WIN/FAIL: Social Advertising Strategies That Work (Plus Some That Don’t)

Social advertising may feel as devoid of rules as the Wild West — and in a way that’s part of its appeal: the limited predictability, the need to constantly reinvent your approach, the “shoot first, gather metrics later” attitude that drives innovation. But even us thrill-seeking A/B testers need somewhere to start and a way to hedge our bets when devising a social strategy. As someone who spends most of my waking hours immersed in the world of social advertising, sometimes it feels like I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in-between. I’d like to share some insights about social advertising strategies that work (plus some that don’t) to help you make informed choices when crafting your own strategy.

Put your efforts where your users are — but choose wisely

Let’s start by talking about who’s using which platforms, and how often, and why.WIN-FAIL social strategies


Even with all of the upheaval it’s faced recently, Facebook still dominates the social media landscape — both for users and for advertisers. With 1.4 billion daily active users, and over 2 billion active monthly users, there’s no doubt that putting your ad on Facebook will get it in front of more eyes than any other platform. Even if all of America stopped using Facebook (which they won’t), they would still have over a billion daily users! 88% of 18-29 year olds (and even 62% of those 65 and older) use Facebook on a daily basis. But as any advertiser worth their salt will tell you, exposure alone won’t immediately correlate to conversions: only 32% of users engage with brands regularly, and 40% have never liked a business page

Still, advertising on Facebook makes sense for a lot of organizations. Why? Because we’re marketers. We forget that the most important part about our titles as Digital Marketers is that we’re marketers. Our job is to brand users, to get them excited about what we’re doing. Facebook allows you to do that. You can find success in almost any industry, because at the end of the day, your customers are there. It’s a question of right message, right place, right time.


LinkedIn’s audience looks small when compared to Facebook’s: “only” 500 million accounts, 250 million of whom are monthly users, and only 40% those log in on a daily basis. LinkedIn’s roots as an online resume platform means it can be easy to assume it’s a little less “social” and a lot more “network,” but it’s important not to dismiss its reach. LinkedIn is the most used social platform amongst Fortune 500 companies; 61 million users are senior-level influencers and 40 million are in decision-making positions — including 11 million Millennials in decision-making positions.

LinkedIn is a great place to be for B2B advertisers who want to reinforce their credibility by ushering users to quality content through targeted ads. It can also be a great place for higher education due to its rich data surrounding careers and education. LinkedIn is definitely pricey, so it’s best served when you have a product with a higher lifetime value. They are constantly updating and improving though, so it’s getting easier to measure results.  


Twitter’s smaller numbers (330 million active monthly users) belie its power as the hive brain of humanity. Its users are extremely active, tweeting hundreds of millions of times a day and generating over 2 billion search queries a day. Combine that with the fact 28% of Twitter users are college-educated and one third also report earning over $75,000 annually, you end up with a an intellectually curious, technology-savvy audience for your ad content. This makes Twitter a great platform for small- and medium-sized business who are looking to build brand awareness and loyalty: 69% of users have purchased from an SMB because of something they saw on Twitter, and a third of users amplify SMB messages by retweeting.

One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make with Twitter is that they want last click conversions out of the platform. I want to be able lose weight and eat cake, but those two things don’t go hand in hand. Twitter is great for brand awareness and engagement (just look at Wendy’s as an example). You have to treat the platform for what it is. If you don’t have discretionary funds for building your brand (you definitely should make the case for them if you don’t have them), then Twitter probably isn’t your jam. That doesn’t mean it’s ineffective though.

What’s working for social advertisers (try these things)

After drinking from that fire hose of statistics, you may well ask: “OK, but beyond the platforms, what’s really working? Where should I direct my energy?” And I’ll come back with (an irritatingly predictable), “It depends.” It sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. How you build your strategy depends on so much: your resources, your industry, your style, your audience, your voice, how established your brand is… Variables aside, though, here are some tactics I’ve seen that make the difference in a successful social advertising strategy.WIN-FAIL social strategies

Keep Facebook in your plans, but don’t stop there

95% of marketers still say that Facebook produces the best ROI for their advertising dollars. This is where Facebook’s reach and enormity can work in your favor: even if its engagement percentages are lower, volume alone is on your side when dealing with Facebook ads. Twitter is the second most valued platform among marketers and advertisers, with 63% reporting best ROI, followed by Instagram at 40% and LinkedIn at 38%. Bottom line? Facebook’s still the dominant force for social advertising but be sure to know your audience and diversify your approach accordingly. I never suggest putting all of your eggs in one basket, especially in an age where new technologies and platforms are popping up all the time. It’s important to remain agile.

Take the high road with your messaging

It’s tempting to fall back on product comparisons (and the between-the-lines smack talk they insinuate) when you’re trying to stand out in the sea of social ads. But public trust in businesses is at an all-time low; comparisons give your competition air time and can make you look petty. Use your messaging to establish trustworthiness and indispensability by focusing on three other tactics: featuring customer reviews, your brand story, and how you solve your customers’ issues. Think about your own life. Do you like being hit over the head with the hard sell all the time? No! you want to be wooed and won over.

