Paid Social Media: Worth the Investment?

Social media ad spend is projected to exceed $ 47.9 billion in 2021. That’s nearly 20% of the total expected ad spend of all North American companies this year.

The amount spent on paid social media ads has steadily increased since 2019. Given that companies are preparing to spend nearly a fifth of their advertising budget on this pay-to-play promotion, it’s clear that social media ads have become a staple of marketing strategies in small and large businesses.

Paid social media ultimately helps target audiences and drive sales, just like organic social media. The benefit of paying for that kind of value? Fast time to market, campaign sustainability, and good old-fashioned news frequency.

Due to the algorithms that work behind the scenes on the most popular social media websites, it can take days to build up organic social media traffic. If you’re running a short campaign, that ramp-up time can cost you visibility and leads. With paid social media, your campaign can get started with an extra boost at a rate that organic posts just can’t keep up with. In addition to maintaining views, traffic, and engagement for as long as your credit card lasts, you have the benefit of re-targeting consumers with your ads for an ad frequency that you can control.

This article explains paid social media, the components of a paid social media strategy, and the top social media platforms for serving paid ads.

What is Paid Social Media?

Paid social media is a method of displaying advertisements or sponsored marketing messages on popular social media platforms and targeting a specific subgroup.

Pay per click advertising, branded or influencer generated content, and display ads are examples of paid social media. You’ll be familiar with a paid social media advertisement when you see one based on the “sponsored” or “promoted” tag near the post.

Every social media channel is different. Twitter offers short-form content, Instagram has a strong focus on visual content, Facebook has its own marketplace for shopping enthusiasts, and LinkedIn is home to networking professionals.

Therefore, paid social media is different on each platform and should be different depending on the campaign and target audience.

Here we’re going to examine some quick strategies to help you decide how to use paid social networks to benefit your brand.

Paid social media strategy

A paid social media strategy uses external marketing activities on social media channels that support PPC advertising. In doing so, the advertising tools contained in these social media channels are used to create, plan and publish targeted advertisements that reach a specific market. The goals of a paid social media strategy can be awareness, consideration, or conversions.

A paid social media strategy can optimize a marketing budget that may not be substantial enough to promote a large brand through traditional media channels. If your company is working on a tight budget to achieve high ROI goals, look no further. We’ve rounded up the important things you need to know about using paid social media ads.

To create a paid social media strategy, you should start with two key points: a goal and a budget.

Social media strategy paid goal

Setting the goal for your paid social media strategy gives your subsequent tactic a direction to work with and a goal to achieve. Think of this strategy as a road trip. You start your journey in your home with the goal of getting to your destination by a certain point in time. Paid social ads work the same way – your audience starts their journey with your brand in their newsfeed, and your goal is to lead them to the goal – a content offering on your website, an email subscription form, or even your social media Profile itself.

To determine where your target audience begins their journey, use filters, settings, and other criteria to narrow down your audience so that all audiences start from a similar location. This doesn’t have to be a physical location (although it can be). You can target people based on their age, hobbies, and even profession.

Once you’ve established your starting point, it’s time to define your goal. Different social media ad platforms have their own conversion tools. However, the end goal is almost always the same: get users to share their contact information with your company. You can fill this out with a form or visit a landing page on your website. Either one is working to achieve the goal, but depending on the needs of your business, you may prefer one or the other.

Paid budget for the social media strategy

Paid social media advertising is one of the most cost-effective types of advertising in the traditional and digital marketplace. The pay-to-play model for these channels makes them flexible enough to only target the people your business wants to attract. Hence, you only have to pay for those you can reach.

Unlike TV or radio ads, which are priced based on the length of the spot and the time the ads aired, social media ads are priced based on the length of the campaign and the potential number of impressions you’re looking at Work towards your ads. This gives these types of ads a much more affordable tracking KPI – cost per acquisition – than traditional ads, where the cost per million impressions can only be vaguely tracked.

Paid social media ads can run from as little as $ 1 due to the bidding model and lottery system that some platforms use to place ads in users’ newsfeeds. The spend on this type of advertising is practically unlimited. However, you can set a limit that will prevent the campaign from spending more money than you have allowed.

