Witten by Mark Xavier Quadros

If you wish to reach and engage a highly targeted audience in the blink of an eye, then social media advertising prowess is a must-have in your modern marketing mix.

Organic reach is diminishing on nearly every major social media platform. To continue leveraging the power of social media for your brand, running ads may soon become inevitable.

Understandably, it can be daunting to move from an organic-first social strategy to betting real money on these platforms. And so, it’s a good idea to first learn the basics and best practices of your advertising options.

This guide will cover the different options you have regarding social media advertising, with actionable tips on how to use them to boost brand awareness and profits in the long run.

What is Social Media Advertising?

Social media advertising is a form of advertising wherein you create ad campaigns to target a super-specific audience on social media platforms.

Social networks like Facebook and Instagram collect user information and interaction behavior to serve highly relevant ads, essentially acting as a matchmaker for brands and their customers.

The ability to target your ads to precise audience demographics is what makes social media advertising a compelling strategy.

When you pick the right platform(s) and follow some best practices, social media advertising can provide a huge (and instant) increase in conversions with a nominal cost of acquisition.

All major social networks offer advertising options for businesses, but that doesn’t mean you should invest a chunk of your budget on every platform.

For example, if you’re a brand new local coffeehouse looking for more visibility, investing in Instagram and Facebook ads might be your best bet. Conversely, if you’re a B2B SaaS startup with sales KPIs to hit, investing in LinkedIn and Twitter ads may make more sense for you.

Take some time to research your target audience ― not just their age, interests, and hobbies ― but what motivates them to buy, what ads they engage with, what content they might find offensive, and so on.

Survey your existing customer base. Ask them what social platforms they prefer or use the most. Analyze your competition’s strategy. See which social networks do well organically for your brand.

Long story short, don’t guess ― use data to decide which platforms you should put your ads on.

The Powerful Three

When people think of social media, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are the first three platforms that come to mind. So let’s learn more about the advertising options on these three first.

Facebook Ads

With more than 2.7 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most popular platform across various demographics ― from baby boomers to Generation Z.

Facebook boasts extensive targeting options, enabling you to send traffic to your website (or offline store), boost engagement, generate leads, and more. Below are the different types of ads you can run on Facebook.

Photo and video ads

In a Facebook study, a series of photo-only ads outperformed other ad formats in driving unique traffic.

Facebook photo ads allow 90 characters of text and a 25-character headline. You can also include a call-to-action button like “Shop Now” or “Browse Catalog.” You can design a photo ad in Facebook Business Manager, or simply boost an image post from your Facebook Page.

Photo ads are great to show off your products in use from real people.

Facebook video ad options range from short, looping video clips that autoplay in users’ feeds to 360-degree videos.

Short videos typically have better completion rates, but if you’ve got a strong message you’d like to convey, feel free to promote a longer video. The social media video format is a great way to illustrate your business’s services or product’s cool features.

Stories ads

Stories is a full-screen ad format wherein photos display for six seconds, and videos up to 15 seconds.

While you can’t create Facebook Stories ads on their own, they can be included as placement when you opt for Automatic placements or create Instagram Stories ads.

As you know, Stories only last for 24 hours, so it’s an excellent in-the-moment tactic for limited time offers.

With a carousel ad, you can display up to 10 images or videos, each with its own link.

This is a useful format to showcase the various benefits/features of a product, market multiple products/services, convey a story/message, or explain a process.

Slideshow ads

A slideshow ad creates a video of sorts from static images. This format offers the compelling motion of video ads but isn’t as resource-intensive to produce.

So if you can’t try video ads yet but want to go beyond static photos, slideshow ads are a good option. You can also include music with this format.

Messenger ads

Messenger ads are displayed in the Chats tab of Facebook’s Messenger app (which boasts over 1.3 billion users) between chats.

This format can encourage a conversation with potential customers on Messenger itself or redirect them to your website. You can use Messenger ads to revive incomplete discussions with prospects.

