An age-old advertising industry aphorism notes how ad spend follows eyeballs, and these days all eyeballs are on social media. According to data from eMarketer, Advertisers worldwide will spend $23.68 billion on paid media to reach consumers on social networks in 2015, a 33.5% increase from 2014. By 2017, social network ad spending will reach $35.98 billion, representing 16.0% of all digital ad spending globally.

Compelling stats and figures aside, it doesn’t take a marketing guru to realize that, with virtually everyone on the planet interacting on social networks, social media might not be such a bad place for your business to advertise. But how do you get started? If you’re like many, the very notion of advertising on social media is an overwhelming one. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone took the time to summarize the basics of advertising on social media, perhaps in a nice-and-tidy blog post full of actionable links? Don’t worry, dear reader, I’ve got you covered.

Before You Get Started

1. Set Your Goals (and Budget)

Much like going to the casino, it’s always a good idea to clarify what you are willing to spend (and potentially blow) before you dig into the nitty-gritty of setting up ad campaigns on social media. And you can’t set your budget until you’ve set your campaign goals, or defined what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with each specific social ad initiative. This is an important but often overlooked step.

If I had to pick a common theme to advertising on any of the major social channels these days, it would be simplicity. This was not always the case. A few years back, setting up ad campaigns on most social platforms tended to be a confusing and cumbersome process. Now, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or YouTube, they’ve all stripped down their processes, simplifying the user experience and making it astonishingly easy to set up ad campaigns on their platforms.

Just bear this in mind: as useful as a highly simplified user experience sounds, it can be a dangerous thing when setting up social ad campaigns if you’re not prepared ahead of time with a well-conceived marketing plan governed by clearly defined budget parameters. Very dangerous indeed.

2. Define Your Target Audience

For the modern-day digital marketer, the ancient Greek maxim “Know Thyself” can (and should) be translated to “Know Thy Audience.” Your audience is the Who you are targeting to—make sure you know who they are. Don’t skimp out on developing detailed buyer personas to help clarify.

3. Shape Your Message

The principle driver of any social media campaign—paid or otherwise—is solid marketing content that contains a relevant message targeted to a specific audience. Enough said.

4. Execute Your Campaign

Not much to say here. Hopefully this one is so obvious as to not require further elaboration. Hit the “Activate,” “Go,” “Initiate Campaign,” etc. button and then grab a cup of joe and hope for the best.

5. Measure Your Results, Refine, Scale

One of the great things about social advertising (and digital marketing generally) is the easy access to campaign performance data. Unfortunately, this is where the wheels tend to fall off the applecart in many a social advertising campaign.

Don’t let this happen to you. Take the time to understand the analytical tools at your disposal on whichever social platforms you advertise, and then use them on a consistent basis. After all, they’re there for a reason: to provide you with tangible campaign feedback, feedback that will shed light on what’s working and what isn’t and provide a roadmap to future campaign refinement.

Once you’ve reached the point where you know what is in fact working, don’t be afraid to scale your campaign by dedicating additional money/resources to it. Remember, success is the goal here. As I always say, if it ain’t broke, throw more money at it.

Now that we’ve reviewed the big picture process of advertising on social media, let’s take a quick spin through some of the high points of advertising on each of four major social networks—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Off we go…

Advertising on Facebook

The first step to advertising on Facebook is to create a Facebook Page for your business. If you haven’t done this already, you can learn how to set one up here.

Once your Facebook Page is up and running, you can create Facebook Ads to reach different audiences and meet specific business goals. As Facebook is more than happy to point out on its Facebook Ads homepage, over 1.4 billion people globally are on Facebook, with more than 900 million visiting the site every day. With such massive audience reach, Facebook is an attractive platform for all types of businesses, although it is generally regarded as primarily a business-to-consumer-focused (B2C) marketing channel. However, it should be noted that a number of business-to-business (B2B) companies have found success with Facebook advertising and marketing. Check out this post from Facebook to learn more.

Like AdWords and many other social advertising platforms, Facebook uses an auction system for determining which ads are placed when and where. Likewise, you maintain control of your campaign budget, which you can set on a daily, monthly, per-ad, or per-campaign basis.

A big advantage of advertising on Facebook is the vast array of micro-audience targeting options at your disposal. Businesses can target audiences based on location, demographics (age, gender, etc.), interests (activities, hobbies, etc.), online and offline buying habits, and more.

In terms of campaign objectives, Facebook offers many different ways to advertise on its platform, ranging from boosting the reach of individual posts to increasing conversions on your website or getting more installs of your mobile app.

For my money, though, one of the most interesting social advertising tools on Facebook is the Custom Audiences feature, which allows you to remarket to people who have already visited your website by retargeting them with a customized ad when they go on to use the social platform. Pretty cool.

If you want to learn more about advertising on Facebook, here’s a link to the Facebook Ads homepage.

Advertising on Twitter

Reflecting a common approach taken by many leading social networks, on its Business Solutions homepage Twitter highlights four popular campaign goals for businesses interested in social advertising: build an audience (in this case on the Twitter platform), generate more traffic, leads, and sales to your website; promote your mobile app; and raise brand awareness by promoting your content (again, on the Twitter platform).

Like the other social networks, Twitter offers robust targeting capabilities, a host of free analytics tools to measure campaign performance, and a raft of case studies highlighting how other businesses have used Twitter Ads to reach their campaign goals. That said, by far the most novel and potentially game-changing social advertising tool Twitter has to offer, in my humble opinion, is Twitter Cards.

