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Written by Caroline Cox on Jun 3 , 2021

From tweets to TikTok, here’s how to pick the right paid social platform for your business.

Here, you’ll find:

  • A breakdown of the main paid social platforms
  • Pro tips for paid social success
  • How these platforms compare to one another
  • Which industries see the most success on certain platforms

The aim of social media is to help us connect with people — and the world — around us. That could mean following an influencer whose style you envy, a travel writer who always finds a city’s best hidden gems, or a vlogger with killer recipes. 

So, when your company is looking into ads on a paid social platform, it’s helpful to keep in mind why people are on them in the first place. It’s all part of understanding your target audience, their goals, and how you can meet them where they already are. 

smartphone with social media platform apps

When it comes to members, you just can’t beat Facebook — the platform boasts 2.85 billion monthly users worldwide. (Image via Unsplash)

Once you explore your audience and assess your resources (like images, videos, or brand even ambassadors), it can be a challenge to know where to begin. But don’t fear! Let’s dig into all the main paid social platforms and how you can make them work for your business.

LinkedIn

If other platforms are like happy hour, LinkedIn is the networking event. Sure, you can be quippy and share fun thoughts or links, but at the end of the day, it’s all about professionals. By its own estimations, LinkedIn has a whopping 756 million members in 200 countries and regions across the globe. 

According to Sprout Social, 65% of B2B companies have used LinkedIn paid ads to acquire new customers, and the platform is reportedly 277% more effective than Facebook in generating leads. 

Because of its business-centric purpose, LinkedIn can be a great paid social platform for ads relating to software, services, and anything else that could be used in a professional setting or to improve workday processes.

Other industries that tend to do well with LinkedIn paid social ads include:

  • High-end retail
  • Wine and spirits
  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Professional businesses (such as performing arts, banking, pharma, and international affairs)

While LinkedIn has a lot of opportunity, LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager has a few minimum requirements that can be costly for small businesses to leverage. They also have limited targeting, as well as more expensive CPC and conversions compared to other platforms. 

Pro tip: Since users view LinkedIn as a professional place, it’s a good idea to have your ads follow suit — and don’t forget to maintain the correct ad specs!

Facebook

When it comes to members, you just can’t beat Facebook. That’s because the social media platform boasts 2.85 billion monthly users worldwide.

But while that number is impressive, it’s worth noting that younger generations aren’t as active as older ones, and visibility for both organic and paid posts can be hard to come by. (For example, a Facebook page with more than 1 million likes only averages an organic engagement rate of less than 2.5%.)

Regardless of the drawbacks, marketers love Facebook because it’s affordable and generally results in high engagement. When it comes to paid social ads on Facebook, retail really shines. Think: items like clothes, accessories, beauty products, and the like. The visual format ad options make it easy to showcase your products and grab people’s attention.

Industries that tend to find success with Facebook (in terms of engagement and sharing) include:

  • Automotive
  • E-commerce 
  • Travel
  • Non-profit organizations

Industries like software may do as well as the above when it comes to Facebook ads. However, if the audience isn’t right and the industry isn’t a fit, ads can really flop.

Pro tip: Facebook’s updated Ads Manager lets you duplicate ads and campaigns, edit any settings, view your metrics, customize your graphs, and more.

girl by pool looking at social media

Because of the visual nature of Instagram ads, any photos, videos, or graphics used should be high-quality and high-resolution. (Image via Unsplash)

Instagram

Instagram is owned by Facebook. Because of this, there are plenty of similarities between the two platforms in terms of ad offerings. Additionally, the industries that tend to do well on Facebook also perform rather well on Instagram.

While the platforms fall under the same umbrella, they’re also different in many ways. Though Instagram trails a bit behind Facebook in terms of members, its visibility and cultural relevance is significant.

After all, Instagram is basically the reason why “influencers” exist in the way they do today. And studies show ad recall from sponsored ads on Instagram is often much higher than the typical norms for online advertising.

Instagram ads also see decent engagement rates compared to other platforms. This is likely due to the visual nature of the app, and how seamlessly ads show up in Instagram Stories (temporary posts users create) and regular feeds. It could also be because the majority of Instagram users are part of younger, tech-savvy generations. 

You can manage your Instagram ads inside Facebook’s Ads Manager. This allows you to create Facebook and Instagram ads simultaneously, complete with a robust variety of targeting options to leverage.

