The Growing Importance of Social Media Advertising
Though far from what was initially intended upon by pioneers of the social media era, leading platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have become vital tools in just about any successful brand’s social media advertising strategy. Businesses use social media advertising to create a direct connection between past, current, and desired consumers, all while boosting awareness of their products and services, helping them drive purchase behavior and build long-term brand equity.
It goes without saying that maintaining an active advertising program across a balanced range of social media platforms plays a crucial role in the success of building a sustainable brand. Many marketers make the mistake of thinking an active social presence is the same thing as an active social media advertising program; however, which is unfortunately inaccurate. As it relates to the services we provide at Social Control, the term “social media advertising” refers specifically to paid digital advertising efforts on social media—essential for any brand looking for guaranteed visibility to a specific targeted audience beyond the limited constraints of organic reach.
A Brief History of Advertising & Social Media
Take a look through the history books, and it becomes clear that advertising has existed in some way, shape or form for thousands of years, with roots in Egypt, Greece and ancient Rome. Mosaics and drawings eventually made way for printed advertisements, which would find extensive use throughout the developed world by the dawn of the 17th century. The first American newspaper ad would show up in 1704, followed closely by the development of billboards, publicity events and the forming of ad agencies, thus creating a new, stand-alone industry in and of itself.
With radio, film and eventually television dominating popular culture throughout the 20th century, advertising quickly grew to become far more of an audio/visual experience than the early print ads most businesses were using at the time to promote their products and services. Focus groups and research gained prominence in the 1960s, which led to far more targeted advertisements than had been possible in the past.
Then, the Internet was born.
In many ways, the early Internet brought with it a level of potential that those in the advertising and marketing world could never have anticipated. Thanks in large part to a mass adoption of search engines that has dominated the Internet since its earliest days, advertisers now had access to unprecedented piles of user data, allowing digital ads to grow smarter and more targeted as new analytics came in and methodologies were discovered. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising in particular—when an advertiser pays a publisher for each click their ad receives—has long been one of the most popular digital advertising models and is still an important tool for boosting awareness via top-tier search engines.
As useful as PPC has proven to be over time, the real breakthrough in advertising in the digital era came with the arrival of social media. Early social media platforms such as Friendster, Myspace and even Facebook were all created with the goal in mind of connecting like-minded individuals with one another, not unlike the chat rooms and message boards that no doubt served as major influences on their development. Essentially offering nothing more than the service of publishing user-generated content at no charge via an attractive, convenient UI, these pioneering communities existed simply to benefit an ever-growing user base.
It didn’t take long for most major social media networks to outgrow their original frameworks, resulting in the need to build new infrastructures to support current and future users. This created a significant uptick in operational costs for companies like Facebook and Instagram, which inevitably led to a push away from organic reach and toward the paid social media advertising models that dominate the space today.
What is Social Media Advertising?
As mentioned earlier, social media advertising refers to paid efforts that are designed to boost reach and engagement on any given social media platform. One reason why many people confuse social media advertising with simply being active on social media and promoting products and services across various networks is because of just how much the efficacy of organic reach has changed in recent years. While buying ads on social media has always provided brands with the advantage to hone in on target audiences at a more micro level than what’s possible with an unsponsored post, it’s no longer just a “good idea;” it’s essential for seeing any noticeable degree of success with even the smallest campaigns.
Due to what is essentially an endless stream of content and noise all fighting for the same level of attention on social media, organic reach is now far less effective than ever before across all networks. Brands that don’t make use of paid social media advertising can no longer compete with those that do, even if the content is leaps and bounds higher in quality than what is being actively promoted by the algorithms associated with sponsored posts.
Social media has unfortunately become “pay to play” for today’s brands, but the silver lining can be found in the fact that learning how to make the most of paid social ads can lead to exciting results.
The Elements of Social Media Advertising Services
Social media advertising is similar to search engine optimization (SEO) in that it is a combination of both creative/artistic and analytical efforts—it is an art as much as it is a science. Like SEO, shifting algorithms and various other factors mean that social media advertising best practices are always changing and are constantly in flux. While every brand is unique and thus requires its own unique approach to social media advertising, there is a general flow to successful paid social campaigns that can be repeated across spaces and industries to great effect.
Here’s a look at the seven key elements which serve as the backbone for social media advertising services at Social Control:
- Media Consultation — Every effective campaign begins with an initial consultation to determine a client’s goals and objectives, as well as to get a stronger sense of their brand identity and core business practices. This beginning phase of “discovery” creates the foundation for our approach to creating a holistic, well thought-out social media advertising strategy. Once we have identified an agreed-upon path forward, we put together projections for estimated engagement rates, conversions, types of reach and other variables depending upon the client’s preferred media spend.
- Media Planning — Developing a well thought-out strategic plan is the cornerstone of any social media advertising campaign. Important variables to consider during the media planning phase include number of advertising units (broken up by platform), preferred ad specs, desired target audience, length of runtime and many more factors that can influence results. Media planning can be one of the more strategic parts of building a social media advertising campaign—it can make or break whether or not an advertising initiative turns out to be a success.
- Ad Creative — Once we have a media plan in place, we begin work on creating specific ads catered to the unique demographics of both the ad products and social media platforms we’ve agreed to leverage. Ad creative largely echoes other creative processes and includes such steps as ideation, production and post-production, among others. We incorporate powerful imagery, compelling copy and a strong call to action (CTA) into the ad creative process for all of our clients.
