When Should You Consider Paid Ads on Social Media?

If we had a dollar for every company that asked us the secret to paid digital ads on social media, we could all retire today. But before asking how to best use paid ads, organizations should really be asking when to use them.

What Paid Digital Ads Really Are, and Why Companies Use Them

Think, for a moment, about what paid digital ads are and how they work: Companies spend a part of their advertising budget to get an advertisement or sponsored message in front of a wider audience on popular platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, etc. Because these platforms already have information about their users, companies can get very specific about who they want to target, putting their ads in front of people with specific titles, or who are members of certain groups, or who live in certain areas of the country, and so on.

Once the ads are running, companies can then track various metrics with regard to those ads (such as impressions, views, clicks, and so on), thereby getting a sense of what is working to drive leads.

These two capabilities—the ability to specify an audience, and the ability to track engagement metrics as the ads are running—are the two superpowers that paid digital ads have. And they tell us everything we need to know about when to use them.

Do Your Persona Research Before You Run Your Ads

Paid digital ads have two uses: To reach people you are not yet reaching organically (people beyond your friends and followers), or to ensure you are getting a message in front of a certain segment of your audience. Both require you to think carefully about the persona(s) you are trying to reach. Don’t begin your paid ad campaigns until you have done at least some rudimentary persona research and have an explicit offer for at least one of those personas.

Know Your “Fixed Stars”

Too many companies go into paid digital ads simply looking to “increase their numbers.” This inevitably leads to wasted money. Before you spend a single dollar, you need to ask (and answer) two questions:

  • What is the main goal of this ad campaign? (Is it awareness? Lead generation? Event sign-ups? Audience expansion?)
  • Which metrics make the most sense, given that goal? (Impressions? Clickthrough rate? Cost per customer acquisition?)

Don’t start your campaign until these questions have been answered. Those answers will be the fixed stars by which you will navigate the paid social landscape.

Go in With Specific Questions in Mind

Really, that’s what most paid social campaigns are: Exploring a landscape. For example, you’ll have an audience in mind when you formulate your ads. But did you pick the right audience? Does your offer appeal to that audience? Does the copy in your ad appeal to your audience and make that offer clear? Each campaign you run is an experiment, and each group of ads should vary along one dimension so you can test its effect.

For example, your question might be “Which works better, sales copy that is aspirational, or more practical-sounding?” You then create a group of ads that vary the copy along these lines. Your metrics will then tell you which way was most effective. This is the heart of A/B testing.

Is the Timing Right?

Putting money into paid digital ads can be a good way to expand your audience, build brand awareness, successfully target specific leads, and advertise specific offers or events. These are all good reasons to consider paid ads—but be clear on the persona, goals, and metrics before you begin.

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