Because of the visual nature of Instagram ads, any photos, videos, or graphics used should be high-quality and high-resolution (nothing fuzzy or grainy). And while the maximum caption length is 2,200 characters, experts say 125 characters is ideal.

Pro tip: For e-commerce brands, Instagram’s shopping capabilities allow you to add multiple hyperlinks to an ad, leverage in-app checkout, and complete sales within the app. They also recently added a dedicated “Shop” section to the home screen and launched Instagram Live Shopping. 

Twitter

Twitter has around 192 million daily active users, according to Hootsuite. That’s a lot of potential for advertisers. Not only that, but Twitter itself also reports that people spend 26% more time viewing ads on Twitter than on other leading platforms.

Similar to Instagram, Twitter ads fit subtly into members’ existing feeds and are relatively cost-effective. This platform is all about getting visibility, engagement, and spreading the word to grow awareness about your brand. Conversions can be a bit trickier here, though you can try generating quick leads with Twitter Cards or Trend Takeovers.

The platform describes promoted Trend Takeovers as “a 24-hour high-impact takeover of the Trends list on Twitter,” ideally to launch something new or weigh in on a trend. 

According to Social Media Today, industries that perform best on Twitter include:

  • Music
  • Entertainment
  • Games
  • Aerospace
  • Retail & e-commerce

Pro tip: Twitter users can “like,” respond to, and share your paid ad tweets in the same way they interact with organic ones, thus boosting your reach without costing you more. This is why it’s crucial to make your ad stand out — so you can go viral for all the right reasons.

man looking at youtube on tablet

Along with TrueView ads, YouTube offers non-skippable video ads and bumper ads. (Image via Unplash)

YouTube

Owned by Google, YouTube lets you create video or image ads that play before and interstitially between videos on the platform. Much like Instagram, it’s huge with younger generations: 77% of 15 to 35 year-olds in the U.S. use the platform.

Don’t have a video to promote? No problem. YouTube’s creative directory network connects you with pros who can help you with everything from motion graphics to voiceover, animation, and more. As far as payment for skippable ads, “YouTube charges you whenever a viewer clicks on your CTA, watches for at least 30 seconds, or views your ad all the way through (if it’s shorter than 30 seconds),” according to Mailchimp.

Along with TrueView in-stream ads (which “run on videos served on YouTube or on a collection of sites and apps in the Google Display Network,” as Google explains), the platform offers non-skippable video ads and bumper ads. Non-skippable ads are ads that appear before a video, and mid-roll ads appear at the midpoint of videos that are at least 10 minutes long. Bumper ads, on the other hand, are 6 seconds max and are paid for on a CPM basis.

Want more insight into paid social success secrets? You’re in the right place. 

Pinterest, TikTok, and other platforms

While the platforms above are arguably the most popular paid social platforms, there are other players in the space that offer their own unique benefits. Apps like Snapchat, TikTok, and Pinterest all have ad options. While their reach may not be as wide as the Big Four, depending on your industry and target audience, they could still be worth your time and budget. 

TikTok is the fastest-growing platform in terms of popularity, particularly with Gen Z. It offers interactive ads in more than 20 global markets. Snapchat lets you target your ads based on users’ interests, behaviors, location, and more. 

Pinterest gives you the option to choose to pay for either engagement or visits to your site, and pins often have a longer lifespan than a lot of other paid social ads. As Search Engine Land reports, “for visually-driven businesses, such as wedding gown shops, food blogs, visitors’ bureaus, and clothing and accessories, the visual search engine is a way to get your products and ideas out there to an audience that is likely to click through to your site.”

girl standing and looking at phone

How you measure paid social success will depend on your goals, whether that’s purchases, engagement, followers, or CTR. (Image via Unsplash)

Leveraging multiple platforms

Because each paid social platform has its own unique benefits and users, you may want to experiment with multiple platforms at once. Of course, it’s good to have variety, and testing out a few platforms can help you determine which ones have better ROI for your company. 

Just make sure you go into any testing with a game plan for the KPIs you’ll be monitoring, and how long you want to experiment before revisiting your strategy. 

The takeaway

How you measure paid social success will depend on your goals, whether that’s purchases, engagement, followers, click-through rate (CTR), or something more.

If you’re looking for ad options that are affordable, visual-forward, and have the potential to reach far and wide, finding the right paid social platform may be just the solution you need.

This article has been updated and was originally published in April 2020.

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.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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