You need to keep an eye on your credit card balance once you reach the spending limit you set as these campaigns are programmed to stop running if you run out of money. This may sound helpful, but it can be annoying at best and harmful to your campaign at worst. If you’re running a large campaign that requires a budget that exceeds your credit card limit, just a few hours of downtime to pay off the balance can result in lost lead and momentum for your campaign. If your credit card has to be paid in full every day due to a high spending limit you set for the advertising campaign, one lucky person or people on your team have the honor of preparing multiple expense reports for the duration of the campaign.

To avoid this problem, consider increasing the balance on your business credit card so that you have enough time to pay it off before the ads hit the maximum, or try setting a lower daily spending limit for your campaign.

Paid social media platforms

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Instagram
  4. LinkedIn

Every paid social media platform has unique features that set it apart from the competition. However, there are three main characteristics of a converting paid ad that should be supported by the platform of your choice: visual content, easy access to lead capture forms, and enough space for tempting ad copies.


If you are advertising on Facebook, it is a good idea to use Facebook Targeted Ads. It’s by far the most robust ad platform available, and not for nothing. This feature works on a bidding system – a type of ad buying process where advertisers bid on a series of ads based on their preferred audience. Then that bid is put into a lottery for a chance to be selected and displayed to that audience. Facebook ads can limit an audience to a few hundred people based on geography, interests, demographics, and more. And while this may not be beneficial for most large businesses, for a small business it can be the difference between a slow month and a sold out day.

Aside from the lottery, Facebook Ads lets you serve ads to your customers based on their behavior. This is helpful as you can continue to advertise your existing Facebook customers based on what Facebook tells you about their use of the app.

You can use Facebook ads to build new leads and generate brand awareness. Facebook offers reports and analytics that are perfect for experimenting with variables like post time and content type. So try using different ad formats and see what your audience is most engaged with.

Facebook ad example: Network forever

Network for Good Facebook Ad on Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Checklist

Image source

Network for Good has a heavily paying social media strategy and has been for a number of years. As a servant leader in several non-profit organizations, I am often approached with their checklists, templates, and guides on Facebook. Here’s why this ad works:

  1. It keeps users on the platform. When a user clicks through to download the checklist, they will not be redirected to an external website. Facebook offers businesses the ability to fill out in-app forms (which are a lot of words to say that users stay on Facebook while they convert the ad). This means that the user won’t experience much disruption when interacting with the ad and this can end the Facebook session once you’ve downloaded the checklist.
  2. A prompt will appear to encourage the conversation. There’s no question what this ad is asking of me – download the Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Checklist. A simple, neat copy like this makes it easier for the user to convert that ad, as they don’t have to think about what their next step should be. You can either scroll further or download.

For more information on running your own Facebook ads that can be converted just like this, check out this checklist of lesser-known tips for running successful advertising campaigns on this platform.


As a consumer, paid ads sneak up on me on Twitter. I barely know I’m looking at a sponsored tweet because they look so much like regular tweets. As a marketer, this is fantastic news. This means more eyes on your ads as they are not as obvious as ads on other social channels.

Why Twitter Ads? Twitter reports 192 million monetizable users per day (the number of people who can see your ad on any given day). Using their ad software allows you to target your ad to a specific demographic.

Example of a Twitter ad: The Penny Hoarder

The Penny Hoarder Twitter ad with a picture of a Tennessee welcome sign

Image source

As a native of Tennessee, The Penny Hoarder can conclude that I would like to see pictures and copies of my home state. Geographically targeted ads can be successful for companies in a broad market category such as The Penny Hoarder. Financial advice can be used by anyone, anywhere. However, by positioning the content in a way that would affect my life, I was intrigued to click on the ad and learn more. Here’s why this ad still works:

  1. It brings more traffic to this blog article. The original article was published in August 2020, but the continuous advertising on Twitter is bringing in more views than it could organically receive. Unlike Facebook, which has developed ways to keep visitors on the site longer, Twitter allows users to visit the Penny Hoarder website and read the article with just one click.
  2. It’s visually appealing. Geography is just one way to evoke emotions and target consumers in an ad. If you tag this ad (and the item it promotes) with an identifier like Tennessee, people who live in the area or are local will immediately say, “This has to do with me and my community – I have to take care of it. “

Twitter offers ad settings based on your budget – such as how often your ad appears, where it appears, and what type of ad to display. When you’re ready to run your social ads on this platform, Twitter offers several formats to choose from depending on your goals.


84% of people discover new products on Instagram – up from 64% four years ago. With growth like this, it’s likely not a bad idea to pay a spot in front of the 1.16 billion accounts in the platform’s advertising reach.

