Paid Social: A beginners guide

What is Paid Social?

Social media is by no means a new marketing concept, with Statista tracking that since 2017, worldwide usage has increased by 79% to 4.89 billion users in 2023 and is expected to continue to grow to 5.85 billion in 2027. However, over the years organic reach and engagement rates have continued to decline, with data from Social Insider showing Instagram engagement rates have declined to 4.20% and Facebook declined to a whopping 1.90%, illustrating that social media is increasingly becoming a pay-to-play model.

With these statistics in mind, we share our topline breakdown of what paid social is and how it can fit into your marketing mix.

Fundamentals of Paid Social

Paid Social is, in the most basic terms, spending an advertising budget with each platform to place adverts on users’ feeds. Paid social ads can be either organically posted content that is ‘boosted’ from your feed or can be in a ‘dark ad’ format where marketers create a bespoke post purely for advertising purposes which does not appear on the organic social media profiles but will appear as users are scrolling through their feeds. Ads are then served to pre-defined audiences that can be segmented by age, gender, interest and on-platform behaviours. If the correct platform-specific tracking is in place on your website, users can also be targeted or excluded based on brand exposure or similarities to other users who have engaged with your brand using lookalike audiences.

While each major platform has its own pros, cons and unique audiences, each platform’s media buying works on an auction system. Once your campaign is created, budgets are set and campaigns have launched, your ads then enter the auction where the algorithm will bid your campaign against competitors to define which content is then placed on feeds, when and at what cost.

How paid social works in the funnel

While social is traditionally seen as a top-of-funnel marketing channel, paid social can be activated through the funnel and optimised for above-the-line metrics, such as awareness and reach, but it can also be optimised towards consideration and acquisitional actions, such as traffic and sales. While it can work through the funnel, paid social is best utilised within a full-funnel approach, keeping your brand front of mind from awareness to acquisition with a multi-touch point campaign.

Paid social can also have a halo effect on your other marketing practices such as increasing brand recognition to assist with brand search bidding on PPC, growing CRM lists to assist with email marketing or expanding the reach of your campaign content to wider audiences.

What it’s not

When talking about paid social it is easy to fall into thinking that it is a standalone practice. For paid social to be successful it must fit seamlessly not only into your wider marketing mix but into the digital elements of your business as a whole. This could mean ensuring that the website your ads are linking to is functional and with the correct platform-specific tracking in place before launch or if you’re championing a hero piece of creative ensuring that the assets are social media friendly with image or video sizes aligning platform specific placement and best practice.

In summary, we should expect social media to continue to be a large driving force in consumer buying behaviour and decision-making, however, as social media usage continues to increase brands can no longer rely solely on organic tactics to reach new users and influence behaviour. When used correctly, paid social can be a vital tool to populate the top of the sales funnel, while working with wider digital marketing channels to help drive acquisition.

If you would like any advice, or a more in-depth conversation on how we can assist with your paid social media strategy, get in touch with us here today.

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