If you’re a business that is either considering digital advertising or is currently advertising using digital you’ll no doubt have come across social advertising. We suspect you’ll have heard a multitude of stories both for and against, leaving you with the same nagging thought – What’s the big deal? & Is this something I should be getting a slice of?

That’s what I’m going to try and answer for you right now. I’ve spent years working with social platforms from both the perspective of the end user (that being you and me) and the business user (that being the people the platform is aiming to sell to so they can sell to their customers). The biggest challenge for the social platform is user experience. Although it is the business user that is paying the bills by creating social advertising revenue for them, if this becomes overbearing they’ll lose their end user. Without end users, we’re all just putting up billboards in the desert.

Here in lies the challenge. Because the platforms have a slightly weighted interest in that of their users, you need to know how to play the game. Just because someone has success on say, Facebook, doesn’t mean it’ll automatically happen for you. An example of this is a guy who spent $600,00US on social advertising in just 4 days and achieved a virtually zero return. This case might be extreme, but it highlights the potential downfall of going into something blindfolded, with one arm tied behind your back.

Social Advertising is not for the faint-hearted

Social advertising, as with all digital advertising is a science. Gone are the days of paying for a guaranteed space in print media. Think of it like this – for traditional print media be the same as digital, someone like Cosmopolitan would have to print an individualised edition, each month, for each one of its readers with advertising specifically targeted to that individual.

But I digress, we’re here to figure out if social advertising is something to seriously consider. In our honest opinion, it absolutely is, but there are caveats, as with all things in life, to that statement.

In an attempt to keep it concise we’re only going to look at the serious players for small business. It’s easy to get carried away with new platforms appearing all the time but to be honest, let the big corporates with their huge budgets test the waters. We’re going to look at Facebook & Instagram. These are well-established platforms that have got their advertising structure working. These are by no means the only options but platforms like Linkedin can be cost prohibitive and Twitter really struggles when you’re wanting to talk to consumers in a meaningful way.

Facebook – The King of Social Media

When it comes to social media, Facebook really is the biggest player in the game. They redefined what it meant to be a social media network and essentially sent MySpace to its grave. Facebook has almost 1.3 billion users worldwide. Those users access the platform at least once per day and studies have shown in some cases it can be as much as 14 times a day. To say that Facebook has completely changed the way the world communicates is an understatement.

Even more than that, when they opened their advertising platform they changed the game again. It was the first time people were happy telling the entire world what interested them. This meant advertisers didn’t have to rely on the supposed viewer insights of TV channels taken from small test groups and reader demographics of print supplied by those who completed surveys. People were openly sharing, liking and commenting on content that took their interest and to make things even better – we knew exactly where they were, what their relationship status was and in some cases what their daily routine was with the rise of using the check-in function.

As the advertising on Facebook has matured so has the offering. They’ve learnt a lot of lessons about what does and doesn’t work, taking those learnings and adding and removing options that adversely changed user behaviour. What has been left behind is not perfect but if you look at the average cost vs the targeting ability and the sheer choice of advertising types – they’re hard to beat.

In a previous blog, The Many Faces of Facebook Advertising, we took a look at the ad types available.

Ultimately the one you choose needs to be based on what it is you’re trying to achieve with your advertising. Too many times I’ve heard people discussing a single campaign that should be performing 3 outcomes. THIS DOESN’T WORK. You’ll just end up wasting money and achieving nothing.

Although the idea of all the targeting data makes advertiser stir crazy with the thoughts of success, not every industry is well represented. The key word here is SOCIAL. When was the last time you flipped through Facebook to find your next accountant?

And once you’ve figured out if your industry is likely to succeed, Facebook is not a set and forget platform. It needs to be tried, tested, changed up and then tried again. And unless you’ve got plenty of hours in the day and money to experiment with, getting someone who knows what they’re doing to take care of this for you is a must.

Instagram – The Prince of Social Media

The golden child to the social elite, Instagram went from virtual obscurity to social success in what feels like a blink of an eye. I’m sure the team behind it would disagree with countless hours poured into making it the success it is.

Starting out with a simple concept of giving anyone the ability to share and like photographs, they enabled the huge drive by smartphone manufacturers to step up the specifications of cameras built into their phones. I doubt the term ‘selfie’ would be in such common use had Instagram, not speer-headed the movement.

What Instagram also inadvertently did was drive up the expectation of the consumer around the way they want to receive information. Twitter & Facebook had really be confined to text updates and we were all ok with that. Now when you flick through Twitter or Facebook just about every single post has an image attached. Marketers have seen this change in engagement and jumped with it. You need to follow.

The current development we’re experiencing is the rise of video on all platforms and Instagram has taken full advantage of this. Going where Vine started, they offered all users the ability to create short videos to go along with their photographs and people love it.

When it comes to advertising, since Instagram is now owned by Facebook, all the tech and learnings have been transferred and Instagram has been able to get their offering up and running pretty quickly. With not as many options as Facebook in terms of ad types using video or an engaging image with website click through, especially in retail and hospitality, you’ll see pretty good rates of traffic flow.

They’ve also recently opened up the ability to turn a profile from personal to business which gives you access to analytics and also the ability to sponsor posts via the app.

And in the same way, Facebook isn’t set and forget, Instagram should really be initiated with the help of people who know what they’re doing.

So Which One Should I Choose?

This isn’t a simple question, and it’s definitely difficult for many businesses to make this decision when they decide to begin Social Media advertising. The one thing I’ve learnt from all the experimenting is that nothing is full proof. People change their habits and as such the way we advertise to them needs to change to. We know you’ll get a much higher level of engagement from people aged 25 – 35 via Instagram (somewhat industry dependent) and that surprisingly Facebook desktop feed placement is still pretty effective. The other thing I generally suggest is when you can, dependant on your audience, use Facebook & Instagram in harmony. One will compliment the other and they’ll fill in the gaps where ever they may be.

My final piece of advice? Talk to our team of Social Experts. They’ve spent just as much time as I have to learn the ins and outs of playing the game. We’re here to make sure that you’re getting a positive return. You should be getting this with all your marketing efforts. If you’re not – we can fix that too.