In order to be able to place ads on Instagram, you need a company profile. This way you can set up an ecommerce store right in the app. (This is a plus if you haven’t prepared a website to accept payments or if this is your first time trying ecommerce.)

Since Facebook owns Instagram, ads are displayed on both platforms at the same time, all of which are managed on Facebook.

Instagram ads let you choose an amount of ad spend that’s right for your budget, starting at $ 1. This amount depends on the campaign timeline and the size of your audience.

I compare Instagram ads to filling up a gas tank – you get the amount of gasoline you pay for. Your advertising campaign will run on Instagram during the time you have paid for.

Instagram ad example: Aveeno

Aveeno helathic looking skin display with a bottle of Aveeno lotion Image source

Aveeno used Instagram’s advertising platform to target consumers with their product. The simple design is eye catching without being overwhelming or distracting. Here’s why it works:

  1. It’s visually appealing. The neutral colors and the clear design draw our eyes to the product. (The pointing hand is a bonus that keeps an eye on the CTA – the shopping cart!)
  2. The call to action is simple. One of the great features of Instagram ads is the ability to swipe up to learn more about the product or to make a purchase. When you’re done, you can easily close the Aveeno website and continue consuming other Instagram content.


On LinkedIn, millions of professionals have found a wealth of professional connections, their dream job, or both. The platform enables you to reach thousands of people in your industry, including thought leaders, hiring managers, and decision makers.

Fortunately, as a marketer, you can reach the same people on behalf of your business with LinkedIn’s paid ads.

There are 740 million professionals on LinkedIn, four in five of whom make business decisions – similar to buying decisions. This is a B2B advertiser’s dream. With the potential to reach 60 million decision makers on the most popular social lead generation platform, it is good to consider LinkedIn as the best platform for B2B advertising.

Example of settings for LinkedIn ads

Image source

LinkedIn’s targeted ads allow you to enter keywords and select audiences by category. So when you post a job for a specific role, LinkedIn can help you find a pool of diverse candidates with relevant experience.

Example of a LinkedIn ad: ON24

On24 LinkedIn ad about a webinar on the topic of Buyer Journey Development

Image source

On24 uses a short and sweet copy to start a dialogue with its target audience. By focusing on business use cases for its product, ON24 can position itself as a thought leader on buyer travel to entice LinkedIn users to register for the event. Here’s why it works:

  1. It keeps users on the platform. Similar to Facebook, LinkedIn uses in-app form fills to facilitate communication between businesses and LinkedIn users who register for the event. That way, once they’ve completed their registration, they can continue to search for their next opportunity, network, or connect with other content creators.
  2. A prompt will be displayed to have the conversation. No matter how much money you spend on ads, there is no way you can buy exposure to those ads. Comments, likes and approvals must continue to be organic. This means that the subtitles, copies, and headings that you choose for your ads should make the most of the limited space available. ON24 does an amazing job of asking a question that everyone has an answer to in the heading of this promoted post.

You can also play around with ad formats on LinkedIn to see which is the most effective. For more information on the types of ads on LinkedIn – like sponsored, news, text, and dynamics – check out our post on Creating a Great LinkedIn Ad Campaign.

Scale your paid social media strategy

When you put money into a campaign, no matter how much or how little, you want sustainable ROI that shows that the budget, effort, and resources you put in were worth it. This ROI growth means you can scale your campaigns in the future and paid ads can drive your success.

After you have a solid understanding of the most popular paid social media ad platforms out there, you need to keep track of all of your hard work to get that ROI. The native platforms mentioned earlier provide reports and analysis. However, what happens when you run a campaign on multiple different social media websites? I’ll give you a hint – it gets very messy very quickly.

HubSpot's free ad tracking software

With HubSpot’s free ad tracking software, you get a hub where you can manage all of your paid social media ads. This means you can report the success of your campaigns with just a few clicks instead of spending an entire day looking for the information on each native platform. You also have a source of truth for the combined overall impressions, reach and clicks. This is paid social media on a large scale.

Invest in paid social media – the verdict is clear.

It’s easy to believe that ad spend is only for the big brands, but making informed purchasing decisions benefits any business.

The truth is, social media channels make advertising accessible to businesses large and small alike. Once you’ve learned how to plan, create, and position your ads for your target audience, you’ll have a much smoother time proving the ROI of the ad campaign to your stakeholders.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated for completeness.

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