more, you can also target those in different stages of the buying cycle.

Another paid social benefit is the robust analytics these platforms offer. Not only can you see who clicks your ad, but you’re also often privy to metrics like impressions, likes, shares, and other related, relevant actions.

Some of the more overlooked benefits, according to Sprout Social, include:

  • Uncovering industry trends in real-time
  • Easy competitive analysis
  • A direct communication line to your customers and prospects
  • Humanizing your brand
  • Access to user generated content (UGC) related to your brand

HubSpot reports that paid social campaigns are great for increasing brand awareness, generating leads, boosting conversions, and fostering relationships with customers as well.

While brand awareness may be seen as easier to achieve but less valuable than these other benefits, it’s the first step to turning a person into a lead. 

Pro tip: While each of these platforms has tracking capabilities for your campaigns, it’s a good idea to be independently tracking performance as well (you can use your host site’s tracking or a program like Google Tag Manager). Not only does this ensure your tracking is accurate, but it offers a true set of revenue and goal data once your program is fully ramped up.

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

There’s no one-size-fits-all trick that’ll apply to ads across all social platforms. There are, however, best practices that do. (Image via Unsplash)

Audience segmentation options

Your options for audience segmentation will vary by platform. Let’s break it down.

LinkedIn – segment by:

  • Job experience & skills
  • Education & degrees
  • Age & gender
  • Company industry & size
  • Interests
  • Location & language
  • Job function, title & seniority

Facebook – segment by:

  • Location
  • Demographics
  • Connections
  • Interests
  • Behavior

YouTube – segment by:

  • In-market audiences (interest or topic based)
  • Affinity audiences (interest or topic based)

Twitter – segment by:

  • Age or gender
  • Username
  • Interest (including TV targeting)
  • Conversation
  • Event
  • Tailored (from your website visitor and/or CRM data)

Instagram – segment by:

  • Location
  • Interests
  • Demographics
  • Behaviors
  • Lookalikes
  • Automated
  • Custom (remarketing)

Pinterest – segment by:

  • Customer list
  • Previous site visitors
  • Previous pin engagements
  • Lookalikes
HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

YouTube’s Find My Audience tool gives you a selection of categories to target by interest or industry. (Image via Google)

Know how to succeed on each platform

Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all trick that’ll apply to ads across all social platforms. There are, however, best practices that do. These include:

  • Prioritizing your campaign’s creative components (copy and imagery/graphics)
  • Copy that is clear, easy to understand, and concise
  • A message that’s appropriate for the audience you’re targeting
  • The platform that’s appropriate for the audience you’re targeting
  • A clear CTA

On the back end, you also want to double-check that the destination link (the URL the ad links to) is correct and working. You also want to set up good tracking to ensure you’ve got accurate analytics from the beginning — most platforms have an in-house pixel you can place on the ad.

Pro tip: It can be tempting to hop on the bandwagon of every emerging social media app. And while it’s good to go ahead and snag your company’s name as a username on the platform just in case, it’s often better to allocate your budget to more established platforms. Keep an eye on what’s trending by subscribing to social media-focused newsletters, so you can stay in the loop when it comes to what might be worth your advertising dollars down the line.

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

LinkedIn’s ads let you target different funnel stages as well as demographics. (Image via LinkedIn)

Testing paid social ads

Just like you (hopefully) would with any other digital marketing campaign, testing and iterating should be baked into your process. Consider testing out varieties of copy, visuals, and mediums, such as an image vs. a short video.

It’s worth noting that some industries may naturally perform better than others, and some platforms are harder than others to achieve success. But there are things you can do to set yourself up for maximum return on ad spend (ROAS). 

Let’s talk about visuals. In this day and age, a fuzzy, low-quality video or image just won’t cut it. You don’t have to blow through your budget on visuals, but you may have to get creative. Sometimes a stock photo — possibly overlaid in your brand’s colors — can be the perfect complement to get your point across. 

And, again, it’s about knowing the intent of each platform. LinkedIn may not be the place for a goofy video, and trying to get template or whitepaper downloads on Instagram might be a bust.

Lastly, if your business has a creative team in charge of ad design, make sure they have the proper specs for the platform. If you’re running a video ad, you should know how long it can be before it cuts off.

This also will vary: currently, LinkedIn cut off after a certain time, while Facebook doesn’t, and you can’t use IGTV (a popular choice for longer videos) for ads. Your quality score may be based off of the media you upload, so it should be high-quality.

Budgeting and goal-setting for paid social ads

Remember what we said before about determining your goals? You should have goals figured out before you create your campaign because having the goals you want — whether that’s a certain number of purchases per month, a certain ROAS percentage, or something else — makes the process go much smoother. 

Some platforms, such as Facebook, optimize your campaign to your goal. Awareness campaigns, for example, are more broad and thus harder to track, so knowing that from the beginning helps you create realistic goals.

The bigger the platform and audience, the more homed in on your goal you’ll want to be. You don’t need to worry about being as targeted on a comparatively smaller platform like LinkedIn as you do on a larger, more globally used platform like Facebook.

When it comes to goal setting (also called the campaign’s objective), start small. We don’t suggest running a giant $2,000 a day campaign straight out of the gate. You can also experiment with targeting different locations instead of trying to blanket the entire country — your budget will go much further this way.

HawkSEM - Paid Social 101: What You Need to Know

Facebook’s ad objective breakdown for the Consideration stage. (Image via Facebook)

Depending on your product or service, the platform may be able to guide you towards the ad type that’s best for your goal. Try out their recommendation, then you can better optimize from there as the data comes in.

When you’re building your campaign, most platforms have an “audience reached” metric on the back end that will tell you the approximate audience size for your chosen parameters, as well as what you can reach with your chosen budget.

The takeaway

With the popularity of social media growing exponentially by the year, it’s definitely worth exploring as part of any robust digital marketing program. Those who find success with paid social do so by having a solid strategy laid out and an idea of the right platforms for their brand before they start building.

By recognizing that content is key, remembering each platform has different requirements, understanding your audience, targeting properly, and budgeting appropriately, you’ll find that social platforms can be a fun and creative way to connect with and grow your audience.

Ready to take your paid social campaigns to the next level in 2020? Check out our list of tactical tips and tricks you can put into action today. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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