Playable ads

Specifically for games and apps, Playable ads are mobile-only interactive previews that allow users to try before committing to a download.

These ads begin with a trailer that prompts people to play. Users can try out a full-screen demo version without having to purchase or install the app.

This format is ideal for giving a quick demo of your game or app, and it’s a good idea to keep a simple, two-step tutorial to prompt users to interact with your ad.

Instagram ads

Instagram ads are an effective strategy if you’re targeting Millennials or a younger audience and it is the platform for visual content marketing, and here are the various types of ads you can run on Instagram.

Photo and video ads

These ads appear as a regular Instagram post with the word “Sponsored” written on the top right. Based on your objective, you can also add a CTA below the visual.

The key to success with this format is to be consistent in style with the organic posts you have on Instagram. This helps build brand recall.

With carousels, your audience can swipe to view multiple images.

Ensure the images in your carousel ad are linked together by a common theme ― viewers shouldn’t feel incongruous when they swipe between the different photos in the ad.

Collection ads

Collection ads feature a cover image or video along with multiple smaller images. Clicking on the ad directs the viewer to an Instant Experience ― which is essentially a quick peek into your catalog without leaving Instagram.

This format doesn’t allow a headline, but you can have up to 90 characters of accompanying text.

Instagram Stories ads

As on Facebook, Stories ads display in a full-screen format in the stories section, and you can have photos or videos up to 2 minutes long.

Add interactive elements like polls to IG Story ads for more engagement. For example, Dunkin’ had 20% of their audience vote in a Stories ad with a poll sticker, along with a 20% lower cost per view.

IGTV advertising

IGTV is meant for long-form videos, and you can now advertise within user-created videos.

These ads appear once a user has switched to IGTV, and you can have up to 15 seconds long vertical videos in this format.

Twitter ads

With over 330 million monthly active users, Twitter is another powerful social platform that you can leverage for paid targeting. Here are the two ways you can go about it.

Twitter ad campaigns

Decide on a business objective that aligns with your goals, and then select your organic Tweets (or create one) you’d like to promote.

Consider creating separate campaigns for mobile and desktop users to get the best results. Twitter suggests avoiding the use of hashtags and mentions in your ads as they may distract your audience.

Twitter Promote

If you want Twitter’s algorithm to promote your tweets to your specified audience automatically, then this is the format for you. Twitter Promote boosts your first ten daily organic Tweets that pass the Twitter quality filter and promotes your branded account to gain new followers.

You can select up to five interests or locations, and Twitter does the rest (Note: Twitter Promote is no longer available to new users).

Other Social Platforms

Besides the powerful three, there are several other social platforms that you can advertise on. Here are three others you can choose from, each housing its own specialty.

Snapchat ads

Like Instagram, Snapchat is a trendy platform amongst the younger audience, with over 249 million daily active users worldwide, most of whom are under 25.

It boasts strong advertising options for businesses to increase brand awareness, showcase products, and drive conversions.

Snapchat’s Instant Create service is a neat way to get a visual ad set up in a matter of minutes. If you have a straightforward advertising goal — say, getting a user to click-through to your eCommerce store — Instant Create is a quick way to get cracking.

For more complex, long-term goals, you can create custom ads using Advanced Create and have more control over bids and optimization. Below are four ways you can use Snapchat ads.

Snap ads

Snap ads can have an image or a video up to 180 seconds long in a full-screen, vertical format. These appear between user content and can include attachments for app installs, static landing pages, forms, etc.

It’s best to feature one strong message with a CTA instead of stuffing too much in these short ads. Experiment with different formats, like gifs, to understand your audience’s most engaging approach.

Story ads

Story ads appear as a sponsored tile in users’ Discover feed, which leads to a collection of up to 20 branded Snaps when clicked. With this format, you can thoroughly showcase new products, discounts, and more.

You can also include attachments with a CTA button so people can swipe up to watch a video, install your app, or purchase a product. Craft a compelling headline to encourage clicks.

