Looking to drive sales and increase your customer base? Social media advertising (paid content on a social media network) is one of the most profitable forms of digital advertising. With 2.8 billion people using social media (37% of the world’s population), it’s a marketing opportunity every small business can take advantage of. But where do you start and how do you make sure you get the best return on your budget? 
 

Advantages of social media advertising

For a number of reasons, social media advertising is fast becoming one of the most effective advertising channels for small businesses. 

Scale

The amount of people you can reach through social media advertising is huge - and continues to grow.

Since June 2017, there are two billion monthly active Facebook users, with one billion logging in daily. According to statistics portal Statista, as of January 2018, 45% of women and 55% of men actively use Facebook globally. That suggests no matter who you’re targeting, you’ll likely be able to reach them through this channel.

According to Sprout Social, the most prevalent Facebook users are 18-29-year-olds, at 88%, followed by:

  • 84% of those 30-49
  • 72% for those 50-64
  • 62% for those 65+

If your target audience is 65+ that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use Facebook ads, as they’re still more likely to be on there than Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn.

It all comes down to where your target audience spends most of their time online. Instagram has 800+ million users, Twitter has 330 million monthly active users, while LinkedIn has more than 546 million users. The opportunity is huge but you need to be clear on your target audience first.

 

Targeting

Social platforms offer demographic and psychographic data so you can target users based on their age, sex, personality, values, attitudes, lifestyle and more. This means you can completely control who sees your ads, making the most of your budget and time. Filters include:

  • Gender
  • Age 
  • Personality
  • Relationship
  • Location
  • Education
  • Interests 
  • Political affiliation
  • Homeowner status

So, even if you’re operating in a very niche market, there’s a strong possibility you can still target customers via social ads.

 

Cost-effectiveness

Social media advertising follows a pay-per-click (PPC) format (similar to Google AdWords), meaning you only pay when users complete your desired action e.g. clicking through to your website. So don’t worry, it’s not something that can escalate – you set the goal posts. Setting a ‘lifetime budget’ will outline the amount you’re willing to spend for the duration of your ads, so you’re in complete control.

 

Build your brand

Ads can align well with any existing social activity you’re doing and vice versa. It’s all about ensuring a clear brand message shines through. If a new customer discovers you via an ad, they may want to review your organic social activity before forming a final opinion. Make sure everything you post on social media reflects your brand – whether it's organic or paid activity.

 

Save time

Once your ads are finely tuned, you can set them up and let them run and tick over. This means you can spend less time and effort on online marketing and focus elsewhere across the business. However, it’s important you continue to monitor and refine them to continue making them a success.

 

Track and shape success

Each social media channel offers helpful built-in analytics to show you what’s working best and areas for improvement. You can then correlate your ads against your site traffic and sales figures.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your competition – are they running ads? Where? Are they getting much visible engagement? Research as much as you can so you can give your first set of ads the best possible opportunity to achieve your goal.

 

Better than paid search?

Paid search such as Google Adwords helps potential customers find you, while paid social ads are more pro-active – it helps your business find new customers. You go to them. If the budget is available, it’s worth investing in both. If a choice has to be made, social advertising makes a strong case due to the scale and targeting options.

Which social media channel is best for small businesses?

 

 

 

Facebook

Facebook ads appeal to businesses of all sizes due to its low costs and expansive database. If you have a tight marketing budget and want to experiment with social ads, Facebook is one of your best options. Benefits include:

  • Its large audience (approx. 2 billions users).
  • One billion of these are daily active users (2 billion monthly).
  • High functionality and sophistication.
  • The granularity with which you can target your audience – every consumer market imaginable is on Facebook.
  • You can even upload your own email list and match it across Facebook’s users and create lookalike audiences of similar people, helping you acquire similar customers more easily.
  • You can evaluate the performance of your ads with Facebook Insights.
  • Option to re-target your audience.
  • Lots of flexibility designing your ads – they can be highly visual and align with the ways people use the network.
  • The platform is constantly evolving its ads offering to reflect user behaviour, including mobile optimisation.
  • Google Analytics URL tagging to track ad campaigns back to your site. This means you can see who has come to your website from your Facebook ads. You can build these URLs directly within Facebook.
  • Split testing allows for refinement, making your money go further.
  • You can create and save audiences and a gallery of ad images to use time and again.

How much does it cost?

You set the parameters. Two primary factors that influence the cost of your Facebook ads are your target audience and your ads’ Relevancy Score. The more desired your target audience is, the more it’s going to cost to target them above your competitors. Your Relevancy Score is based on the success of your ads. You receive a score between 1-10, which is determined by how users interact with it. It’s Facebook’s way of ensuring ads are relevant to who they’re being targeted at. The higher your score is, the less it will cost to be delivered. Seasons and holidays can also increase your spend as competition can increase during a certain time period.

You can start with as little as £100 for a simple campaign. If your results are profitable, you can add more budget easily.

