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Yes, Social Advertising Works (When You Do It Right)

Sharmin Kent August 31, 2017

A recent article from eMarketer painted a bleak picture for brands hoping to engage their audiences via social advertising.

According to a study cited from CivicScience, very few U.S. internet users have made a purchase based on ads they saw on social channels like Facebook or Snapchat. Just 4% of survey respondents bought something based on an Instagram ad, and a full 45% of respondents said they never buy anything based on social media advertising.

On its face, this study is discouraging. But it also seems…wrong. If social advertising doesn’t work, how did Facebook bring in more than $9 billion in ad revenue during the second quarter of 2017? If consumers aren’t taking purchase cues from social advertising, how did Instagram pull nearly $600 million in mobile ad revenues in 2015–and why was it projected to surpass Twitter’s mobile ad revenues by this year?

Social advertising can be quite successful when it’s done well: exploring the best elements of an effective social campaign, delivering variety and observing how audiences respond, learning from those responses and improving. Successful social marketers know that audience matters, context is vital, and channel is everything. Social advertising has given brands large and small the opportunity to advertise to their target audiences with the right messaging and imagery. And, given the right resources and time to find the sweet spot for all three, brands can master social advertising for their ideal customers.

Shouting Into the Crowd

Let’s dig a little more into that study from CivicScience, which surveyed U.S. internet users aged 13 and older. How many 13-year-olds are responsible for making major buying decisions for their households? It’s true that teens are strong influencers when it comes to household spending, but unless the ads are presented on the social channels they visit most, brands are wasting money.

With younger internet users emigrating from Facebook to Snapchat and Instagram, experimenting with targeted advertising on those channels makes sense both strategically and financially. Instead of shouting into a massive crowd, brands must do the work to identify their audiences and speak directly to them.

Medium and Message

After identifying the right audiences, finding the most effective messaging and delivery methods are critical. Revisiting that eMarketer piece reveals some interesting findings. Not only were respondents far more likely to buy from an ad on Facebook compared to other channels, but another study from CPC Strategy notes that a quarter of U.S. internet users have made purchases after clicking on a Facebook ad. With that information, social media managers are safe to assume that Facebook can be a successful social advertising channel across industries, audiences and verticals.

The trick, however, is finding the right mix of messaging, creative treatments and calls-to-action to drive conversions. And that takes time and resources: trying several iterations of the same ads, testing different messages with similar images, or creating ads for more than one target audience. Paid social is also a valuable part of the mix: most B2C marketers rate social promoted posts and ads second only to SEO and SEM for marketing tactics.

Social media runs on data: from its users, from the brands who want to reach them and the interactions between the two, and from how those users engage with the content they’re offered. Social advertising has been reliably successful for the brands who get it right–but it’s impossible to get right on the first try. It takes time, effort, and experimentation.

Featured image: Flickr