Social media is a marketing tool pre-Internet marketers could only dream of. A virtually complete directory of every consumer on the planet? Indexed and targetable by age, gender, location, and a hundred other identifiable details? Maybe in science fiction, a marketer of 40 years ago would have said.
Never forget, startup founders and marketers of the 21st century: we are living in the future.
But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Social media is a tool. And, like, any tool, it is only as good as how it’s used – and what it’s used for. Nowhere is that more clear than in the world of social media advertising.
When it comes to social media advertising, execution is everything. And here’s the thing: ninety percent of the work happens before you ever launch a single ad.
If anyone knows the make-or-break difference that planning can make in a social media campaign, it’s Sarah Goliger. As a freelance marketing consultant, she’s helped dozens of brands make the most out of social media advertising. She’s even put her social media wizardry to work for us at Startups.co.
We asked Sarah to join us to break down what goes into setting up a successful social media campaign. What we got are seven steps that you should definitely make sure you hit before you launch your next Facebook or Twitter campaign.
Before we get into any of that, let’s start here: what is social media advertising good for, and why should you use it?
Simply put, the first rule of marketing is to live where your audience lives. Approximately 2-3 billion people on the planet are using some form of social media on a daily basis. So there’s a pretty good chance that your audience is putting in some serious hours in the social network.
But more strategically speaking, there a couple of key areas where good social media advertising really shines:
“Running ads is a great way to expand the top of your funnel, and drive both brand awareness and new leads,” Sarah observes. “Oftentimes, companies get stuck marketing their content to the same audiences – the ones they already own. Think organic social media followers, blog subscribers, email lists, etc. But with ads, you get to target new folks who have likely never heard of your brand before.”
If you’ve ever visited a company’s website and then seen retargeting ads from them in your social feeds afterward, you’ve experienced this first hand: social media campaigns can be a great way to keep your brand top of mind with potential customers who are familiar with your brand, but not quite ready to make the buy.
By its very nature, social media is a flexible medium. That makes it an amazing tool for testing and refining messaging – and figuring out who your ideal customers are in the first place. “With all the targeting options at your disposal, you have the ability to test a variety of new audiences to see which ones respond best,” Sarah points out. “Then really hone in on the top performers to generate stronger ROI.”
With these strengths of social media advertising in mind, the first step in setting up any successful social media campaign is just to ask yourself: What are you trying to get out of this?
It might sound basic. But, Sarah says, “You’d be surprised how many marketers will put in their credit cards and start running campaigns without asking themselves this question first.”
Launching a social media campaign without establishing what your goals are is like starting a race without knowing what race you’re actually running. How will you know where you’re going, or when you get there? Or how fast you need to run?
As you’re planning a campaign, be sure that you’re slowing down enough to really hone in on what the goal of the campaign is.
Are you trying to drive sign-ups for your email list ahead of a product launch? Increase your brand awareness among 18-to-25-year-old women? Do you have an idea for a product that you’re just trying to gauge whether anyone would be interested in in the first place?
The more specific your goals, the easier it will be to tell whether you’re hitting the mark.
Speaking of hitting your mark, that brings us to step 2 of successful social media advertising: deciding which metrics you will look at to determine how effective your campaign is at reaching your goals.
“Identify which metrics are going to help you track success against those goals,” Sarah advises. “Measure these consistently, and look to optimize around them.”
As for what metrics you should track? It varies from platform to platform, but in general, here are the main buckets that you can look at:
The number of unique people who have seen your ad. Not to be confused with impressions, which tells you how many times your ad has been seen, regardless of whether people have viewed the ad multiple times.
Depending on the platform, this can include likes, shares, retweets, comments, and more. Metrics like these tell you how well your ad is connecting with people – and how successful it is at spreading once it’s “in the wild.”
This is the number of people who find the offer in your ad attractive enough that they’re ready to go wherever the ad sends them to learn more. Dividing the number of clicks by the total number of impressions gives you your click-through rate, or CTR.
For sales-focused campaigns, this is the big one: how many of your audience members are picking up what you’re laying down and following it all the way through to the sign-up page or the pre-order? Link clicks and conversions can also work together to give you some pretty essential information about how your campaign is working as a whole: If your social media ad has high click-through numbers, but your conversion numbers are low, this may tell you that something is off elsewhere in your funnel – on your landing page, for example. More on that in a minute.
We’ll get back to the subject of budgets in a minute, but when it comes to metrics, CPA is definitely the figure you’ll want to track to keep an eye on your campaign’s financial health. The lower your cost per acquisition, the more cost-effective your campaign.
There’s really no such thing as a bad data when it comes to evaluating social media advertising performance. But depending on the goals of your campaign, some metrics will be more useful than others.
For example: “If your goal is brand awareness, where you’re not worried about conversions, but just getting as many eyeballs as possible, you want to optimize for impressions and clicks, and promote top of the funnel content like blog posts, ebooks, etc,” says Sarah.
Finding the exact right combination of data to track, and understanding what that data means – it’s a science, but it’s also a bit of an art. That’s why people who do it well – people like Sarah – can be such an indispensable addition to any team.
When it comes to metrics, remember: you should never be gathering data on your campaigns just for the sake of looking at numbers. The purpose of gathering data is always to inform next steps and drive decisions that will lead to even greater success for your brand.
We’re listing “identify your audience” as step 3 in this article, but a more accurate label might be “Step 2B” or “Step 2.001.” Deciding who you’re going to target and how you’ll know if you’ve targeted them effectively are really flip sides of the same coin.
“I like to start by mapping out which audiences I’m going to target, to give myself a clear sense of which message I’m showing to which groups, and to avoid overlap,” says Sarah.
There are three main type of audiences you can target through social media advertising. You’ll probably use some mix of all of them over the course of your campaigns.
