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Anyone familiar with traditional advertising campaigns knows that advertising can be expensive. However, in the realm of social media, where you’re often investing time as much as money, you might not think about paid advertising at all. But using advertising on social networks can push your social success to new heights by making sure more people — both new customers and existing customers — see the content you’re already producing.

“When you post an update to your Facebook Page, on average it gets seen by only 16% of your page Likes,” says Debbie Horovitch, Producer, Author, Speaker, Trainer, and Consultant who’s currently working on Celebrity Hangouts on Air. Facebook’s attempts to serve only the most relevant content to its users means that business posts often get cut out of the mix.

“The only way to boost your reach is to ensure your content is ‘high quality’ or advertise to reach more of your audience,” says Joe Calderone of Calderone Marketing. Social networks — especially Facebook — are as much paid advertising platforms as they are free social networks, but that’s not bad news for your business. A modest investment in social advertising can put you on the top of social charts, with new followers, more engagement, and conversions from social followers to clients.

Should You Invest in Social Media Advertising?

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“Every business that is active on social media has a responsibility to know that the actions they’re taking are actually producing the most effective results for their business,” says Horovitch. “Many companies that are using Facebook and other social channels are not even testing paid advertising — which means they have no idea if they could be doing social even more efficiently by adding paid ads.”

But should you be paying to play on social sites? Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of social advertising. “Instead of spending money on advertising through social, companies can use those funds to invest in their own brand, making sure it’s integrated across the entire media mix,” explains Vin Ferrer, Social Media Strategist with Graphic D-Signs, Inc. Before you start investing heavily in advertising, you should make sure your other business needs are in order. Do you have a solid, user-friendly website to direct your clients to with those ads? “If not, you could be losing traffic from the moment visitors come to your site, and that will make any advertising efforts all for naught. Don’t spend all your money on the landscaping only to have no table to sit at when company comes over.”

Similarly, if your social presence isn’t compelling enough — if it has few followers and little conversation — advertising might not bring anyone in to stay. “Boosts here and there will rack up some Likes, but truly meaningful leverage isn’t going to come until after you’ve made a bit of an organic name for yourself,” says Ferrer. “It can definitely be advantageous to add advertising to help hammer home a campaign that you’ve invested in. If you’ve been working for several months on a comprehensive ‘state of the industry’ downloadable document, sure give it a whirl.”

Giving advertising a try might be more cost-effective than you think. “‘It costs too much to make an impact’ is really backwards, old-school thinking,” says Horovitch. Because social ads can be targeted to very specific demographics instead of a broad, massive user base, you can advertise to fewer people and still have an impact — even if your budget only extends to a few dollars a day. “You can access any sliver or any psychographic group of your customers and talk directly to them for whatever amount you want. I have seen campaigns that are getting page Likes and page engagements for a half cent each.”

Leveraging Social Data for Super-Targeted Ads

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Facebook, with over a billion users, makes it a very lucrative target for advertising — and the company is eager to help first-time advertisers by offering them a wealth of customer information to target their ads to just the right audience. Facebook claims its targeted ads are so effective that they reach 91% of their intended audience — compared to 27% with conventional advertising.

“The ability to target users so directly makes Facebook way too attractive. There’s no way we could take out a print ad or even a Google Display Network Ad and say ‘only show it to those who 22 years old, like my competitor’s page, and have previously made a purchase of a related item via information from Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon‘,” says Calderone. “Then, on-top of that, it’ll show me the exact return on our client’s investment with conversion tracking. Showing this type of data and return to our clients is massive — and not possible at this level of detail — in any other form of advertising.”

Like any social campaign, social advertising success is based on some amount of trial and error. But in a social environment, it’s easier to test an ad out on a small scale to see how it plays with your audience before ramping up the campaign. “You can start in a really low-cost and efficient manner, more so than in almost any other medium,” says Horovitch. “You cannot afford to test newspaper advertising, you cannot afford to test magazine advertising, you can’t even really afford to test online advertising. But with Facebook you can make a $5 campaign that lasts two hours. The initial investment is more time and attention than it is money.” Once you’ve pinned down the perfect ad for your audience, it’s easy to scale up or scale down whenever you need to — or wherever your budget allows.

While we’ve talked a lot about Facebook, it’s not the be-all, end-all of social advertising — though the large audience makes it a great place to start. “If you have a budget to spend over $500 a month, I would recommend exploring the ad platforms that exist on Twitter, on LinkedIn, on YouTube,” says Horovitch. “All of them are extremely effective and all of them work in very different ways.” Whether one of those will work for you depends on your target audience — but you won’t know if social advertising could be a big hit for you if you don’t give it a try.

[Image credits: mkhmarketing,  PT Money, Nina Matthews]