Tips to Reduce the Cost of Social Media Advertising

Seventy percent of marketers expect to spend more on social media ads in 2015 than in 2014. This is contributing to a remarkable 33.5 percent global increase on spending for social media ads this year, bringing the total spend to over $23 billion. Impressive right? Except when you take a step back and realize that this only represents 13.9 percent of digital ad spending. In other words, social media advertising is growing, but still only gets a small chunk of most marketing budgets. Before your social ad budget can grow, it’s essential that you make the most of the money you’re given.

How do you do that? Allow me to take a break from the business speak for a minute. Think of social media advertising like slot machines. Not because they have a similar success rate (your money is far better spent on social ads), but because even small change adds up over time. If you’re not paying attention, a few quarters turn into $50 and you’re left wondering why your wallet is empty. If you’re smart, you take your time, try different strategies and ensure you’re taking steps to make the most of your money (maybe at the blackjack table instead?).

We’ve gathered a number of principles that will help you decrease the cost of social media advertising and avoid the regret that follows wasted budgets and missed goals. Take a look.

5 principles to lower the cost of social media advertising

Test ads organically

We repeat this time and time again, but that’s because it’s worth repeating: You should be promoting content that you’ve tested organically. How do you test ads organically?

  • Choose the content you want to promote in an ad
  • Create several versions of your ad, with different messaging and images
  • Publish these versions to your profiles at similar times over the course of several weeks
  • Track what has the highest engagement and click-through
  • Use the top performing posts (exactly, no changes) as your social ads

Why test your ads organically? Why wouldn’t you? It’s absolutely free to do. Social media, unlike really any other advertising medium, allows you to test your ads before you pay for them. You can then identify what performs well with your audience and work on the safe assumption that these messages will probably perform better as ads as well—especially if your target audience resembles your existing audience If you’re not testing your ads, you’re going to end up promoting content that just doesn’t resonate. With no research behind your social media advertising strategy, your costs are going to balloon while simple organic tests can drastically reduce your ad spend.

And don’t let your ‘ego’ or ‘gut feeling’ sway your decisions. You’re not just testing messages organically for fun. Don’t turn around and promote something that didn’t perform well organically just because you feel like it or think it deserves better. Trust your organic audience to show you the way. Your wallet (or your accountant) will thank you.

Test your approach to advertising

While you can test your content performance organically, there are a number of other aspects of social media advertising that you can’t test organically. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be testing them, however. Put a little money into testing all the aspects of your social media advertising campaigns. You’ll find that the small amount you invest in testing will save you far more money by optimizing your ad performance in the long run.

Elements of social media ads you should test include:

Goals: When building your ads, you get to choose what the purpose of those ads are. Ask yourself: Is this campaign optimized for my business goals? Ultimately, everything you do on social media should be tied to your overall marketing and business goals. You don’t want to be spending money on things that don’t benefit your business’ bottom line. Your ads might work to drive clicks, views, downloads or sign-ups. The important thing is that you choose the objective which best meets your goals. If you have several options, test them.

Audience demographics: Every social network’s advertising platform offers different targeting options, from interests to friends groups to job title and beyond. Usually, the more targeted the audience, the more the network will charge you for your ad. Put a small amount of money into testing demographics, and see which translates into the greatest payoff for the lowest cost.

Pricing options: Most social media advertisers will give you a variety of bidding options. On Twitter, you can choose automatic bidding and let them take the reigns, or choose maximum bids. On Facebook you can pay by the click (CPC), by impressions (CPM), or by reach. You can also let Facebook optimize your spend or choose the maximum you’re willing to spend for each action. Don’t just assume networks will automatically give you the cheapest results. Test all of the options relevant to your goals, and see for yourself.

Placement: There are a variety of places within each social network where ads can appear. On Facebook, for example, you can choose between desktop and mobile news feeds, the desktop right column, audience networks and Instagram. On LinkedIn you have the choice of display ads, sponsored updates and email advertising through their InMail service. Try out different ad placements and see what earns you the best engagement at the best price.

Spend time on targeting

I addressed demographics above, but it’s worth a second look. Beyond testing various demographics to find the cheapest option, actually spend time thinking about your audience before you ever create your ads. Who are you trying to reach and how can you best reach them?

First of all, which social networks do they frequent? If you find that your audience is primarily on Facebook, you’re going to have greater difficulty reaching them with Twitter ads, which will likely drive the cost up. The more prospects on a specific network, the lower the cost of your ads.

