What Is Social Advertising?

Social advertising is the process of creating and deploying clickable ads to reach target audiences through social media platforms, messaging apps, news feeds, and even outside apps and websites. Companies use social advertising campaigns to build brand awareness, generate leads, and/or capture sales revenue.

Social advertising is particularly effective at driving engagement and conversions because social media platforms offer a treasure trove of highly specific and actionable user data. Audiences can be defined based on past behavior, purchase history, and/or how well users match up with target persona demographics and interests.

Targeted audiences may be completely unfamiliar with the brand and/or product being advertised. But the message has a good chance of resonating and getting an immediate response in a data-rich and highly personalized social media environment.


Growth of Social Advertising

Social advertising continues to grow at an accelerating rate. As recently as 2015, traditional advertising was still king: companies spent twice as much on TV, radio, and print as they did on social advertising. In 2019, for the first time ever, social advertising in the U.S. is expected to eclipse advertising via traditional channels.


Spend Statistics

Since the start of 2019, spending on social advertising has already topped $100 billion—a 37% increase over this time last year—and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 24.5%. By 2023, companies will likely invest over $242 billion in social advertising campaigns.

Facebook and Google earned 60% of social advertising dollars ($65 billion) in 2018. Although their market share is expected to hold fairly steady in 2019, Facebook and Google may see their revenues climb to $77 billion in the U.S. alone.


Benefits of Social Advertising

Social media permeates daily life. It’s where users keep up with friends, interests, and events on a daily basis. In 2018, there were nearly 3.2 billion social media users worldwide, and 73% of Americans were using more than one social media platform.

The sheer numbers of people who can be reached through social media platforms is staggering. But there are other benefits, perhaps even more important ones, that make social advertising a uniquely valuable investment.


Brand Awareness

Social advertising offers startups and small businesses a fighting chance in a crowded, noisy field of competitors. In fact, there’s no better way to reach people who would likely be interested in a new product, service, or app based on their individual characteristics, interests, and past behaviors. Likes, shares, tags, and comments can not only create a buzz for a brand or offering in a very short time but also influence users’ social networks.


Improved Conversion Rates

By virtue of how and where social advertising appears, and how precisely it’s targeted, it’s less likely to trigger people’s natural resistance to sales. It’s also likelier to grab users’ attention, as they’re more actively engaged on social media platforms than with traditional channels. Responding to social ads feels as natural as it is easy; signups, downloads, and purchases are just a click away. For all these reasons, social advertising offers one of the highest conversion rates of any marketing medium.


Efficient ROI

Social advertising is a relatively low-cost approach that offers ultra-specific user data and unmatched targeting abilities. During the course of their campaigns, social advertisers can easily assess and optimize ad performance and count on steadier, more predictable response rates. As social advertising propels growth, startups can scale quickly on a limited budget.


Brand Loyalty

Although the cost of acquiring new customers through social advertising is relatively low, loyal repeat customers tend to spend more—67% more, on average, than new customers. Social advertising not only keeps brands top of mind for past buyers but also reaffirms their choices and turns them into brand ambassadors who are eager to bring friends and family on board.


Marketing Insights

Social advertisers can measure both brand sentiment and campaign performance via ad impressions and engagement, increases in followers, brand mentions, traffic driven to the website, and leads/sales generated. Advertisers can also see what’s working with various target audiences and refine their social ad campaigns and branding strategies in a timely, cost-effective way.


Social Advertising Platforms

In this section, we’ll summarize the major advantages and ad formats of five social advertising channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google App Campaigns.



Facebook has the largest user base of any platform (2 billion users) and the largest share of display ads of any social network. It also offers the highest ROI for social advertisers. Currently serving 7 million advertisers and counting, Facebook is continuously revisiting its “relevance diagnostics” to provide the most actionable data and ensure efficient advertising spend.

