Social media has become that restaurant that doubles its prices and cuts its portions once everyone knows they’re popular.
What was once the greatest form of free advertising ever created has caught on to its business utility, and now wants you to pay to get promoted. And while large corporations don’t have a problem ponying up the cash for big Facebook campaigns, for a small business the decision to advertise on social media can be a large one.
But by and large, small businesses are still doing it. A September report from BIA/Kelsey showed that social media is now the largest single source of media spending by small businesses, supplanting print and outdoor for the first time. Twenty percent of a small business’ ad budget now goes to social media, and even though calculating the ROI is tough, it’s still more popular than ever.
But even with a small ad budget, you need to make the most of your social media ads. Here’s how a few different platforms work, and if it might be right for you.
Facebook is the biggest dog on the social media block, and they know it. They’ve got a billion users worldwide and 699 million users every day. That’s a quarter of all Internet users in the world!
The three types of ads they offer are:
- Online sales - These look similar to posts by Facebook users, but are essentially clickable ads that go to your company’s website.
- Local stores - These run on the right side of a user’s Facebook page and usually feature individual products that users can click on to learn more about
- Mobile apps - These appear on Facebook’s mobile app and encourage people to download your mobile app, if applicable.
While the temptation to jump right on the Facebook ad bandwagon might be tempting, you need to think about a few things.
First, is your business the type that could benefit from Facebook ads? The sheer volume of its audience means the answer is probably yes, but the usability of images and ability to create specific events and RSVPs lends itself better to visual business (think photography, restaurants and hair salons) and event-driven businesses.
Second, you need to think about what your Facebook advertising objective is. Are you looking to drive sales to your company’s website? Or are you looking to add Facebook “likes” so you can convert those into eventual customers?
This will be the key factor in deciding what kind of Facebook ads to buy, and how much you’ll pay. Facebook allows you to pay by click or by “like,” or per thousand impressions, and how much you pay depends on competition in your targeted demographic.
So thirdly, you’ll need to think about exactly who you’re trying to target, and how much that will cost. Perhaps there are more cost-effective ways for you to reach a high-dollar demographic, and you may opt to use Facebook to reach a group that you don’t have in other arenas.
Twitter, with its 278 million worldwide users, offers an even-more targeted approach to social media advertising. Your ads can be promoted to people who search for or tweet using specific keywords or terms. Or you can target people who follow specific trends, industries, celebrities or other major accounts who might share interest with your demographic.
The two types of Twitter advertising are Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. Promoted Tweets are tweets from your company account that show up in someone’s Twitter feed to raise their awareness.
A promoted account is placed on the left-hand sidebar of a user’s Twitter page (or under their first few Tweets on a mobile app) and suggests your business as someone a user might want to follow.
Promoted Tweets are best if you have a product, campaign or other specific content you want to promote. A Promoted Account is best if you’re trying to gain followers as you’ll only pay when people follow you.
They also offer a promoted trend option, but that’s not available to small business at this point.
If you deal primarily in B2B, Twitter may be your go-to option for social media advertising. According to wordstream.com, 85 percent of B2B marketers use Twitter, as business accounts on the microblogging site continue to grow.
LinkedIn - the professional social media networking site - actually ranked second in popularity among small and medium sized businesses in that BIA/Kelsey study with 30.1 percent advertising there. And while the people who conducted that study admit that number may be skewed by ads aimed and recruiting personnel, it still makes LinkedIn a major player in social media advertising for your small business.
LinkedIn has 300 million users, with two people joining the network every second, so growth potential here is huge. They offer three ad formats that are pretty similar to those offered by Facebook and Twitter:
- Sponsored update - this appears in users’ feeds along with other stories and appears just like a normal post.
- Display ad - this appears on the right side of the screen, are smaller than sponsored updates, and appear with other ads that might be for competing products
- Direct sponsored content - this format is still in its testing stage with LinkedIn, where your business can post a quiz or other interactive infographic to increase user interaction.
If you’re in B2B, LinkedIn’s format can be especially beneficial since you can essentially market yourself as a resource to other businesses, much like a potential job seeker might. And 65 percent of B2B companies have acquired a new customer via LinkedIn, according to Wordstream.
But be forewarned - the cost of advertising here isn’t cheap. The cost per click is currently about $3.50, and don’t expect that figure to drop with LinkedIn’s growing audience.
Google’s numbers are hard to confirm, since the tech giant reports Google+ users in terms of people using all Google tools (which includes YouTube) and their numbers might be skewed. But there’s no denying that buying ads here will never hurt your Google rankings, so that may be worth the ad dollars in and of itself.
As of now, Google+ only offers one kind of ad, known as a +Post ad. It’s essentially a piece of large content - like a photo or video - accompanied by some text and a product/company site link. It’s an all-in-one ad with great flexibility and Google’s targeting expertise.
But not just anyone can buy these. You have to have at least 1,000 followers on Google+, ensure your content is relevant to your audience, and have opted in to shared endorsements from Google+ pages.
These ads are wonderful for creatively-minded businesses and marketing firms, and the improvement in SEO can’t be discredited. But there are some barriers to entry, and this may be a better strategy for a small business that’s been around for a while.
Whatever your strategy, social media is yet another in the vast array of ways you can pay to get your business known. Yeah, they know they’ve got something great and are going to charge you for it, but you must think if your business can afford NOT to. In the increasingly phone-addicted, social-media driven world, the answer will likely be no.