Every year, businesses spend billions of dollars advertising on Facebook and Instagram, and it’s no surprise that social media spending in the U.S. alone is expected increase to $17.34 billion in 2019.

A primary reason why social media is the perfect place to advertise for any business, is that it gives the advertiser complete control over audience targeting, making it easier than ever to ensure an ad is seen by people most likely to convert.

But with more control comes more thinking. Advertisers should be prepared to think harder about who the ideal audience is and what strategies will work best for reaching them.

In this guide we’ll teach you how to use advanced ad targeting tools on the major social networks to reach your target customers.

Bonus: Download a free guide that reveals how to increase social media engagement with better audience research, sharper customer targeting, and Hootsuite’s easy-to-use social media software.

Step 1: Create audience personas

Audience or customer personas are an important tool for gaining knowledge about the attributes of the people you’ll be advertising to. Some organizations will already have detailed persona documents built out, but if not, creating these resources yourself will be well worth the effort.

If your organization already has customer personas built out, pick the one that directly aligns with your campaign goals. Using existing personas not only saves time and energy, but helps ensure your campaign is in line with broader organizational strategies.

If your organization hasn’t built out these resources, and you need to create your own, begin by picturing your ideal customer and brainstorm what challenges they face, what positions they may hold, and the ways in which they’ll interact with your company’s product or service.

Expand your persona document by adding specific data that will inform ad targeting. For example, be sure to include demographic information such as age and gender, as well as personal interests, and communication preferences, such as the types of devices they use. Other items that may be relevant include education level, location, and income.

Now that you’ve got a firm understanding of the customer persona you’ll be targeting, take the time to think creatively about other, less obvious attributes this group might possess. In particular, consider what interests your target audience might have that intersect with the problem your product or service could solve.

Take your customer persona farther by brainstorming lists of their likes and preferences, such as any similar brands that your persona may be interested in, popular authors in your industry they may follow online, or other relevant books and media. Information like this goes a long way toward making your targeting efforts more precise once you begin identifying targeting options on the social networks.

Step 2: Know which network and targeting options are best for reaching your audience

While your ad campaign is built around one goal, it’s important to note that you will need a unique targeting strategy for each network you advertise on, to suit the different purpose of each network. For example, a LinkedIn user reading an article about productivity will likely be in a different mindset than someone scrolling through Instagram. Use these differences to your advantage when targeting.

When it comes to the differences of the targeting options available on social networks, there are two main categories to consider. Facebook and Instagram provide the most available targeting options, and focus on all the data contained within a user’s personal profile, as well as the people and groups they interact with.

Twitter and LinkedIn, on the other hand, focus less on profile data, and instead provide opportunities for targeting based on keywords, user handles, hashtags, and conversations happening within the networks.

Keep these network characteristics in mind as you form strategies for each. For example, when targeting a budget conscious family on Twitter you might hone in on hashtags such as #NeedAVacation, while on Facebook you might instead focus on your target persona’s age and family structure.

Get creative by targeting based on deeper data, such as people who have expressed an interest in or like pages related to your competitor, or who have liked relevant or complementary products and services to your own.

You can also target based on upcoming events. On Facebook for example, you can target people who have friends with birthdays coming up, or people with anniversaries in the near future. This can be a great strategy for companies with ‘giftable’ products. Or, if you’re in the travel and hospitality industry, look for upcoming events and conferences, and target individuals who will be attending from out of town.

To ensure your campaign sees a good return on investment (ROI), you’ll want to avoid putting your ad in front of people you know won’t convert. This is where excluding audiences comes in. By excluding an audience, you’ll ensure you’re not spending your budget reaching people who have already converted, or who are existing employees.

Don’t forget that you also have the ability to target based on the type of device being used. To identify the type of device most likely to lead to conversions for your ad, keep in mind your target audience and the devices they would be most likely to use based on their age and other preferences.

Step 3: Optimize and build off of your existing audience(s) to maximize ROI

Once you’ve seen success with audiences you’ve created, you can use data from past campaigns and pixels on your website to create remarketing and lookalike audiences, which help surface more individuals who are likely to convert in future campaigns.

These methods are precise ways of targeting people based on data gathered from relevant sources. Unlike creating an audience from scratch, remarketing and lookalike audiences generally have a higher likelihood of success, thanks to the data they’re based on.

Remarketing is also great for transitioning smoothly from brand awareness to a performance campaign, by using data gathered to target an engaged audience and drive customers further down the marketing funnel.

Remarketing audiences on Facebook can be created in many different ways, but one thing they all have in common is the use of proprietary data to refine an audience. Some excellent data sources for remarketing are visitors to your website (which can be gathered through the use of pixels), email lists, customer data (gathered from your organization’s CRM), or platform data of users who have interacted with your pages on social.

The type of data you pick for a remarketing audience should be influenced by your campaign goals. For example, if your goal is to alert existing customers to a special offer, consider using the email addresses of people who have previously purchased your product or service.

Proprietary data can also be used to narrow down your audience by excluding people you know won’t be interested, or who have already converted. For example, if you’re trying to build brand awareness, you could use pixel data to prevent people who have already visited your website from being served your ad. That way you can ensure your ad budget is going toward reaching new leads.

Another way to use remarketing is for cross device optimization. For example, if you are a software as a service (SAAS) company with a desktop product, consider targeting everyone who visited your website on mobile in the past month with a desktop ad featuring a persuasive call to action (CTA). When your audience is on the optimal device, they’re more likely to convert.

If you’re finding that one of your custom audiences is performing well, and would like to build on that, using the targeting information to create a lookalike Audience. This can be done by taking a well performing custom audience, and allowing your network to use that data to pull a list of similar users.

You can base Lookalike audiences off data gained from conversions from past campaigns, as well as any available lists, engagement and pixel data, or social media followers. Using lookalike audiences has two main benefits. First, it allows you to reach new people beyond your current customer list and fan base, and second, it ensures your ad is shown to people who are likely to engage with your brand.

Want to learn more about building and targeting the right audience on social media? Check out the advanced social advertising online course from Hootsuite Academy and become a certified professional.

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