Retargeting refers to users who already have some exposure to your brand. “These audiences tend to convert the highest since they’re already familiar with your brand and product/service,” Sarah observes.
Lookalike audiences are what they sound like. They’re users who “look” like, or share a lot of social characteristics with, your customers, website visitors, or other audiences you already have. “Lookalikes are a great way to go after a larger audience while still keeping it relevant,” says Sarah.
This is the big blue ocean of social media advertising. “Interests and demographics allow you to go broad or narrow, depending on how selective you make it,” Sarah points out. If you’re building your audience from scratch, or trying to figure out who your audience is in the first place, this is where you’ll want to start. Spend some time honing in on a few key characteristics or demographics that define your target market. Then, calibrate your campaign to speak directly to those people.
In our post about landing pages, we talked about how marketing is an ecosystem. No individual component is working by itself. Every tactic is a piece in a puzzle, providing just one part of the complete picture.
So the next step in social media advertising: understanding where social media fits into the puzzle – and making sure the other pieces are in place, too.
“I always recommend that you have a solid marketing funnel in place before putting budget toward ads. That way, you can be sure to convert the folks that you’re capturing from your ads,” says Sarah.
The greatest social media strategy is useless if you don’t have a plan for what comes after a target clicks through. But, as Rich Page and Joel Klette emphasized in our conversation about landing pages, it’s not enough to have the funnel in place. You need to ensure that the messaging of your ad is consistent with where you’re sending your leads.
“The message in your ad needs to match the message of your landing page. Otherwise, high bounce rates will strike,” says Rich Page. “If the page message doesn’t match the ad message, visitors will feel the mismatch. They may be disappointed or confused, and leave prematurely.”
“It’s about avoiding cognitive dissonance,” adds Joel. “If your ad promises a free quote on insurance, and your landing page has a CTA that says ‘Create an Account’ – that’s confusing.”
In other words: if you’re planning several different social media campaigns, plan on having several different landing pages to match. “I would always recommend creating many versions of landing pages to match the copy and headlines in your ad groups,” says Joel. “Don’t just create a one-size-fits-all page and hope it converts.”
Remember: your social media ads are not isolated items spinning out in space. They’re part of a solar system. Every piece moves in relation to another, and according to the laws of gravity in your startup marketing universe.
Ah yes, the “b” word. This is the question on every cash-strapped founder’s mind: how much money do I have to spend on my social media campaign in order to get the results I’m looking for?
We all wish there was a straightforward answer. But, as with so many things about starting a company, there really are no hard, fast rules.
“The budget question is always a tricky one, since there’s no right or wrong answer,” says Sarah. “You can spend less money over more time and take longer to collect data, or vice versa and collect data faster. I generally advise spending no less than $10-15 per day per campaign, in order to gain enough data to be useful, but it really varies.”
The big thing to know about social media advertising spend: there tends to be a strong correlation between how much you spend and how long you’ll have to run the campaign before you get meaningful results.
“Lower spend means you’ll need longer to collect sufficient and insightful data,” Sarah observes. “Otherwise, it’s tough to know what’s working and what’s not. I generally wouldn’t recommend running a campaign for less than a week unless it’s pretty high budget.”
One thing to avoid, Sarah stresses: falling into the trap of assuming that more money spent will automatically lead to better results. “Unfortunately, metrics don’t always scale in tandem with spend,” she says. “It’s important to continue testing and optimizing as you increase spend. Then, make sure you’re putting budget toward the top performers!”
We’re at step #6 out of 7 of this crazy article, and we’re just now getting to the thing that we’re willing to bet some of you were expecting to be step #1: creating the actual ads themselves.
But trust us: you want to have done all of this prep ahead of crafting the ad copy and design itself. Why? Because all of the thinking you did will inform what the finished ad product looks like.
Know who exactly it is your ad is targeting? “You want to tailor your copy to your specific audience to make it as relevant and interesting to them as possible,” says Sarah.
As for understanding how your ad fits into the broader funnel, and where you’re sending them? Well, how can you craft ad copy if you don’t have that journey locked down first?
The question on everyone’s mind is: what exactly makes a great Facebook ad?
If we had an easy answer to that one, thousands of copywriters and designers would be out of a job. But that said, there are a few key things to look out for, Sarah says. Specifically, you want to keep an eye on your ad’s relevance and uniqueness.
“Relevance and uniqueness are really key [for good social media advertising]” says Sarah. “ If it’s not relevant to the person seeing your ad, forget it! Attention spans are shorter than ever, so if it’s not immediately relevant, you’re wasting your time and money.”
And when it comes to uniqueness? “With so many brands competing for consumers’ attention, you really have to stand out to be effective,” Sarah says. “I’m not saying you have to reinvent the wheel or you won’t be successful. But you do have to get creative and think about how you can really make your message resonate.”
You can iterate, ideate, rinse and repeat until the cows come home. But the fact is, you’ll never really know if your copy and design are on target until you expose them to sunlight. In other words: put the ads out there and see if it gets the kind of interaction you’re looking for.
“Ad copy and creative are two of the biggest elements to be testing and optimizing over time,” says Sarah. “So the real answer is to be focusing on these throughout your entire campaign process!”
Here we are: step 7. You’ve planned out your goals, plotted your metrics, thought long and hard about your audience. Your funnel, your creative, and your budget are all aligned. Now you just click “publish” and watch the conversions roll in, right?
Uh, that’s a negative, Houston.
Once your social media campaign goes live, the work is just beginning. To go back to our race metaphor, the launch of your campaign is just the starting line. Now you have to actually run the thing, determining how hard you need to push to get through – and how you need to adjust to keep yourself on course.
Here’s more good stuff on social media: