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Social Media Advertising

Reading time 8 minutes
Published on May 2, 2023
Social media advertising is a linchpin of modern marketing.
And for brands today, paid ads are an expectation rather than an exception to the rule.
Consider how shoppers rely on apps like Instagram and TikTok for product research. Posts showing products in action are the most in-demand type of social content right now.
Brands can’t ignore how ads fit into their social media marketing strategies.
The good news? Brands aren’t limited to one-size-fits-all social ads anymore.
Personalized targeting. Creative formats. Ads that don’t feel like ads.
All of the above are at your fingertips. That’s only if you you understand how social media advertising works. That’s exactly what we’ll cover in this post.
Social media advertising refers to any paid marketing campaign on social media.
These campaigns reach specific people based on their interests, demographics and behavior. Through ads, brands can send targeted promotions to prospects and past customers alike.
Chances are you consistently engage with (or at least see!) social ads on a daily basis. Below is an example that you might see scrolling through Instagram.
social media advertising example on Instagram
Advertising on social media has become more sophisticated in recent years. Gone are the days of boring, one-size-fits-all promotions that feel like random billboards.
Also, platforms like Meta have automated some of the more daunting aspects of running ads in the past. This includes targeting new customers and retargeting past ones.
We’ll bite: you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that says they love seeing ads. That said, research says that consumers are now more willing to engage with relevant ads. The keyword here is “relevant.”
This shows the value of creativity and thoughtful messaging when running paid campaigns.
example of a Reels ad
From unboxings to interactive promotions, brands can run ads tailor-made for unique audiences. Not to mention personal and more human than a “BUY NOW!” ad.
A well-crafted social ad might look exactly like an unpaid post.
Heck, sometimes you can’t even tell the difference if it weren’t for the “Sponsored” label.”
The obvious difference between paid and organic social media is the price tag. Beyond that, also consider:
Marketers understandably have to pick and choose their tactics carefully. This is especially true when budgets are tight or you need to prove ROI. Below are some of the key reasons why ads are worthwhile for brands.
If you feel like your social posts are getting less reach lately, you’re not alone.
Falling organic reach plagues most brands these days, especially on Facebook and Instagram.
Like it or not, social algorithms are giving more real estate to paid versus organic content. More brands investing in paid social means shrinking organic reach.
Brands should view this as a chance to squeeze more out of their organic social presence. What you do organically can directly impact and optimize your paid campaigns.
For example, consider using your best organic content as the basis for an ad campaign. It’s easier than ever to boost top-performing posts or run influencer content as ads, too.
A lack of organic reach makes engaging with new audiences an uphill battle.
The same even applies to past customers and people that follow you. After all, there’s no guarantee that even your followers will see your organic content.
This is where ads can save the day. Modern social media advertising allows brands to hyper-target audiences based on specific parameters. This includes:
The depth of modern ad analytics can be daunting for brands.
That said, what you learn from your campaigns can be a goldmine of marketing data. Ads provide a way to measure the performance of different ad creatives, offers, CTAs and more.
Data gathered from these campaigns represent real people, not hypotheticals. Even a small-scale test can be eye-opening in terms of learning more about your customers. Think of ads as a scalable way to conduct market research.
Brands are spoiled for choice when it comes to the types of promotions they run.
Below are some social media advertising examples that scratch the surface of what you can do.
Static image ads are pretty straightforward. Single-image ads often highlight a specific product, sale or offer. Many brands make these pop with bold colors and captions that create FOMO.
example of a static photo advertisement on Facebook
As noted early, consumers at large really want to see products in action.  Video ads can balance entertainment and education when it comes to your products. Bonus points if your videos feature real-life customers or creators.
If nothing else types of ads serve as a natural hook and grab the attention of serial scrollers. The fact that Reels and TikToks are so popular right now reflects the effectiveness of video ads.
video social media advertising example
It’s well-documented that Carousel content performs well organically on Instagram. Slideshows provide an opportunity to show off multiple products from multiple angles. This provides shoppers with a complete view of what you’re offering. With Carousels, a single ad can appeal to different types of customers at the same time.
example of carousel ads on instagram
Anything you can do to serve ads without interrupting potential customers is a plus. That’s part of what makes ads in the Stories ads so notable. The key is to immediately hook viewers from the first frame to pique their interest. Bold colors and headlines plus a video format do the trick.