Facebook Targeting Capabilities

Facebook advertisers can segment audiences depending on campaign strategy (website conversion, app install, or app engagement). To target prospects who are similar to their existing customers, advertisers can build lookalike audiences in the U.S. and around the world using Facebook’s native audience-building tool or a time-saving third-party alternative.

Targeting criteria can include location, demographics (age, gender, education, relationship status, job title, and more), interests, behavior (past purchases, device usage), and connections (with brand pages or events). Facebook’s Audience Network tool allows advertisers to reach users outside the platform (websites, apps, videos, etc.) and specify where their ads will be seen.

Types of Facebook Ads

Facebook creative offers something for every type of business and social advertising campaign:

    • Photo ads
    • Video ads
    • Carousel ads (up to 10 images or videos, each with a separate link)
    • Slideshow ads (static images that move)
    • Collection ads (featured product photos and pricing)
    • Instant Experience (formerly Canvas ads)
    • Messenger ads (appearing on the home screen of Messenger app)
    • Event Responses



LinkedIn is the world’s leading career- and professional networking-oriented site. The platform currently boasts 610 million users, with 4 out of 5 in decision-making roles. Cost per click can run higher than on other platforms, but for companies looking to target B2B prospects, LinkedIn is a solid advertising investment.

LinkedIn Targeting Capabilities

LinkedIn users can be targeted based on language, demographics, geographic location, title, company size, job experience, industry, education, and interests.

Types of LinkedIn Ads

Companies can advertise via Sponsored content (news feed), Sponsored InMail, and/or text ads. Ad formats include single image, video, carousel image, message, text, and dynamic.



As a hub for wedding, cooking, and fashion ideas, Pinterest has a mostly female user base. Users are free to “pin” ideas they like, including sponsored content, to their own boards for connected users to see and share. A majority of users (55%) say they use Pinterest specifically to shop, even if they wait to purchase, and 98% have tried new things they discovered on the platform.

Pinterest Targeting Capabilities

Advertisers can target customers, people who’ve engaged their brand on Pinterest, previous website visitors, and/or “act alike” audiences based on their interests, Pinterest search keywords (with tools such as match types, negative keywords, and search term reports), demographics, location, language(s), and digital device(s).

Types of Pinterest Ads

Note: When users pin these ads to their boards, the ads’ “Promoted” tags disappear.

    • Promoted pins
    • One-tap pins (takes the user directly to a landing page)
    • Promoted carousels
    • Promoted video pins
    • Promoted app pins (allows mobile app downloads directly from Pinterest)
    • Buyable pins (one tap reveals product info)
    • Story pins



Instagram is a highly visual platform with more than 800 million monthly users and 25 million business profiles. Half of Instagram users follow one or more brands, 60% have learned about a new product or service through the platform, and 70% have searched Instagram for a particular business.

Instagram Targeting Capabilities

Targeting options include location, demographics, interests, and behaviors. Advertisers can build custom audiences (current customers) and/or lookalike audiences (prospects) based on any combination of criteria, or they can use Instagram’s automated targeting tool.

Types of Instagram Ads

    • Stories ads (5-second photos or videos of up to 2 minutes, with a 24-hour limit)
    • Video ads (up to 60 seconds)
    • Photo ads
    • Carousel ads
    • Collection ads


Google App Campaigns

Google App Campaigns offers broad reach and visibility. Google takes advertisers’ text and creative elements from their Google play store listing to create and deploy ads across a variety of channels including Google search, Google Play, YouTube, websites, and other apps. As of this year, Google App Campaigns has helped drive 17+ billion app installs.

Google App Campaigns Targeting Capabilities

Google automates targeting based on an advertiser’s campaign focus: new users (installs), users who’ve taken specific in-app actions, and/or users who are likely to make in-app purchases.