Twitter Cards allow you to go beyond 140 characters by adding engaging media experiences to your Tweets. With Twitter Cards, you can attach photos, videos, and other rich media to create more engaging Tweets that drive traffic to your website. According to Twitter, all you have to do is simply add a few lines of HTML to your webpage, and users who Tweet links to your content will have a “Card” added to the Tweet that’s visible to all of their followers.

Here’s an example of a Twitter App Card, which features a “Download” call-to-action embed:

Twitter App Cards


Twitter currently offers the following four card types in its Twitter Card arsenal:

  • Summary Card – Title, description, thumbnail, and Twitter account attribution.
  • Summary Card with Large Image – Similar to a Summary Card, but with a prominently featured image.
  • App Card – A Card to detail a mobile app with direct download.
  • Player Card – A Card to provide video/audio/media.

To learn more about advertising on Twitter, check out the Twitter Ads homepage.

Advertising on LinkedIn

As one might expect from the leading social network for business professionals, LinkedIn takes a very straightforward, no nonsense approach to advertising on its network, providing advertising tools that aren’t as flashy as what its peers have on offer, but that get the job done all the same. As the company’s Ads FAQs make abundantly clear, all you need is a LinkedIn account and a credit card to get started.

The process for creating an ad is simple: You create an ad containing five basic elements (see below), set your daily budget (which can be as low as $10/day) and bid amounts, and boom, you’re done.

As for bidding types, you can choose either CPC (cost per click) or CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions), although there is a $2 minimum cost for CPC, which means you pay at least $2 (or more, depending on whether or not you set your CPC bid price higher) every time someone clicks your ad.

Also keep in mind, before it can go live, your ad must be reviewed by a member of the LinkedIn customer support team, a process which can take up to 24 hours. Only when (and if) your ad meets LinkedIn guidelines and is approved will it become active on the website.

LinkedIn Ads consist of the following five elements:

  • Headline (up to 25 characters of text)
  • Description (up to 75 characters of text)
  • From: (your name or any company)
  • Image: (50×50 pixel image)
  • URL (website people visit once they click on your ad)

With regard to placement, LinkedIn ads may appear on any or all of the following pages:

  • Profile Page (when users view the profile of other LinkedIn members)
  • Home Page (the page that users see when they log in to LinkedIn)
  • Inbox (the page where users see messages and invitations to connect)
  • Search Results Page (the page that results when you search for a member by name)
  • Groups (on pages in LinkedIn Groups)

Finally, LinkedIn offers a number of ways to target specific audience segments. You can target by job title, job function, industry, geography, company size, company name, seniority, age, gender, or LinkedIn group.

To learn more about LinkedIn Ads, check out the LinkedIn Ads FAQs page. Before you get started with LinkedIn Ads, you may want to review the LinkedIn Ads best practices page.

Advertising on YouTube

With its TrueView video advertising platform, YouTube is trying to make it as painless as possible for brands to tell their story by way of video advertising.

As YouTube succinctly points out on its advertising homepage, any video uploaded to YouTube can be an ad; also, video ads can appear before other videos on YouTube, next to playing videos, and in search results. As one might expect from the world’s 2nd largest search engine that also happens to be owned by Google (or Alphabet, or whatever), YouTube offers a wide variety of audience targeting options and robust analytics to measure ad performance.

Other than the obvious (if not slightly disconcerting) fact that essentially any video can be turned into a YouTube ad, the most interesting feature of video advertising on YouTube is that you only pay when someone engages with your ad; if they skip it before 30 seconds (or the end) you don’t pay anything.

It’s worth noting that YouTube’s TrueView video advertising platform was recently integrated with Google AdWords, which means you can now create and manage your video ad campaigns directly from AdWords. Here’s a link to the AdWords help page that provides detail on creating a TrueView video campaign and video ad.

Final Thoughts

Follow the Process

As with most things in life, the key to success with advertising on social media is relentless consistency of process. As I noted above in the “Getting Started” section above, make sure to Set your goals, Define your target audience, Shape your message, Execute your campaign, Measure your results, and finally, Refine your campaign (if necessary) and then Scale it (if not). “Define, Shape, Execute, Measure, Refine, Scale,” say it with me…

Keep it Simple (at first)

Think big but start small. The goal here is to avoid blowing your entire Q4 advertising budget on a social ad campaign that totally misses the mark and generates zero ROI. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Again, think big but start small. This is how the biggest and most successful players in marketing do it. I recently had the opportunity to interview David Edelman, global co-leader of Digital and Marketing & Sales Practice at McKinsey and Company, in connection with a book on digital marketing I co-authored (shameless plug). David’s a really smart guy who knows a lot about digital marketing, and in the conversation he noted how a common approach to new advertising and marketing campaign initiatives of some of the largest and most successful companies is to set a campaign goal, roll out a small pilot version of the initiative, measure results, refine, and then scale.

Sound like a familiar process? Believe me, it works for the big players, and it can work for your fledgling social ad campaigns too. Just remember to keep it simple: start out small, figure out what works, and then scale.

If your interest in paid advertising goes beyond social media, I suggest you check out my companion post, Paid Advertising 101: Understanding the Basics of Search and Display Advertising.

Happy advertising!