Next, how big is the pool of people you’re trying to reach? Is it essential that you only target the C-Suite, for example? Doing so will cost more but might lead to a higher conversion rate, and thus be worth the investment. But maybe your business could benefit from getting your ads in front of middle management, who will bring your information up the chain. This would grow the audience size, and should decrease the cost of your ads. This is something you really need to think about and weigh the pros and cons.

Finally, consider why the people you’re trying to target would actually click on your ad. You’d be surprised how often you’ll find a disconnect between your target audience and the actual substance of your ad. Consider the following:

  1. What in your content or messaging will prompt the action you want them to take?
  2. Is your target demographic really interest in a demo, or are they more likely to respond to a video?
  3. Will the executives you want as clients really respond to the gif you’re using, or would a graph be a more suitable visual for your ad?

The audience, the substance of the ad and the value you provide are all intrinsically linked to its eventual performance—and consequently to the money you spend. If you’re able to link those three things, you’ll find your ads will create more revenue at a lower cost to you.

Pay attention to ad quality scores

Every social network is working to carefully balance the advertising experience with the everyday experience of their users. With that in mind, you should always be striving to produce the highest quality social media ads, ads which meet the recommendations of the social networks. If you don’t follow their recommendations, you risk paying extra or simply not getting your ads shown to the right people. When lower quality can mean wasted time and money, it’s essential that you make sure everything is ‘up to code.’

On Facebook, advertisers should be paying specific attention to the relevance score, specifically when it comes to campaigns driving actions like installs or clicks. In their words, “Taking relevance into account helps ensure that people see ads that matter to them, leading to a better experience for people and businesses alike.”

The score itself, visible to all advertisers when building their ad, is taken from the positive and negative feedback Facebook expects an ad to receive from its target audience. More engagements mean a higher score, while people hiding or reporting your ad would mean a lower score. Think of it as a nudge from Facebook, either giving you a pat on the back or telling you your ad isn’t up to snuff.

Why does it matter for your budget? The higher your relevance score, the lower its costs to be delivered. Facebook’s system works to show the right content to the right people, and the more relevant your ad is the more easily the system can do just that. Of course, don’t take this score as the be-all end-all of your ad quality. But definitely pay attention if you find your ad has a really low score or your ads are really expensive.

Twitter has a similar quality ranking called a quality-adjusted bid. When determining what ads to display, it isn’t just the money they take into account, but also the quality score. They base this score on three “R” principles.

  • Resonance: are consumers engaging with your Tweet? Do they retweet, favorite, or reply often?

  • Relevance: is your Tweet related to things a user is interested in?

  • Recency: is your Tweet fresh? Twitter is a real-time platform about what is happening now, so fresher tweets get higher priority.

Once they have your score, they adjust your bid to reflect that score. This means, you could end up losing out on placement (or forking out a little extra for placement) because the quality of your ad is low. According to Wordstream, for every one point increase in engagement (part of the “resonance” principle), Twitter advertisers see a 5 percent decrease in cost-per-engagement.” That could mean big savings on your ad spend.

Ditch campaigns that aren’t working

Social media moves quickly, and your ad budget can disappear just as fast if you aren’t careful. The speed at which social networks operate means you need to be vigilant and monitor all of your social ads throughout their lifecycle. Social media advertising just isn’t a set it and forget it scenario.

Monitoring campaigns regularly allows you to identify any red flags that might be costing you money. If you’re running five ads and one of them has a cost-per-click that’s ten cents higher than all of the others, there is probably something wrong with the ad. The content might not be resonating, the audience might be wrong, or you may have actually erred while building it. The important thing is that you catch it, and you catch it early, so it doesn’t continue to drain your funds for its entire lifecycle.

Do not make the mistake of feeling attached to your ads. Maybe you believe in the content, and maybe you’re really passionate about the specific audience you’re targeting, but do not keep an ad running if it’s performing poorly. Don’t pull things after an hour—ads will pick up engagement like a snowball as they’re shared and liked by people.

But if you’ve given it a few days and things just aren’t working, don’t continue to waste your budget. Pull the campaign, assess what went wrong, and move on. Strive to learn as much from your failed campaigns as from your successful ones. Apply these lessons to all future campaigns, and watch as the cost of social media ads decreases in response.

Social media ads are new and still evolving. These insights should help you keep your costs low as you learn about the platforms. Now it’s on you to stick to these lessons, and pay attention as the social networks continue to shift their ad platforms.

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