Post at the times your audience is ready to engage

Users engage differently with platforms at different times of the day and week, so it only makes sense to adjust your ads accordingly. 80% of the US population runs on Eastern Standard Time, so scheduling on EST (no matter where you are located) is wise. Facebook users are most active Thursday through Sunday (and click the most at 3 PM); Twitter users are 181% more likely to be active during their commute; LinkedIn users (professionals to the end) are most active before and after work. This is where analytics are your friend: figure out when your users are most active and plan accordingly.

Keep it visual

At this point in history, this should go without saying: your ads must be visual. Image posts get 179% more interaction than average Facebook post; LinkedIn posts with images receive 200% more engagement than text-only posts; tweets with images see an 18% higher click-through rate than those without — and tweets with videos are six times more likely to be retweeted than tweets with photos.

Take advantage of the most profitable ways to advertise

LinkedIn’s Account Targeting allows your message to reach specific individuals within a list of organizations in their database, making it a strong contributor to the 30% increase in CTR across LinkedIn’s retargeting options. Facebook retargeting delivers 21 times the CTR, a 79% lower CPC, and a 63% lower CPA than standard retargeting. Giant neon signs say: DO THIS.

Find your own angle

There are some industries that just seem to be made for social media: marketing (84% of marketers have integrated their social media and traditional marketing activities), food and beverage (8 out of 10 restaurants either use or plan to use social as a key marketing tool), and even education (57% of colleges use social media as a key component of fundraising). But that doesn’t mean the benefits of social are off-limits to those whose industries are less obviously suited to it. Take heart: if the manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and finance industries are finding their footing with social, there’s room for everyone to reap the benefits.

What’s not working (“strategies” to avoid)

OK, now for the reality check. Crafting a successful strategy is sometimes as much about knowing what to avoid as it is about what to pursue. There’s lots of ways to do social advertising right, but there are still some pitfalls that you should take pains to avoid. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of a few “strategies” (I use that word loosely) to steer clear of.WIN-FAIL social strategies

Avoiding channel diversification

In 2012, the average internet user had three social media accounts–now that average is closer to seven accounts. This means that it’s important to leverage multiple channels to reach your customers with a message that feels consistent and cohesive. That said, every channel has its own best practices and requirements, so expecting to produce one ad and have it work across platforms is unrealistic. Set aside the time and resources to modify your message to meet the needs of each specific channel.

Relying too much on emotional appeal

While establishing an emotional connection between your brand and your customers is vital for brand positioning, it may not be the best approach when it comes to advertising. One study reported that only 20% of Facebook posts generate an emotional response—and zero of those were paid or branded messages, they were personal content. So don’t worry too much about going for the emotional approach with your social ad content. Instead, strive to stand out by being memorable in other ways: funny, helpful, or even shocking—as long as your content is in line with your brand voice and message.   

Using static and non-personalized ads

Let me put this bluntly: people are more likely to survive a plane crash than they are to click on a banner ad. If you want more concrete statistics to back that up, 86% of Internet users suffer from “banner blindness” and, even back in 2014, the CTR on banner ads was only 0.1%. The solution? Find ways to make your ads more personal and dynamic. Facebook Dynamic Ads are a great place to start. They give you the ability to test a multitude of different texts, headlines, images, and CTAs. This is a great way to test out all possible combinations of your perfectly crafted copy without having to spend months testing each thing separately.

Targeting by sexual orientation

Targeting people by orientation always walked the line of questionable strategy, but now Facebook has eliminated the option entirely with the aim of preventing discrimination. Honestly, this shouldn’t matter much—successful social ad strategies should always be guided by well-defined customer personas for your target audience(s), and those personas must be driven by more than a single factor.

To sum up

There’s no perfect formula that will spell success for everyone when it comes to paid social. Keep the above points in mind as you begin to narrow down what works for you, your business, and your audience — but above all, never stop looking for new ways to address the challenges you face… then test, measure, iterate, and repeat! Remember, there’s no such thing as a failed test. Why? No matter what the outcome, you learned something and got that much better.

What's Next?

Matt Mason’s got a lot to say about social advertising. Check out his take on the “anything goes” nature of the industry in his blog article “The Wild West of Social Advertising: Separating False Promises from Real Opportunities.”

Matt Mason About the author

Matt Mason is a lifelong learner and digital marketing enthusiast. Matt’s favorite thing about marketing is getting outstanding results for his client and keeping up with the fast-moving current of technology and technique. He is currently a Senior Client Manager at Point It. Matt is focusing on building a deep knowledge about all thing digital and brings a fresh perspective to paid search. Born and raised in the 636 (Saint Louis), Matt is a lover of good food and music. In his free time, you can find him banging on the drums or crushing rock walls around Seattle

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