In this post I’ll outline exactly what we mean by paid social media/native advertising and when it is most appropriate to use it.

Paid Social in Perspective

First let’s gets some definitions out of the way and clarify what we are NOT talking about. We’re not talking about directly buying likes or buying followers. This approach generally leads to VERY poor quality audiences and goes against an ethical approach to social media. What we are generally doing is paying to show our social media content and accounts to relevant and targeted audiences in order to grow the size of our audience or increase the level of engagement we are achieving.

So what’s the difference between “Paid Social” and “Native Advertising”. Well that depends on your interpretation of native advertising, so let me explain. Native advertising generally defines the type of advertising that shows up in the flow of editorial content. This could mean a promoted post on Facebook, a promoted Tweet on Twitter or a promoted story on Buzzfeed and this approach fits into the traditional view of advertorial. That is, placement of content which has been paid for amongst other non-promoted content. But what about things liked promoted accounts and trends, as these aren’t actually content? I said “generally defined” earlier because they are quite a few different interpretations of what we mean by Native Advertising. The current Wikipedia definition says “Native advertising is a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears”. This broader definition would include things like paid search ads and promoted accounts on social media. These aren’t actual content but they are in-context of the content around them. So this broader definition suits us better, but, we are specifically looking at social media. Hence the term “Paid Social Media” or “Social Media Native Advertising”.

So enough definitions, let’s get to the key point. If, and when, should we be using Paid Social (as we’ll refer to it from now on) and how much should we be using it. As with most of these types of question there is no one correct answer, but there are some clear considerations to take into account.

When to Pay

So when should we be using paid social? As ever you need to start with your overall digital marketing objectives and work out where social fits in. Are you trying to drive traffic via social to generate leads on your B2B website or building brand awareness via social engagement to drive retail sales (to mention just two)? Being clear on your objectives will make measuring the effectiveness of this paid social possible in the future (and we’ll cover the analytics goals and primary online objectives in an upcoming post). Fundamentally though, there are a few key scenarios where paid social work best:

Starting an Audience from Scratch

When you first start a social profile of any sort, you have a problem. You have no audience so nobody will see your content and because nobody sees your content, nobody can share and grow your audience. You can obviously reach out to existing contacts in a number of ways, but a quick solution is to promote your account or content to a well targeted audience on the relevant social platform. The key thing here is the quality of the targeting. The more targeted you are, the more relevant your content will be and the more engagement you are likely to get.

Building a Similar Audience

If you already have an audience and you want to build more of the same, then most social platforms give you targeting options to do this. This can be useful when you have done some initial audience building and now its time to scale things up. BE careful though, just because I ‘like’ something on Facebook, doesn’t mean my friends necessarily have any interest in the topic. However, the concept of social proof, that is using my social connection to help persuade me of the relevance of something, can be highly effective. Combining well targeted content and social proof can be highly effective (just think about seeing relevant content that you can see your trusted social connections also like).

Diversifying Your Audience

One of the challenges of many social platforms is that you end up getting more and more of a similar audience. Let me demonstrate using a real world example from Target Internet. The Facebook page for our Digital Marketing Podcast has a huge following in Egypt. If I then promote my posts to my ‘Likes’ and their friends, I am likely to get more people in Egypt liking my page and so on. I positively love our Egyptian audience, but I also want to grow our audience elsewhere, so I can use paid social to target audiences in different locations.

Improving on Organic Reach

Although you already have lots of social connections via your favoured social platforms, those connections may not be seeing your content. Just because I have ‘Liked’ you in Facebook, followed you on Twitter, connected to you on LinkedIn, or made any other social connection, it doesn’t mean I am actually seeing the content you post. This is essentially for two key reasons:

Volume of content

Basically, there is so much content, updates and general noise, that we miss most of it. We can give our content or account more visibility by paying to promote it.

Relevancy algorithms

Some social platforms, and in particular Facebook, filter the content their users see based on how relevant their algorithm (just a set of rules) thinks our content is. We can pay to get overtness mechanism, but bear in mind you MUST focus on relevancy. Even if you are more visible, if you are still not relevant, I still won’t engage with you.

Quality of Audience

Something to consider whenever using Paid Social, is the quality of audience you grow will not always be of such a high quality as an organically grown audience. We outline other key principles of organic growth below, but there are two main reasons why your paid for audience may not always be of the highest quality:

Bots and Fake Accounts

When you promote your account or content you make it more visible. Not just to that coveted well targeted audience you want to grow, but also to all those fake/scam accounts and bots (automated fake accounts). You’re quite likely to pick up a few of these along the way, and for this reason monitoring the actual results you get from your social efforts will be increasingly important. We’ll look at this more in a moment when we look at measuring success.

Poor Targeting

It’s very easy to set very broad targeting when you are trying to grow your social audience. The problem is the more you do this, the more you’ll end up with people that may ‘Like’ your content but they never even look at it. They are simply people that ‘Like’ everything. You may gain followers, but these followers may have followed you for the wrong reasons or on a whim, and as such will never actually engage with you. You must focus on relevancy and be as targeted as possible.

Principles of Organic Growth

There are some very simple principles you should always follow for you social media growth, whether you are doing any paid social or not.

The first is to understand your target audience and create content that is relevant and engaging for them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a game, a best practice guide or a blog post, it must be relevant and offer value.

You then need to share this content via the most appropriate social channels for you audience and engage positively with any feedback. The key to amplifying this effort is to use social outreach to engage with both your advocates, those people that care about what you do, and the key influencers in the market (that is the people that have access to the audience you want to engage with). We discuss the key concepts of social outreach and some of the other principles around organic growth in our Social Outreach Podcast.

Measuring Success

In order to truly measure the impact of your paid social efforts you are going to need to focus on what impact it has on your end business objectives. This means you are going to need to set up web analytics goals to see if people actually end up carrying out the action you want them to, whether that’s buying a product or filling out a form. Bear in mind that most social media activity doesn’t occur the moment before an online sale or filling in a lead generation form. It’s normally quite early on in the sales cycle when you are trying build awareness, so you can’t just rely on looking at the last place someone came from to your website before they converted (that is carrying out the action you wanted). For this reason you’ll need to look at a report like Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analytics that tells you the different steps of the online journey that lead to your end goals.

Paid Social can be highly effective for growing your audience and levels of engagement, but you need to keep an eye on your end objectives throughout to make sure you are targeting appropriately and that the quality of audience you are gaining is working. Good luck!