How You Should Be Using Paid Ads On The 4 Main Social Networks

Sam Lowe
Posted by Sam Lowe on April 29, 2014
Time Square in New York city at night.

Just the mention of paid ads on social media seems to make many marketers cringe, especially inbound marketers. Would starting paid ads be a “gateway” tactic into a full-fledged paid ads-only marketing effort? Of course not!

Paid advertisements on social media do have their time and place in your marketing strategy and they shouldn’t be a crutch to your efforts. Each network offers something different and you should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages each network brings with it in order to successfully leverage paid ads.


Good For: Targeting B2B prospects with precision

Not Good For: Trying to reach a large number of B2C prospects

LinkedIn ads come in two flavors: ads and sponsored updates. Ads appear on the right-hand sidebar and sponsored updates populate within a user’s LinkedIn feed. The ads are much less noticeable to users because they’re smaller and only appear on the bottom of the side bar. Unsurprisingly, the ads are priced less than sponsored updates which are more noticeable and enticing.

You can target a very specific audience while advertising on LinkedIn and even target specific companies if you have a few in mind. LinkedIn boasts that their precision targeting works best for B2B companies. It’s hard to argue their claim when you can target ads by job function, company/industry size, and even seniority within a company.

That’s probably the biggest benefit associated with LinkedIn ads. You know that the money spent will go towards a more relevant audience than blasting an ad out on some of the other social media networks. It’s just up to you to make smart selections when creating ads on LinkedIn. And you won’t be left in the dark about how large your audience size will be because LinkedIn keeps a rolling tally going as you make selections within the list.


Good For: Blasting your marketing message out to the masses

Not Good For: Anyone trying to target users with pinpoint precision

The wide-open and fluid nature of Twitter lends itself well to reaching a large audience quickly. Topics on Twitter can spread faster than a rumor at a middle-school dance. That’s great for a marketer trying to blast out information on a new product to a general audience, but not so good for anyone trying to target a niche industry.

Twitter logo carrying a money bag

You can do some targeting on Twitter but it’s significantly less than on LinkedIn. That makes sense because the information “required” of a user on Twitter is rather light. The main criterion that you can use to target on Twitter are: keywords in timeline, interest, geography, gender, similarity to existing followers, device, and keyword search results. You’re more limited on Twitter than LinkedIn but there’s room to tinker within the target criterion and reach a somewhat targeted audience.

But here’s something to think about when considering advertising on Twitter: You can be extremely successful and reach a large audience without spending a penny on ads. Hashtags and user mentions within tweets can get lots of eyeballs on your content. Advertising on Twitter should only be used when you really need to reach users and can’t be bothered to craft an amazing line-up of tweets.


Good For: Actually getting your content seen on Facebook

Not Good For: A sustained approach to marketing on social media

Facebook hasn’t been getting a ton of love in marketing circles lately due to the fact that organic reach has plummeted on posts. Paying for exposure is the only way to quickly expand a page’s reach and grow their audience. The upside to the need for paid advertising is that Facebook has spent some time on their advertising tool and has made it easy for the user to create anything from basic promoted posts to full-fledged ad campaigns spanning weeks or months.

I would say that Facebook’s targeting abilities are closest to that of LinkedIn but with less of an emphasis on job/career focused factors. Instead of the job/career attributes, Facebook allows you to target ads based on interests users have identified on their profiles. Users aren’t required to do so, but more often than not profiles have some interests shown. This is a neat little peek at someone’s personality that you can’t get with the other social networks.

My issue with advertising on Facebook is that it can potentially become a crutch for your organization since organic reach is so poor. LinkedIn and especially Twitter still allow your content to reach a large audience organically. Ads on those networks just allow you to boost your reach while Facebook ads almost seem like a necessity.

Facebook’s advertising space is also becoming ultra competitive since more brands are realizing that they need to be paying for ads in order to get their message out to more people. This drives the cost of ads up while decreasing your chances for exposure. The other social networks have seen this happening as well but it appears to be more apparent on Facebook.


Good For: Reaching a large mix of prospects

Not Good For: Anyone who wants a quick and straightforward way to advertise

Ads on YouTube fall under Google’s large network of display ads, which is why you’ll need a free Google Adwords account in order to get started. Once you’ve got an account, a whole plethora of options open up to you. You can create anything from banner advertisements, sidebar ads, and even whole video ads that play before a YouTube video starts.

Targeting users on YouTube can be tricky. You can enter demographic, interest, topic, and keyword targeting criteria but it’s up to Google to decide who they think it applies to. Google isn’t always right and gets its information from your search criteria. For instance, Google thinks that I’m a 35-44 female based on my searches. In reality, I’m a much younger male. You can see what Google thinks you are here.

You can also target specific YouTube pages and channels for your ads to be displayed on. This takes the guesswork out of where your ads will be shown, but can become expensive if you’re trying to advertise on extremely popular videos or channels since competition for ads will be fierce.

The whole targeting process can be complicated, but Google provides some robust analytics on your ad’s performance which can help you decide if you’re doing things right or not. Getting an ad going on YouTube correctly can lead to a lot of trial and error over the course of weeks or months. It’s a powerful tool but isn’t something that can be used quickly when compared to the other networks mentioned above.


There isn’t a “perfect” network for advertising on social media, each has its own unique characteristics that complement your brand. If you’re just starting out, choose one that you feel most comfortable with. Facebook and LinkedIn make the whole process extremely easy so I’d suggest going with one of those two. Take your time and learn from your mistakes, getting paid ads down isn’t going to happen overnight!

Social Media Optimization Playbook

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Topics: Social Media

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