Types of Google App Campaign Ads

On mobile phones and tablets:

    • Text ads
    • Image ads
    • App promotion ads
    • HTML 5 ads (built with Google Web Designer)

Within apps on mobile phones and tablets:

    • Text ads
    • Image ads
    • App promotion ads
    • Image app promotion ads
    • Video app promotion ads
    • TrueView for app promotion ads
    • Responsive display ads


Social Ad Creation

Thanks to its relatively low cost and sophisticated targeting tools, social advertising is fertile ground for startups, SMBs, and established brands alike. High-quality creative—the product of expert analysis, planning, development, and testing—is the only way to achieve breakout wins.


Establish Ground Rules

Define the boundaries and ideals for creative concepts and development. Start with brand guidelines related to logos, fonts, colors, copy, and styling. Decide on color pallets and basic preferences (simple or stylized, elegant or dramatic, etc.). Look for existing assets that conform to these requirements.


Focus on Top-Performing Ad Types


  • Basics in motion—a simple video or animation of a game or product
  • Brand in motion—a video that emphasizes the brand
  • Benefit in motion—starts with a still, then animates a product’s benefits with typography and short copy
  • Demo in motion—a video emphasizing how a product works

    Aim High with Video Ads

    • Open strong. The first 3 seconds matter most.
    • Emphasize sound, but only if it’s important.
    • Use clear, concise copy to support the message.
    • Make the ad only as long as it needs to be.
    • Lean into your art and story. If you have great characters, use them.


    Social Advertising Best Practices

    A successful social advertising campaign has three pillars: a well-defined strategy, detailed planning, and streamlined execution. Following are best practices for every campaign phase.


    1. Platform Selection

    Consider the general makeup and characteristics of users of various platforms and how they compare with your audience personas. Some platforms may be a better fit for your brand, product, or service than others. CPI, targeting precision, and creative/formatting flexibility are important considerations as well.


    2. Ad Budget

    Pay per impression (CPM) or pay per click (PPC)? The choice depends on whether you’re more interested in brand awareness or conversions. Pay for every 1,000 impressions, regardless of engagement, for increased visibility. If you’re focused on conversions, PPC may be the best use of your social advertising budget.


    3. Ad Creative

    Analyze past campaign successes and brainstorm to develop a hypothesis about creative approaches and elements that are likely to resonate and perform best. If you know which of your brand’s organic posts have been most successful, use those insights as well.


    5. Creative Testing

    Creative testing reveals high-performing ads and elements that drive ROI. But it can also produce financial waste, as 19 out of 20 new ads will fail to outperform a current winner. To test creative concepts efficiently, follow these three simple rules:

    1. If results are too slow, increase your bids by the same percentage.
    2. If ads are under delivering, make the same changes to all ads.
    3. Pause and rerun text to get clean data.


    These are just some of the graphic and layout elements you can test, depending on performance data:

    • Image layout
    • Grid layout
    • Mobile device in the image vs. no mobile device
    • Text in image
    • Logos
    • Calls to action (language, color, and look and color of the button)
    • User-generated vs. stock photos
    • Background colors/gradients/textures/images
    • Use of characters
    • One vs. multiple products displayed
    • Video duration (5, 10, 20, or 30 seconds)
    • Branding placement (first vs. last 3 seconds, north or south, east or west, include or exclude)
    • Gameplay (gameplay vs. trailers, characters or no characters, text overlaid or excluded, fast-action sequence)


    6. Ad Optimization

    To determine winners as you test, you’ll need to take multiple KPIs into account (both lift and results). Test and iterate continuously to fine-tune your creative efforts and accelerate your gains.


    How to Execute a Social Advertising Campaign

    Social advertising offers unparalleled opportunities to engage and convert audiences, but it’s not without its pitfalls. The easiest path to achieving business goals while conserving advertising dollars is to partner with experts who can bolster internal marketing teams with world-class creative and campaign support.


    We’ve spent over $1 billion on social advertisers’ behalf—with results that speak for themselves. To learn about our tiered managed services, including affordable world-class creative, contact us today.

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