- Media Buying — The media buying process can vary depending upon a number of different factors. Unlike print and radio advertising, for example, buying social ads doesn’t require negotiating with media outlets, as social networks such as Facebook and Instagram are self-service solutions. The bulk of the media buying process for social ads revolves ensuring that ad targeting and costs are in line with the strategies outlined during media planning.
- Campaign Monitoring — Once a campaign has been activated, it is essential to monitor its progress as closely as possible. Real-time campaign monitoring helps to ensure that ads are meeting their pre-established benchmarks, sticking to the prescribed budget and meeting goals for metrics like conversion rates and reach. It can also be helpful to pay close attention to what people are saying about an ad in the comments section, as well as the number of likes, shares and engagements so that any potential issues can be discovered and addressed early on in the life of a campaign.
- A/B Testing — A/B testing is an incredibly important part of any social media ad campaign, as there’s simply no other way to tell whether or not an ad is performing at its max potential. This process includes testing a series of ad units against one another in order to determine which type of ad is performing best. This allows us to shift media dollars from ad units that are not hitting their benchmarks to those that are, while also freeing up media spend for new ads that can be developed based upon those which are performing well.
- Campaign Reporting — Our final step once we’ve watched a campaign move from start to finish is to provide in-depth reporting on how each ad unit has performed both on its own and in tandem with the others. Reporting gleans a number of helpful insights that can inform future efforts and mitigate risk associated with both the creative and planning processes involved in developing a campaign.
Social Media Advertising Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) & Campaign Goals
One of the most important aspects of developing any effective social media advertising campaign is identifying key performance indicators, often referred to as “KPIs” for short. KPIs are measurable values which demonstrate how effectively a campaign is achieving its key goals and objectives. Defining KPIs early-on in the process allows us to leverage our media projections and create targeted objectives for both short and elaborate social media campaigns.
We use the following components to help define KPIs that will drive success with a campaign:
- Desired Outcome — What are we trying to achieve either with the campaign as a whole or with various different ad products? Why does this outcome matter, and in what ways will the brand be affected
- Responsible Parties — What target audience is going to be responsible for driving a successful outcome?
- Measurement Variables — In what ways can progress be measured? How will you know that the outcome has been achieved, and how often will you stop to review your progress?
Effective KPIs are those which contain specific objectives and allow for accurate measuring of progress toward goals that are relevant to a brand’s mission and realistically attainable in the time-frame that has been set. KPIs should always be actionable, and it’s essential to review all key performance indicators on a regular basis to ensure that efforts and action steps are lining up with campaign priorities. The most important thing to remember when developing KPIs is that indicators can easily change and shift as a brand grows or undergoes its own forms of change. “Rolling with the punches” and changing KPIs to adapt to brand realities is not only smart—it’s an essential part of keeping social media advertising efforts from moving in the wrong direction.
Tying it All Together: Five Benefits of Paid Social Media Advertising
As social media advertising has become a largely pay-to-play environment, choosing not to incorporate paid social ad units into a campaign can mean missing out on a wealth of exciting opportunities for your brand. Here are five major benefits to consider when deciding upon media spend, all of which can result from a well-devised paid social media advertising campaign:
- Cost-effective Solutions for Any Budget
Many people hear the word “advertising” and see dollar signs—especially those who are used to purchasing print, radio, film or television ads. One of the most beneficial aspects of social media advertising is that it’s actually highly reasonable in cost as compared to traditional advertising, all while allowing for increased, more targeted reach. If budget is a concern but you’re still looking to grow your audience, social media advertising is a win-win solution.
- Enhanced Brand Recognition
Because paid social ads can significantly increase engagement levels over organic reach, advertising on social media networks can help to enhance brand recognition by fostering consistent and direct interactions with current and potential fans. With better brand recognition often comes increased brand loyalty—a crucial factor for any brand to stay afloat in a crowded market.
- Pinpointed Audience Targeting
The ability to take complete control over who sees your ad and who does not is without a doubt one of the most significant benefits of paid social media advertising. Every social platform offers a wide variety of different targeting criteria to choose from, including user demographics, hobbies, personality types and more. With the right amount of care and thought, any ad unit can be targeted in a way that fosters positive results.
- Content Sharing Opportunities
Content creation plays an important role in any successful brand’s marketing strategy, but understanding how to increase content marketing ROI can sometimes pose a challenge. Paid social ads are ideal vehicles for cross-promotion of blog posts, videos or other types of content that is relevant to your brand. If you’re aiming to increase the performance of your blog, for example, incorporating links into a sponsored social post is one of the fastest ways to get more eyes on the content you’re producing.
- Robust Analytics
As with any other form of advertising, data and analytics serve an important purpose and can make or break the success of a campaign. Paid social ads allow you to glean insights into how your audience is interacting with certain ad units, which approaches are producing the most results and much, much more. Knowledge truly is power when it comes to social media insights, as even minute shifts in a single ad unit can create lasting beneficial effects for your brand.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, there’s no getting around the fact that social media will continue to be an incredibly versatile and important tool for modern brands that are looking to build reach and awareness, not to mention stay relevant in the digital era. Due to shifting algorithms and a growing preference for sponsored content by the biggest networks in the social media space, however, organic social media reach truly is dead—paid social advertising is not just a “good idea,” but an absolute must for brands across all industries.
Seth Silver is the Founder of Social Control, a leading Social Media Agency based in Los Angeles. An evangelist of technology, and educator to the business community, Seth writes about social behavior and the integration of brands within the lifestyles that drive consumer passions.