Paying to promote posts and advertising on social media channels has become more important for businesses over the past five years, primarily because of changes to the algorithms used by social media platforms which determine what users see on their feed. These changes are based on improving the user experience to try to ensure that what the user sees on their feed is going to be of interest to them, but of course, social media platforms know that their users are valuable to marketers, and they want to capitalise on that. It's no surprise then that these algorithm changes have made it a lot harder to get impressions without paying for the privilege.
Understandably, some smaller businesses have been slow to start with paid social. There can be a number of reasons for this, such as:
It requires a piece of your marketing budget
It’s a new skill for your team to learn, and you don’t know where to start
You're concerned about ROI
You're content with your results from organic social
I can totally empathise with those who don’t want to embark on using paid social without some reasoning behind it. So, when does it make sense to use paid social?
The extent to which you can target your preferred audience is impressive, particularly on Facebook. It’s really useful when you’re trying to get more site visits from people in a certain country, for example. Because of the way that Facebook encourages people to express themselves and tell their story (and allow Facebook access to a range of information), when it comes to advertising, you can make your ad visible to people in a certain location, of a particular age, or level of education to mention a few. If you haven’t tried Facebook ads, you’ll probably be surprised at what they can do in this respect.
Your marketing plan should include a mix of content, from blogs which might take a couple of hours to put together, to videos for a new brand or product, which could be the result of months of work. So, if you’re going to spend money on content, don’t forget to leave some budget to promote it to your target audience. This is particularly important if the content is time sensitive.
On a related note - social channels do tend to reward you for using video. Facebook, for example, have recognised the increasing popularity of social video in recent years, altering their algorithms to make it more prominent in news feeds back in 2014, and launching Facebook Live in 2015. They say themselves that their goal with news feeds is to promote content which has meaningful interactions - and video, especially live video, gets a lot of these. One thing to watch out for though is that Facebook rewards users for uploading natively (rather than linking from YouTube, for example) by ranking those videos more highly and allowing auto-play.
It’s always been a big no-no to be too salesy on your social feeds, but the digital environment has changed in recent years to the extent that overt advertising has been expected, and indeed accepted, by social media users for some time.
So, whilst I wouldn’t recommend posting frequently about new products or offers from your account feed, an advert allows you to let loose a simple, salesy message - and do keep it simple, don’t go into product details on your adverts. A more suitable goal for social media ads is to get users to click through to another page (usually your website), so focus on what is going to tempt them to do that. I like this example from Headspace:
Paid social is no substitute for organic social, and vice versa. But, as I’ve touched on above, they dovetail nicely because of their differing possibilities and the contrast in user expectations between a brand’s social posts and something which is accepted as an advert. Organic social can be solely about your brand story, thought leadership, and growing a loyal following over a long period of time. Paid social, in contrast, can be more about quicker gains, so a smart social media strategy should include both methods.