If you’re not yet advertising on Facebook, it's definitely worth considering how to fit it into your marketing strategy.

 

Instagram

Facebook acquired photo-sharing app Instagram in 2012, so its ads use the same system as Facebook. With 800+ million users and growing, this is another channel with strong marketing potential and can be a great fit for certain types of small businesses - eg. those in the food and hospitality industry and lifestyle-based businesses. 

Don’t treat Instagram ads the same as Facebook ads as people use the platforms for different reasons (Facebook is used to connect with friends, articles, funny posts, etc. while Instagram is all about visually pleasing photos). Benefits include:

  • Audience targeting – you can use filters to target specific people or set your ads to only show to users who mirror your current audience.
  • Higher post engagement than Facebook due to less clutter on the feed – Instagram is about photos/videos, nothing else.
  • Consumers are more likely to engage with brands on Instagram over Facebook and Twitter. Sprout Social have put together some useful insights on what makes Instagram so successful and prosperous for marketers
  • Clear tracking – Instagram’s dashboard allows you to review how many users see, click and convert after seeing your ad. This will help you refine as you move forward to increase their effectiveness.

How much does it cost?

The average cost per click is between £1-2 (costs vary widely depending on your ad type, industry and audience size). A good idea is to start small at £5/day then increase once ads are refined. After this, increase your daily budget and you increase how many people see your ad. Facebook charges businesses to run ads in exactly the same way: You decide what to spend each day/over a set time period. You choose whether to be charged back on how many users CLICK on your ad, or how many people VIEW your ad.

 

Twitter

With 330 million monthly active users, Twitter is the third largest social media platform on the internet. Twitter claims 80% of its users are “affluent millennials”, with the number one reason for using the platform being “to discover something new and interesting.”

Types of Twitter ads include Promoted Tweets, Promoted Accounts and Promoted Trends. ‘Promoted’ means your ads show to users who don’t yet follow your Twitter account. Here's a useful summary from Hootsuite on how to use the different Twitter ads

How much does it cost?

There’s no minimum spend and you get to select a daily budget for your ads. Ads run on an auction system. Here's more information from Twitter on how to set up an ad and how much it costs

 

 

LinkedIn

With more than 546 million users in 200+ countries, LinkedIn is the largest social media network for professionals. One in three professionals has a LinkedIn account.

LinkedIn’s Campaign Manager is a self-service advertising platform where you can deliver relevant, targeted messages via sponsored content, sponsored InMail and Text Ads.

You can set campaign start and end dates, plus a maximum daily budget (minimum is £2).

You can target people via a number of filters including location, company name, company industry, company size, job title, job function, skills, degrees, fields of study and more.

How much does it cost?

There's a minimum daily spend of £2. Ads are priced at a pay-per-click (pay for performance) or pay-per-1,000 impressions (seen ad) basis (this is available for managed campaigns through a Marketing Solutions representative). Campaign Manager allows you to set your own budgets, controlling your costs by setting a maximum budget you want to spend per day and setting maximums bids, which is the most you want to pay for each click or every 1,000 impressions. Here's more information from LinkedIn on how to set up an ad and how much it costs.

How should I target users on each channel?

Facebook

Who should use it: Everyone. The diversity and amount of active users on Facebook offer the best likelihood for you to reach your target audience on a large scale.

Find out more

Facebook

Most effective content: Copy + image (although you can refine what works best with your customer by running split test ads). Images account for 75-90% of Facebook advertising performance.

The most effective ad title length is four words and 15 words for a link description. Include an attractive offer to encourage interaction (39% of users like or follow a Facebook page to receive a special offer).Try and make your content as unique and eye-catching as possible.

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Instagram

Who should use it: Businesses that can provide visually pleasing, brand-relevant photographs or videos. B2C and products are a better fit over B2B and services. A great way to get in front of new customers.

Find out more

Instagram

Most effective content: Visually pleasing photographs and videos. Get creative with photo and video ads to engage more customers. A strong call to action and enticing offer will help to encourage an action. Ad options are single image, carousel, single video or slideshow.

Review these options and decide which one visually showcases your product or service in the best way.

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Twitter

Who should use it: Businesses looking to increase their customer base and encourage sales. By increasing followers via ads, you’re growing an interested audience who you can engage with over time. 85.4% of Twitter users believe Promoted Accounts help them discover new businesses on Twitter.

Find out more

Twitter

Most effective content: Twitter ads can be much more subtle than other channels and blend seamlessly into the feeds of your target audience. You should have a strong call to action e.g. ‘sign up’. Video content is six times more likely to be retweeted than image-based tweets.

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LinkedIn

Who should use it: Any business looking to target professionals who influence business decision-making (44% of LinkedIn users earn more than £53,000 in a year). 

Find out more

LinkedIn

Most effective content: Text ads are the quickest way to spotlight your business in front of the world’s largest professional network. Ensure you set targeting options that reflect your business objective.