Collection ads

This format enables you to showcase multiple products with four thumbnail images in one ad. You can link each thumbnail to a separate URL.

Keep the snap simple so users can focus on the thumbnails in the ad.

Filters and Lenses

Filters are visual overlays that users can apply to their Snaps.

With Filter ads, you can include real-time location, countdown, or time-related information to drive instant clicks.

Create a filter that’s pertinent to the time, place, and purpose of your campaign, and only use the top or bottom quarter of the screen for your filter, so users have space for their images.

Likewise, Lenses enable you to layer your brand on to user-generated content. Lenses use augmented reality for a more engaging visual effect.

For instance, face lenses can engineer a user’s facial features on-screen to turn them into something fun. Using your branded Snapchat lens, a makeup enthusiast could try a digital makeover or become Santa Claus.

Try to create a funny or beautiful visual experience to give users a reason to share their content with friends.

LinkedIn ads

LinkedIn is the world's largest professional social network, with 722+ million members across 200 countries. It’s almost like a Facebook for professionals and businesses and offers advertising options based on professional qualifications, job title, interests, industry, seniority level, and more.

You can run many types of ads on this platform, such as the three outlined below.

These ads show up in the news feed and are ideal for getting your message in front of a broader audience to build your authority.

You have multiple options in terms of the content format — images, videos, and carousels.

Keep your headlines under 150 characters, images large (1200 x 627 pixels), and CTA prominent for the most engagement.

Sponsored InMail is the professional equivalent of sliding into your audience’s DMs — known as LinkedIn Inbox.

A nice feature with this ad is that users only receive your direct messages while active on LinkedIn, so you stand the best chance of meaningful interaction. This can come in handy when pitching executives and journalists for PR.

Keep your message crisp (under 500 characters) and decide on the right sender from your company.

Dynamic ads

If you wish to leverage the power of personalization and automation, Dynamic ads are for you. With AI, these ads are automatically personalized for each individual prospect.

That is, you can target users personally to encourage them to follow you, consume or download your content, and apply for your jobs.

Ensure your target prospect’s name, company, and profile photo to be featured in their own personal ad to visually personalize the campaign.

Pinterest ads

With over 442 million monthly active users worldwide, Pinterest is another excellent platform to promote your business. People primarily use Pinterest to save ideas and often slowly make their way to a purchase.

Pinterest ads show up in your desired audience's home feed, category feeds, and relevant search results. They have a small “Promoted” text, but the text goes away if a user saves your ad to their board. Saved Pins thus earn you bonus organic exposure.

Promoted pins can also have a video or up to five images in a carousel. Here are the two options you have with Pinterest ads.

Pinterest Ads Manager

In the ads manager, you first pick an objective for your Pinterest ads campaign. You have the option to decide between paying per click or per impression.

This platform is mainly used for ideation and planning; it has a longer lead time than other social platforms. So if your ads are seasonal or date-specific, start your campaign about a month or two in advance.

Promote Button

Using the Promote button, you can quickly create a pay-per-click ad from an existing Pin.

This is the fastest way to use Pinterest advertising. Consider promoting your best-performing Pins to get an idea of the kind of reach and engagement you can achieve with your ad budget.

Don’t forget to track results over time to see your investment return as people save your Promoted Pins to their boards.


No matter how big or small your business is, you can’t survive, let alone thrive, without investing in social media branding, including organic marketing and paid targeting.

To conclude, advertising on the right social platforms will go a long way to help you attract new customers, engage and retain existing ones, and ultimately, improve your brand’s social authority.

And if switching from organic to paid on social feels overwhelming, start small. Pick just one or two social platforms and slowly scale (if at all necessary) to other major networks.

About author

Mark Xavier Quadros is a SaaS content marketer that helps brands create and distribute rad content.  On a similar note, Mark loves content and contributes to several authoritative blogs like HubSpot, CoSchedule, Foundr, etc. Connect with him via LinkedIN or twitter.