Should You Be Paying for Social Media Advertising?

Running any business in this day and age requires social media advertising. With 72% of U.S. adults on these platforms, you’ll have to meet your audience there. However, the cost of running social media ad campaigns can get expensive. Meanwhile, there are ways to advertise without having to break your budget.

Should you be paying for social media advertising in your campaigns? The answer to that question comes down to your business model and situation. There are some circumstances in which you’ll want to budget for social media ads, and there are times when doing so is inadvisable. By exploring the role of paid advertising on social media in these situations, you can plan a more cost-effective marketing strategy.


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The Role of Paid Advertising on Social Media

Let’s start with the role paid advertising can play in a social media campaign. There are a few different forms this advertising can take, all of which can help grow and sustain traffic, views, and engagement. However, utilizing paid social media is a balancing act. You have to juggle your goals, budget, and types of advertising if you hope to end up with an efficient return on investment (ROI).

That said, paid social media advertising can help you achieve all this and more. That’s because it plays a few important parts in any marketing. Primarily, paid social ads function to support three primary objectives in a marketing campaign. These are

  1. Customer Targeting: Paid ads allow you to use your marketing data to specifically show ads to customers in your target audience. As a result, you can elevate engagement.
  2. Brand Awareness: Embracing paid ads helps you get your message across. You’ll be seen by more people and establish greater awareness of your brand and values.
  3. Cross-Channel Efficiency: With paid ads, you can promote a message across various social media platforms while retaining consistency. This aids marketers in both customer targeting and brand awareness.

For 50% of Gen Z consumers (an increasingly larger share of the consumer market), social media ads influence their purchasing decisions. This demonstrates the power that advertising on these platforms can have in attracting traffic and making sales. However, you don’t always have to pay for this power. Understanding when to pay for ads and when not to is the key to balancing social media campaign effectiveness with your overall marketing budget.



When to Pay

First, explore when you should invest in social media advertisements. There might be any number of situations in which paid ads can be effective, making a difference in your ability to boost ROI and customer retention. Pinpointing these situations is an essential element in any social media strategy.

The process starts with understanding how paid ads leverage visibility and engagement. You can reach a much broader audience by paying to promote content. However, these investments will only be effective under the right conditions.

These are three situations in which paying for social media ads might be the right step for your campaign:

  1. When you want more engagement from a clearly defined audience: Paying for generic ads is never worthwhile. That’s why ads should be targeted to the specific customer personas and demographics you want more engagement from. If you are confident you can reach a targeted audience with the right messaging, use paid ads to do so.*
  2. When you want to highlight branding and human stories: Customers want content that is relevant to them. Additionally, establishing your brand through human stories, customer testimonials, and reviews helps personalize your marketing. This can lead to loyal customers and a worthwhile ROI on paid ads.
  3. When you’ve done your homework: With a clearly established budget, KPIs, customer personas, and tested ads, you can confidently pay for marketing. Use A/B testing alongside social media insights to support quality, relevant advertising. From here, paid ads can boost your success.

If you find you can satisfy one or more of these conditions and you have the budget, it’s time to invest in targeted ads with pre-determined indicators for success. Buy the ad space, then monitor the effectiveness of your campaign in regards to the goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ve defined.

But before you pay for ads, make sure that other factors won’t keep you from a successful marketing campaign.

*The exception to this is broad targeting, where you add no or very little targeting and let the algorithm do all the work. This works best for eCommerce and requires strong creatives to test.


When Not to Pay

Just as there are instances in which paying for social media ad space is useful, there are times when it definitively isn’t. Large retail companies sometimes make use of contextual content marketing and conversational media to enhance their brand, but sometimes this is possible without even buying ads. You can achieve a lot with organic social media marketing.

These are some of the instances in which paying for social media ads definitely isn’t the right approach:

  1. When you don’t know what you’re doing: Paying for ads when you haven’t tested your messaging or studied your target audience is never a good idea. Instead, first explore your industry with unpaid posts and content. From here, you can gather data to assist in future marketing.
  2. When you can engage customers without it: Sometimes you’ll need the help of paid advertising to establish a community and spread your brand and messaging. However, leveraging content for existing customers within a community through relevance and shareability can help you achieve broader visibility on social media. If you find success cultivating an audience without paid ads, limit your use of them.
  3. When you don’t have the money: Promoting posts, stories, and content on social media gets expensive fast. Thoroughly evaluate your budget to determine if the kind of campaign you want to run is feasible for your business goals.

Consider these situations as you explore the potential of paid ads. While an investment in social media campaigns can absolutely be effective, that’s never a guarantee.


Maximizing Your Social Media Outreach on a Budget

Now that you have more context for when to use and not use paid social media advertising, you can explore the full maximization potential for your marketing campaigns. The effectiveness of your messaging will always be influenced by the limitations of your budget. However, the right tips can help you leverage success to the fullest.

These are some tips for helping you maximize your social media outreach on a budget:

  • Define and set clear and measurable goals for ad performance.
  • Use social media data and insight to fully understand your target audience.
  • Tell a compelling story relevant to your customers and their needs.
  • Optimize ads for each social media platform.
  • Use A/B testing and consumer input to inform your campaigns.

Whether or not you’re paying for ads, these tips can help. But first, explore and understand the role of paid ads on social media platforms. Understanding the times you should and shouldn’t pay is your first step to a more balanced marketing budget.

About Jori Hamilton

Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer living in the Northwestern U.S. Her areas of expertise and topics she typically covers revolve around digital marketing, business productivity, and SEO best practices. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter: @HamiltonJori