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A Quick Guide To Paid Social Media Ads

Des Nnochiri Digital Marketing, Social Media 1 Comment

Blogging, snazzy websites and email lists are all well and good, but to extend your marketing reach, you need to be getting your message out on social media. This kind of advertising doesn’t come for free – and not all social media platforms were created equal.

Here are some guidelines to help you get the most, for your money.

Which Network?

Different networks each have their characteristic focus – and each platform has its own user base. To get maximum coverage, you may need to spread your message across more than one. Here’s what the major players have to offer.

Leading social networks worldwide as of August 2015, ranked by number of active users (in millions)

Graph showing monthly users of social media networks

(Image Source:


With a global subscription of over 1.49 billion people (968 million of whom use the service every day), Facebook is an outlet that shouldn’t be ignored.

Ads on Facebook are aimed at Local Stores, Mobile Apps, or Online Sales. Within these broad categories, there are various sub-classes of advertisement.

Promotions that appear on the right-hand side of a News Feed are usually from the Local Stores category. They’re generally quite small, and most closely resemble traditional print advertising. Within this category are sidebar ads, which can be targeted at users, based on brands and groups that their friends ‘like’.

Mobile Apps promotions do just that: encourage users to install certain apps on their mobile devices. Adverts like these are designed with mobile navigation in mind, and are clustered in sets that can be swiped through, or scrolled by clicking on a direction arrow. Their position can be influenced by past activity on Facebook, and the apps favoured by others in your network.

Online Sales take a more direct approach. Page Post ads (which fall in this category) appear directly in a user’s news feed, and encourage people to like a certain brand or group. By adding Shop Now or Learn More buttons, links to dedicated product landing pages can be created.

Educational background, employment history, gender, geographical location, interests, and relationship status can be used as parameters to target specific audiences. Businesses looking to expand their reach will however need to pay a premium for exposure on this top-ranking platform.


Statistically, Google+ has over 300 million active monthly users. But with the Google brand spread over a range of products and services like YouTube, its reach is effectively much bigger than that.

+Post ads are all the platform has to offer, but these can be viewed across the whole Google Display Network.

Text, video, and graphics can be packaged into a Google+ post that also serves as a +Post ad. By clicking on it, visitors can link up to active Google Hangouts on Air. YouTube videos can also be incorporated.

+Post ads can be displayed anywhere within the Google Display Network, with the live links and interaction operating without users having to be on the Google+ website. Standard Google+ operations like Comment and +1 can be applied.


There are conditions to be met. Google+ advertisers must have a minimum of 1,000 followers, and opt in for the Google+ shared endorsement scheme. And +Post ads are vetted to ensure that they are relevant to their intended audience.

Ads can be targeted according to specified keywords, particular website addresses, subject matter, demographics, special interests, and geography. Previous visitors to your site can also be targeted for repeat or ongoing campaigns.

Its remarketing possibilities make Google+ a preferred choice for marketing professionals, and those involved in business-to-business (B2B) transactions. The following required to qualify initially may deter smaller companies, and those with limited budgets may have problems funding higher volume placements.


The Instagram image-sharing platform is now under Facebook’s umbrella, and boasts around 300 million users. Its interaction with Facebook offers the potential to expand this reach considerably.

Instagram charges advertisers for every 1,000 impressions their advert gets – a so-called CPM (cost per mile) pricing model. Given the site’s popularity, costs can soon mount up for smaller businesses.


Long respected as the social network for professionals, LinkedIn has around 97 million active monthly users. Of these, many operate in the B2B arena, using LinkedIn advertising to reach specific professional groups and disciplines. Advertising on the platform takes any of three forms.

LinkedIn Sponsored Updates bear a small label (“Sponsored”) in the top right-hand corner, but otherwise appear beside the regular content in a news feed.

LinkedIn Display Ads are small promotions that are displayed on the right-hand side of a user’s LinkedIn screen.

LinkedIn iconDirect Sponsored Content is the latest offering. This format boasts greater interaction (through multimedia, etc.) than the others.

Targeting criteria are built to favour B2B, and include industry, job title and position, company name, the size of a company, geographical location, gender, age, and membership of groups on LinkedIn.

Though its reach makes LinkedIn an attractive option for smaller businesses looking to deal with larger enterprises, the costs involved may be prohibitive – and there are no options for remarketing.


Pinterest is relatively new, but on the rise. It has around 70 million users registered. These users are intensely loyal, and offer the potential for serious targeting.

Promoted Pins are the advertising format on offer – a scheme that’s just beginning to roll out officially.


Twitter has over 316 million users, spread over desktop and mobile. The user base is intensely loyal, and tends to make frequent use of the platform.

Like LinkedIn, Twitter advertising comes in three forms:

Promoted Tweets carry the label “Promoted by…”, but appear along with other tweets in a user’s timeline. Hashtags and links to company websites or landing pages may be incorporated as normal.

Promoted Accounts (bearing the “Promoted” label) appear in the Twitter screen’s left-hand sidebar, together with other accounts suggested by the site’s algorithms.

Promoted Trends also display in the left-hand sidebar – often at the top of a list of currently trending topics. This can put a particular brand name in the dominant position of ongoing conversations.

Campaigns can be targeted on the basis of your existing followers, other users similar to them, gender, location, language, type of mobile device, interests, and keywords. Audiences can be filtered using Twitter IDs, email address, and cookies. There’s even integration with live TV broadcasts, which can greatly enhance brand awareness creation.

B2B companies and publishers have much to gain, from Twitter advertising. But again, the costs may exclude smaller concerns – the price of a Promoted Trend can exceed $200,000 for a single day.

Take a close look at your marketing needs, and an even closer one at your advertising budget. Then decide which combination of advertising display formats and client targeting works best for you.

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Des Nnochiri

Des Nnochiri has a Master's Degree (MEng) in Civil Engineering with Architecture, and spent several years at the Architectural Association, in London. He views technology with a designer's eye, and is very keen on software and solutions which put a new wrinkle on established ideas and practices. He now writes for markITwrite across the full spectrum of corporate tech and design. In previous lives, he has served as a Web designer, and an IT consultant to The Learning Paper, a UK-based charity extending educational resources to underprivileged youngsters in West Africa. A film buff and crime fiction afficionado, Des moonlights as a novelist and screenwriter. His short thriller, "Trick" was filmed in 2011 by Shooting Incident Productions, who do location work on "Emmerdale".

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