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Different types of Facebook ads

As Facebook is arguably the most effective and popular social media advertising channel for small businesses, in this section we're going to look at the different ways you can use it to promote your business. 

Facebook offers a wide selection of ads that are designed to meet different objectives. Here’s a round-up of some of the most common, with examples of how small businesses might put them into practice.

 

Aim: Driving traffic

 

Link click ads

Goal: Drive people to your website, landing page or blog post.

Benefit: They perform well and also encourage Likes for your Facebook page.

Example: You own a hair salon and realise you don’t have many email addresses in your database. You run a Link Click Ad on Facebook to target local people and any customers who already Like your Facebook page. The link directs people to a landing page on your website set up for newsletter subscription. 

Tip: Incentivise people to subscribe. Offer all new customers 25% off their first appointment and 15% to current customers. Your ads will perform better when they offer value to people. You’ll then have an e-newsletter mailing list to send promotions, salon and product info to moving forward.


 

Video Ads

Goal: The same as link click ads, but featuring a video rather than an image.

Benefit: Video is considered richer content and will encourage interaction with the ad. It’ll also stand out from the crowd.

Example: You’re a piano teacher looking for more students. You film your hands playing a piece of piano music to showcase your skills. The link sends local people to your website Contact page so they can get in touch.

Tip: 85% of Facebook users watch videos with the sound off, with captioned video ads increasing view time by an average of 12%.
 

Aim: Sales and lead generation for your product or service

 

Multi-product (Carousel ads)

Goal: Sell products and services

Benefit: Showcase a range of products and services in a single ad. Also allows you to test the popularity of products and offers.

Example: You own an online homeware business and are looking to showcase your products. You include your most popular pieces plus some new items to see how they fare with your target audience. Each product image links back to your product page so users can purchase.

Tip: Include a variety of products (popular and new) to see what proves most successful so you can refine your ads.

 

Facebook lead ads

Goal: Getting leads!

Benefit: People can sign up for your offer or download your content without leaving Facebook. The user journey is smooth and doesn’t disrupt their social switch-off time. If your website can be slow at times, this avoids people using it and you still meet your objective. A slick way to capture an email address.

Example: You’re launching a new restaurant and want to build your local profile. You run a Lead Ad announcing your launch (or upcoming launch) asking for email address submission to receive news and offers. Not only will you generate local interest but you’ll quickly grow your e-newsletter database for regular communication with your customers.

 

Page like ads

Goal: Increase your Facebook page Likes.

Benefit: Increase your social following to build brand loyalty and drive sales.

Example: You’re a kidswear designer and specialise in leggings for babies and toddlers. You don’t have much time to manage your website so your Facebook page has become your main point of promotion until you expand. You run a Page Likes Ad with an image of your most popular designs, including a visible ‘Like Page’ button. Facebook allows you to target parents, age groups etc so you can ensure the right people are seeing your ad. These ads help regularly boost your Facebook Likes and grow your customer base.

 

 

Event ads

Goal: Promote your event and attract visitors.

Benefit: Depending on your event, you can target location, interest, age group and more.

Example: You run a business that specialises in local jams and preserves. You’re exhibiting at a local Farmer’s Market every other Saturday throughout the year and would like to regularly promote it to local people, highlighting your stall/products at the same time.

Tip: Limit your ad to people living in the same city or region as the event (unless it’s a national event of course!)

 

If you’d like to see a full list, Hootsuite have produced a comprehensive guide including the specs (image sizes, ad copy characters, etc)

How to launch an effective social media advertising campaign

In order to create an effective social media advertising campaign, before you spend any money you should follow these important steps.  

Testing and optimising campaigns

As with any marketing campaign, testing and optimisation is the key to social media advertising success. The more time you invest in getting your ads in the best shape possible for your target audience, the more successful they’ll be. That includes spending some time, before you spend any money on advertising, building a profile of your ideal customer

  • How old are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What are their interests? 

When you start running your ads, you should get into the habit of split testing. This is where you test two ads with different variables against each other. For example, you might want to test the same ad creative but target two different audiences. Alternatively, you might want to test two different ad creatives with the same audience. This test and refine approach will help you to find the most effective messaging and ensure you get the best return on investment.  

While we've focused heavily on Facebook due to the cost-effectiveness for small businesses and the huge opportunity to target a specific audience, it can be worth testing different channels to understand which is the best for your objectives.

We've mentioned Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But if your audience is on Pinterest, Snapchat or even using a specific forum, that might be a better place to spend your advertising budget. The key is to spend your money on the channel where your audience spends the most time.

Useful resources for social media advertising

There are plenty of free resources to support and enhance your social media advertising. Here are some of the essentials: 

Next Steps

How to promote your business for free using social media

There are a range of ways you can promote your business on social media without spending a penny. 

Read more

How do I market my business online?

Online marketing, from PPC to email, is usually the most cost-effective marketing channel for small businesses. 

Read more

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