IG Stories example
The common thread between most of these social advertising examples?
Featuring real people helps them stand out. These types of ads resemble organic content at a glance and that makes them so powerful.
example of a TikTok ad
Branded content ads allow you to take posts from creators on Instagram or TikTok and promote them as ads. Doing so should be on the radar for any brand that already invests in influencer marketing.
There are a lot of moving pieces involved in any given ad campaign. Below is a high-level overview of the steps required to get an ad up and running.
The concept of bidding is something to understand when advertising with Meta. Without getting too into the nitty-gritty, here’s how it works:
example of Meta's social media advertising options for targeting
How you define your audience is up to you but Meta can do a lot of hand-holding to walk you through the process. This applies to bidding and targeting alike.
Pop quiz: why do you want to invest in social media advertising in the first place?
This isn’t a trick question! Big-picture goals will help you define specific objectives to optimize your campaign performance.
For example, are you trying to build awareness? Hype up a launch? Earn more traffic? All of the above are fair game in terms of goals. Social platforms will tailor your ad targeting and setup based on your goals via campaign objectives.
Here’s a snapshot of the campaign objectives available on Facebook and Instagram:
Meanwhile, here are the ad objectives on TikTok.
Once you define your elements, you’re responsible for filling in the blanks to determine what your ads will actually look like.
Piggybacking on the point above, your ad creatives are the “meat” of your campaigns. In other words, what people are going to get served.
When we talk about the many moving pieces of a campaign, creatives are make-or-break. Consider the anatomy of any given social ad including:
Some brands will actually run variations of the same ad with different creatives. This can be done for testing purposes and likewise serve as a way to reach multiple audiences with the same ad.
Example of multiple ad creatives on Facebook
To wrap things up, let’s review some quick tips for brands considering ad campaigns on social media.
Knocking your first set of social ads out of the park is a tall order.
Thankfully, a little bit of experimenting can go a long way toward optimizing your campaigns. Rather than go head-first into ads, consider running small-scale tests first.
From formats to copy and beyond, there are so many variables that go into any given ad set. Be prepared to make a few tweaks before finding what works.
If you’re stuck in terms of what you should run as an ad, look no further than your organic presence.
For example, your analytics and past engagement can serve as a treasure trove of insight for your ad campaigns. This is especially true if you’re using a social media management tool like Sprout Social.
Sprout makes it a cinch to identify your top-performing content and messaging to repurpose as ads. Not to mention which networks would be prime for your next campaign.
example of sprout social's dashboard
The more granular you get with your data, the more confident decisions you can make with your ads.
The fact that Sprout allows you to track your organic and paid efforts side-by-side is a nice added bonus. Doing so gives you a more holistic understanding of your social media advertising efforts.
We’ll say it again: the more your ads resemble organic content, the better.
There’s a reason why TikTok’s mantra is “Make TikToks, not ads.” Authentic and unfiltered ads have proven effective on TikTok. Brands can apply the same approach to Instagram, too.  Creator-based ads serve as a way to make your ads instantly feel less sales-y.
TikTok ad example
Social media advertising campaigns are becoming a matter of “when” rather than “if” for brands.
As organic reach is harder to come by and competition grows in the social space, paid ads are often the best way to ensure that you’re reaching your audience.
Hopefully you have a better idea of what’s possible with paid campaigns and you’re ready to start brainstorming your own. If you need more inspiration, check out our paid social media 101 guide!
Social media advertising: How it works and tips for success
Twitter ads: The complete guide for your brand
Organic vs. paid social media: A hybrid strategy that works
How to Advertise on Facebook + Strategies [Complete Guide]
Instagram advertising: The 8 step guide for your brand
TikTok ads 101: How to get started with TikTok advertising
Paid, owned and earned media: What they are and where social fits into the mix
The digital marketer’s guide to Facebook video ads
Always up-to-date list of Instagram ad sizes & specs
Always up-to-date list of Facebook ad sizes & specs
Your guide to social media targeting via Sprout Social
12 Facebook ad examples you wish you made
Instagram ads vs Facebook ads: Which is better for your business?
Facebook advertising cost: Everything you need to optimize your ROI
CPC (Cost per click)
How to master Facebook ad targeting & zero-in on your audience
Facebook Ads Manager
5 Instagram Video Ads Tips to Wow Your Audience
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