Business + Marketing

How to Win at Social Media Advertising

June 19, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

Social networks, particularly Facebook, have pulled what might be the greatest bait-and-switch in recent history. They lured hundreds of millions of people and tens of thousands of businesses onto their platforms with one set of algorithms governing how posts are displayed. Then, without warning, those algorithms changed.

Businesses that rely on their posts being visible to their followers can no longer bank on those eyeballs. “There’s a limited amount of virtual land and now we’re all hooked on social media,” says Rich Brooks, president of Flyte New Media. “It used to be that 80 to 90 percent of your followers would see a given post. Now it’s between 2 and 6 percent,” Brooks says. Businesses that are relatively new face an even tougher time simply trying to grow an audience, much less getting their posts seen on our crowded newsfeeds, says Amy Olson, social media manager at the ad agency Snap.

There’s only one sure-fire way to promote yourself on social media today and that’s to take out ads. That’s the bad news. The good news is that social media ad campaigns can be quite powerful. “We’ve seen about a ten to one return on investment,” says Pat Hade, founder of HS Social Media. That is, for every $100 spent on social media marketing, $1,000 is earned. But the rules of paid social media marketing operate differently than efforts to grow a following organically, Hade cautions. Where organic efforts typically focus on growing follower counts and increasing engagement (likes, comments, shares), paid campaigns have more concrete metrics—or as Hade puts it, a trinity of goals consisting of “awareness, promotion and conversion.”

“Likes are a vanity metric,” seconds Brooks. “You need something tangible at the end of this. You want a lead, a name with an email and phone attached to it.”

Start Small

Unlike other advertising platforms, you don’t need a huge marketing budget to get started on social media. You can devote as little as $100 a week or even $5 a day to your ad efforts. This minimum, up-front investment is good, marketers say, since it affords you ample room to experiment—a critical element in any social ad campaign.

Among the marketing experts we spoke with, three social networks popped up repeatedly as the best places for photographers to invest: Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. The last one may not get as much photographer love as the others, but it’s a major marketing platform for many businesses in the wedding industry, Brooks says. Weddings rank as one of the top three Pinterest pin categories, and Pinterest users are more likely to spend money on advertisers they click on than rival social networks. Getting improved visibility on Pinterest can also have beneficial spillover effects like better SEO for your own website.

To start, marketers suggest splitting up your ad budget nearly evenly among your target networks—at least until you build up enough data on user behavior to justify a shift in allocation.

Target, Test, Rinse, Repeat

When it comes to social media marketing, you’ll have to become something of a data nerd to fully maximize your investment.

First, Facebook and Instagram have extremely precise tools to target customers, Hade says. In fact, Facebook and Instagram have an identical advertising system, since Facebook owns Instagram. You can send ads to customers based on their location, where they’ve been, what they’ve searched for and more. (Our total lack of Internet privacy does have some upside for marketing, doesn’t it?) “If there’s a wedding boutique that your ideal customer goes to, you can target your ads to everyone that goes within five miles of that boutique or florist,” Hade says. You can also target people by their published relationship status, which is especially helpful for wedding photographers searching for recently engaged customers, Brooks says.

Even with these precision tools, you’ll want to test your approaches on various social networks to see how they’re performing. All the major social network ad platforms support A/B testing and a fairly rich set of analytics to help you measure your audience, their behavior and the activity of others in your industry. Studying those metrics on a daily or weekly basis will help you hone your targeting. Brooks suggests creating a landing page on your own personal site where you can track inbound leads from various networks. “See the cost per click, then measure what percentage is coming through a given network,” he says. “Then, track which inbound click ends up becoming a lead. Then, which leads lead to jobs you get.” This minutia is important, Brooks stresses, since you may find one network sends more leads but another audience actually generates more jobs.

Stay Current

When it comes to promoting posts on Facebook or Instagram, you don’t need to think of a conventional ad that markets just your service, Olson says. “Paid giveaways and contests like a ‘Freebie Friday’ post are a great way to get new people to interact with you,” she notes.

Co-marketing can also help, Hade says. “If there’s a florist you work with, you can both kick in money to start a campaign to target customers looking to get married.”

As we noted, social networks change their algorithms, often to devastating effect. Staying current with how various networks prioritize content is a must, Olson says. When it comes to disruptive policy changes, Facebook seems to be the most active, followed by Instagram. Pinterest, she says, is the slowest to change of late, which is good for those seeking a bit of stability in their marketing efforts.

Mind Your SEO

While there are huge numbers of people on social networks, you shouldn’t necessarily throw every last digital marketing dollar into social, Brooks says. Some budget needs to be tailored toward capturing Google search traffic—particularly during the run-up to bookings season when consumers are doing their research. In that case, Brooks says it’s a good idea to divide up your marketing spending with 50 percent going to Google Ad Words and 50 percent going to social. When people are not actively looking for wedding photographers, Brooks advises that the majority of your marketing dollar should shift back to social.

Canva’s app allows you to create designs at the office, at home or on the go. Users can choose from thousands of layouts for social media, blog graphics and print.

Be Social

Build your own social media ads, graphics and videos with these simple tools.

Adobe Spark

With Spark, you can build graphics and animated videos with ease. You can start a Spark project on your phone (iOS only) and have it sync to your web browser on your desktop. As far as content, Spark has plenty of themes, templates, fonts and a selection of free images you can use to complement your own work. It can pull your images from Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and Lightroom.

Price: free


Canva offers a library of social-media-friendly graphics templates for you to choose from. You can upload fonts, brand colors and logos and create graphics that will be automatically resized for any of the popular social networks. It also includes a light photo editor with tools such as photo filters, exposure adjustments, cropping and rotating. There are templates for almost every conceivable business need, including infographics, gift certificates, business cards, newsletters and more. Canva has a free tier with 1GB of storage, 8,000 templates and support for two folders and ten team members. The Canva for Work tier has unlimited folders, 50 team members, unlimited photo storage, design resizing and support for custom colors, fonts and logos.

Price: $13/month

Animoto Marketing Video Builder

In the ever-moving goalpost that is Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, video currently reigns supreme. The more video you pile into your posts, the better they’ll perform. Animoto’s video builder makes it easy to craft short, compelling clips using nothing more than your stills and b-roll. Professional and Business subscriptions enable you to create 1080p videos in Instagram-friendly square or landscape formats with your own logos in the video and custom branded colors in the theme. You can add voice-overs, text and pre-built storyboards to your videos as well.

Price: $22/month (professional)
$34/month (business)

Related: How to Convert Instagram Followers into Dollars 

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