Getting started on paid social media is a huge leap for most businesses.

This is because we have become so used to the fact that social life is completely free.

The reality? A staggering three quarters of all marketers run paid social campaigns. Even for small and sole proprietorships, social ads are largely a matter of “when” rather than “when”.

From increasing brand awareness to increasing traffic and leads, a well-crafted campaign can produce instant results for your business.

Think of this as your guide to paid social 101 to cut down the noise and break down exactly how.

Why paid social media is “worth it”

Just like email or SEO, social media is a marketing channel. As with most channels, “free” only gets you so far.

It’s important for businesses to understand that paid and organic social media is not a question of either / or. In fact, paid campaigns can add to your organic social media endeavors in the long run.

How so? Whether you’re skeptical yourself or need buy-in from your employees, here are the benefits you should consider when investing in paid social media.

Paid social networks give your company a guaranteed reach

This is the big one.

Today’s social media algorithms are difficult. If you ever feel like some of your posts explode while others are buried, you are definitely not alone. Regardless of how much you optimize your posts, reach is not guaranteed.

Paid social media, on the other hand, ensures that your campaigns are seen. You are essentially paying for your audience’s undivided attention.

Note that 28% of consumers discover new products directly through social media, with that number being higher for Millennials and Gen Z. Last but not least, ads are a surefire way to introduce your brand to new customers and grab the attention of previous customers without being constrained by an algorithm.

With paid social you can reach your most important customers

Piggyback on the last point: Social ads today have seriously intelligent targeting.

For example, you can set up campaigns to only serve followers of a certain income level or people who live in a certain area. You can also create campaigns that only target followers, previous customers, or people who have bounced off your website.

Because you can set the parameters for your ad targeting, you can also make sure your ads are served to the people who are most likely to click them. In short, you’re in control (see an example from Facebook’s ad targeting options below).

The widespread use of paid social networks has also led networks to make the process of targeting less complicated. For example, Facebook’s automated ads are designed to help businesses know who to target and when to run.

Paid social teaches you a lot about your target audience

Most native social analytics leave something to be desired.

However, the insights from paid social networks go seriously in depth. With advertising campaigns, you get first-hand insights into the most important social media metrics for your company. You can also learn:

  • What types of promotions are the most engaging?
  • What your social media audience looks like demographically (see the following example from Facebook)
  • How your social ads compare to your organic social ads

Facebook paid ads dashboard

Take that away? Testing the water with paid social networks also means improving your social media coverage and teaching you more about your target audience. Even if you run some one-off campaigns and don’t regularly invest in paid social networks, you can use these insights to advance your organic social strategy.

When is the right time to start paid social media?

Fair question! While there isn’t one right answer here, there are a few points to consider before diving into a paid campaign.

Before you start: Make sure you have an established following and a thorough understanding of the network you want your ads to appear on.

This may seem obvious, but it can raise suspicion if a brand is running ads but has a completely silent organic page. An established presence signals that you are a legitimate company. Plus, being able to serve ads to existing followers is a nice added bonus as people who already know you are more likely to get involved.

After you have laid the foundation for your organic presence, Allocate a reasonable budget to your campaigns for the best results.

We get it: creating a social media budget can be a challenge. How much your ads cost depends on a variety of variables, including your industry, cost-per-click (CPC), the motives required, and the length of time the campaign ran.

As a business, you should be ready to get involved with your paid campaign with the right amount of money. If you run “value” campaigns that don’t reach your target audience, you won’t get a lot of ROI. You need to be able to get involved with your goals and take full advantage of the targeting and visibility of paid social networks.

You should too Tie your social ad campaigns to larger business initiatives. Whether this is a product launch, a time-sensitive advertisement, or a vacation special depends on your company. You should never advertise takeaway “just because”.

If you can adhere to these principles, you will overcome many of the most common paid social media challenges.

Paid Social 101: 5 Keys to a Successful Initial Campaign

For example, let’s say you’re itchy to start ads. Great! Below is a basic breakdown of the five must-dos when running a first-time paid campaign.

1. Select the social platforms that you want to prioritize

According to the Sprout Social Index, a platform’s potential reach is the single most important factor in deciding whether to invest in it. The same goes for advertisements.

Sprout Data: How Marketers Prioritize Which Platform To Invest In

As mentioned earlier, you should invest in social platforms that you are comfortable with and on which you have an established audience. We recommend staying on a single platform for the time being, ideally where you get the most direct customer interactions.

This is not about getting your ad campaigns public or doing too much at once. Different networks have different goals, not to mention themes and ad specifications. The exception is Facebook and Instagram (which use the same ad platform), but even then, you probably want to try things out before trying to juggle two paid campaigns.

2. Set goals and desired results for your paid campaigns

Simply put, you need to figure out what you want to get out of your social ads before running them.

Would you like to increase the awareness of your brand? Drive registrations and sales? It’s your decision.

Modern ad platforms make it a breeze to pick a specific target and create a campaign around it (see Instagram’s targeting options below).

Instagram ad goals

Your goal will ultimately inspire your campaign and its creatives. Setting goals also ensures that you are tracking the correct metrics and KPIs associated with your campaigns.

3. Get inspiration from successful campaigns

Chances are you’ve seen some great social ads. You’ve probably seen some stinkers too.

Researching competing ads is a crucial part of paid social media 101. Be especially careful to research ads from smaller competitors, not just big box brands and companies. The comparison of advertisements that a local company or café runs with those of, for example, Sephora or Starbucks, is apples and oranges.

You can look up companies directly from the Facebook ad library or spend some time surfing social networks to run ads yourself. Notice what kind of subjects you like and how “good” ads speak to customers.

Facebook ad library

4. Research, copy and target suitable motifs

There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes of any given paid social campaign.

Fortunately, ad platforms these days are pretty good at taking beginners through the process, one step at a time. To freshen up, take the time to familiarize yourself with the following topics:

Expect to do some fine-tuning on your first few ads, especially when it comes to targeting. As you progress through the initial stages of a particular campaign, you can make corrections to it. This speaks to the need not only to do your homework but also to have a reasonable budget available for these adjustments.

5. Track your paid efforts with analytics

The decision whether your campaigns were successful or not depends on your analysis.

Between your ad analytics and platforms like Sprout, you can get an in-depth look at how your campaign is performing. Beyond engagement metrics and clicks, analytics can help you understand:

  • How your organic social media compares to paid social media
  • Whether you’ve seen an ROI on your paid campaign (s)
  • Opportunities to optimize future campaigns

are sprouting socially paid reporting

Having these responses and reports available can double the way to improve your campaigns and share your results with colleagues too.

If you are satisfied with your performance, you can refine your direction and budget accordingly in the future. If not, you can uncover opportunities to make changes or put more energy into organic social media (or vice versa).

organic vs paid impressions in Sprout Social

And with that, we wrap up our guide to paid social 101!

Do you want to go beyond paid social 101? No problem

After you understand the basics of paid social media, you can work towards your first campaign with that much-needed sense of confidence.

And of course there is a lot to report. The abundance of paid social ads and success stories speaks for itself today.

Do you need help buying in your employees when it comes to social ads? We’ll cover you. Check out our guide on how to build a social media business case.