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6 Ways to Use Social Media Ads To Grow Your Business

This post is the last of a three-part series in which I show how businesses must re-invent their marketing strategies for today’s digital world. You can read the first post, on content marketing, HERE, and the second post, which focused on social marketing, HERE.

Back in 2011, social media users began to see a mysterious new breed of messages show up in their Twitter feeds: paid ads dressed up to look (apart from tiny disclaimers) just like regular Tweets. Fast forward three years, and these Promoted Tweets—along with Facebook ads and similar offerings on other social networks—are officially one of the fastest growing sectors of online advertising.

And while user opinions of native social media ads may vary from indifference to annoyance, the results seem to speak for themselves.

Facebook native ads that appear in users’ news feeds are clicked on 49 times more often than traditional banner ads in the right sidebar, according to AdRoll. Meanwhile, Promoted Tweets have shown engagement rates of 1-3 percent—exceptional considering that normal banner ads are clicked on just .2 percent of the time.

For businesses, native ads offer additional advantages, like fine-tuned targetinganalytics and cost effectiveness when compared to traditional marketing campaigns.

The following six tips—gained firsthand from experiences using native ads at my own company—should be helpful for marketers considering a foray into the world of native social advertising.

We were early adopters, purchasing our first social ads in 2012 when we were still a startup. Currently, we have more than 600 employees and we spend a significant portion of our marketing budget on paid social ads, drafting and placing hundreds every month in multiple languages. The returns continue to exceed expectations: Social media ads now drive a significant portion of our inbound enterprise leads and do so at a lower cost than any other paid ad channel:

1. Use free social media to beta-test your paid social ads.

If your company is on social media, you’re likely already sending out multiple Tweets, Facebook Posts and LinkedIn Updates every day. Some of these messages will resonate with followers; others won’t. Using free analytical tools (I’m partial to Hootsuite, but there are many out there), it’s easy to track which ones are being clicked, shared and commented on.

It’s precisely these high-performing messages that make great candidates for native social ads. You already know they “work,” taking the guesswork out of the creative process. All you’re doing is taking a tried and true message and paying to put it in front of a newer, larger audience.

2. Take advantage of targeting features.

One of the major rubs with traditional ads is inefficiency. (Every time a die-hard Prius owner sees an ad for a gas-guzzling SUV, for example, it represents a major waste of resources). Social ads minimize this type of spillage.

On LinkedIn, Sponsored Updates can be targeted to particular regions (countries, cities, etc.) and industries, as well as to specific job titles and even particular companies. Twitter allows advertisers to drill down based on region, gender, device and literally hundreds of different interest categories. Messages can even be aimed at specific brands and their respective followers, enabling businesses to go directly after the competition and its client base.

Meanwhile, Facebook’s Sponsored Posts can be blasted out to a nearly endless list of interest groups. (If you can think of a demographic—say, Game of Thrones fans—Facebook can target their news feeds.) Facebook can even go after “lookalike audiences,” i.e. users who have already expressed interest in products similar to yours.

3. Rotate ads frequently.

With TV commercials and other traditional “interruption ads,” repetition is the name of the game. But Promoted Tweets and Sponsored Posts appear right in users’ news feeds. Not only are engagement rates bound to plummet if you hammer users on their home turf with repetitive messaging, but you may end up losing more business than you gain.

The remedy here is fresh, ever-changing ad content. Because tweets and posts are generally short and sweet, this is hardly a heavy burden. At the same time, social ads can be reused by targeting them to multiple demographics. Rotating the same message through a series of different, highly targeted groups, in fact, is one of the easiest ways to extend the life and utility of native social ads.

4. Use small samples to A/B test your social ads.

One of the great virtues of native social ads is instant feedback. Minutes after sending out a Promoted Tweet or Sponsored Post, for example, it’s possible to gauge its effectiveness. Detailed analytics reports and charts show who’s clicking and how often.

Before doubling down on a single social ad, we’ve found it effective to send out several “test” ads to small audiences and wait to see the results. For minimal spend, we get a clear, data-driven picture of which ad performs best. Then we’ll back the winning message with additional spending to ensure it reaches the largest audience.

5. Understand how ads are sold.

Different networks sell ads in different ways. On Twitter, companies pay on an engagement basis. Every time users take an “action”—click, retweet, favorite, etc.—a fee is assessed. Meanwhile, Facebook and LinkedIn offer the option of paying per impression, where companies are charged whenever their ad shows up in users’ streams (regardless of whether or not it’s clicked on).

Though the difference may seem academic, it’s critical to bear these two pricing models in mind and to design Tweets and Posts accordingly. For example, since we pay Twitter each time users click on our ads, it’s important that people be genuinely interested in the content waiting on the other side. This requires drafting Tweets that are clear and straightforward — in essence, the opposite of “link bait.” The goal here is to drive genuine prospects to our site, not merely to attract as many eyeballs as possible.

6. Design your ads with smartphones in mind.

Social media is consumed overwhelmingly on mobile devices. Twitter users spend 86 percent of their time on the service on mobile. Facebook users aren’t far behind at 68 percent. This means most native social ads are being viewed on mobile devices, as well. And this comes with certain benefits and caveats.

First, messages have to be optimized for viewing on small mobile screens. For Promoted Tweets, this is hardly a challenge, given the 140-character limit. For Facebook’s Sponsored Posts, this requires keeping messages short and sweet and, ideally, image-based.

But the fact that native social ads are viewed on a device people carry around with them at all times also opens up unique marketing possibilities. Twitter recently unveiled a feature enabling paid Tweets to be targeted by zip code. Users walk into a neighborhood, for instance, and suddenly Promoted Tweets for the local pub, dry cleaner or McDonald’s pop up in their Twitter stream. This kind of “geofencing” technology, which Facebook has had since 2011, enables businesses to court the kind of walk-in customers most likely to act on limited-time deals and in-store specials.

Digital advertising is a notoriously fickle field, and trends come and go. Banner ads boasted click-through rates of up to five percent in the late ‘90s before viewers learned to simply tune them out. There’s good reason to believe, however, that native social ads are poised for growth and here for the long haul. (In fact, Instagram and Pinterest — two fast-rising visual social networks—have just unveiled their own versions.) Native social ads are cheaper to produce than traditional ads and reach their target with impressive efficiency. Plus, at their best, they’re creative, entertaining and even useful—a novel concept in advertising and one whose time has come.

For more social media insight, follow Hootsuite on LinkedIn.