The Essential Guide to Social Media Advertising

Last Updated on March 23, 2023 by 6 Comments

The Essential Guide to Social Media Advertising
Blog / Marketing / The Essential Guide to Social Media Advertising

As social media platforms become more crowded, organic reach typically decreases. Paid social media advertising helps you reach your target audience directly. Paying for ads also means you’ll reach your audience more quickly.

Over time, social media platforms have transformed. From their start as novelty websites where users could connect with one another and make new friends, social platforms have now become a monolithic daily necessity for billions of people worldwide. Beyond socialization, many users run businesses on social media–and potential customers engage readily with these brands.

That’s where social media advertising comes in. If you want to get your brand in front of a wide array of people using social platforms, paid advertising is how you do that.

Social media advertising serves to:

  • Increase your brand’s reach
  • Build brand awareness
  • Drive traffic directly to your website
  • Boost engagement
  • Help you grow your leads
  • Increase your conversion rate
  • Deliver free content (such as free courses, eBooks, and other downloadable content) in exchange for users’ email addresses
  • Drive users to contact you via direct message or email
  • Sell products or services, both online and in-person
  • Target and retarget specific audiences
  • Advertise sales and specials
  • Host giveaways

Want to know more about how advertising on social media can help you grow your business? Let’s take a look at seven major platforms and the basics of advertising on each.

Facebook Advertising Essentials

Facebook is a social networking site that allows users to connect and interact with family, friends, and their favorite brands. Users on Facebook typically share short- and long-form text posts, images, and videos. Advertising on Facebook is an effective strategy for millions of businesses. This is partly because Facebook is so effective at leveraging the power of person-to-person interaction. Brands use Facebook to build brand awareness, generate leads, and provide customer service support.

Right now, Facebook is, hands-down, the most popular social media platform in the world. Because of its widespread popularity among a range of users, Facebook advertising is a great way to get your brand seen.

Who’s Using Facebook?

Facebook’s audience is primarily adult users over the age of 18. As of August 2020, the majority of Facebook users were adults ages 25 to 34.

Facebook Custom Audiences

It’s simple and quick to create custom audiences for your Facebook social media advertising. Rather than filling out long, data-heavy forms, you can create your audience by targeting a set of interests or a geographical location.

Facebook allows users to create custom audiences based on either existing customer lists or on people who have already engaged with their brand online. Creating custom audiences based on past interactions allows Facebook to get your ads in front of people who have either already engaged with your brand, or are likely to.
In addition to custom audiences, Facebook users can create lookalike audiences. To create a lookalike audience, Facebook can use the information from an existing audience and create an audience with similar user demographics. It’s possible to use more than one lookalike audience on an ad set, which gets your brand a broader reach.

Types of Facebook Ads

There are eight major types of Facebook ads you can leverage to promote your brand. Let’s take a look.

  1. Photo Ads contain an image, a small amount of text, and a clickable link. As a result, they’re easy to build and quick to pull together in a pinch. Moreover, you can build them in Facebook Business Manager or boost an existing post on your page. In fact, a study conducted by Facebook revealed that photo ads perform best on the platform.
  2. Carousel Ads are a series of photos or videos that users can click through to view an array of products or services. Each ad in the carousel contains its own link and text. Therefore, you can send users to separate pages if you want to.
  3. Slideshow Ads contain multiple images in a slideshow. Users can add background music.
  4. Collection Ads can showcase both your cover video or photo. In addition, you can add small product images with details.
  5. Video Ads are created with video rather than static images. Users tend to stick around for shorter videos. Facebook gives you up to 15 seconds to work with, so experiment with keeping your video ads super short.
  6. Stories Ads appear in the Stories feed. Stories only last for 24 hours. As a result, users who keep up with Stories won’t want to miss what you have to share.
  7. Messenger Ads appear in Facebook Messenger’s Chats section.
  8. Playables are previews of downloadable apps or games that appear in mobile users’ feeds.

How to Get Started With Facebook Ads

The easiest way to get started using Facebook ads for social media advertising is by boosting a photo post on your page. Similarly, use Facebook Business Manager to create a photo ad. To learn more about Facebook ads, click here. You might also be interested in our ultimate guide for getting started with Facebook advertising.

Instagram Advertising Essentials

Instagram is a social media platform that’s widely used for sharing images and video. It’s centered around visual content, and works well to create brand awareness, engage your audience, and draw in new leads. Instagram’s signature post format is aesthetically pleasing, square-shaped images, but users share a wide range of media.

Instagram ads are similar to Facebook’s ads in most respects. That’s because Facebook owns Instagram. As a result, Facebook and Instagram social media advertising campaigns can be linked via the Facebook Business Manager.

Who’s Using Instagram?

Thirty-seven percent of adults in the United States are using Instagram. It’s also a popular app among teens. More than 33% of Instagram users are ages 24 to 34.

Instagram Custom Audiences

Like Facebook, it’s easy to set your custom audience in your sponsored post. You may target your audience by their behaviors, geographical location, demographics, and interests. Additionally, you can set custom and lookalike audiences. Instagram allows users to set automated targeting, too. Essentially, you can opt to let the app pick your target audience for each ad.

Types of Instagram Ads

Now, let’s dive into the six main types of Instagram ad options you can choose from for your social media advertising strategy.

  1. Photo Ads are the simplest Instagram ads to create. They contain a static photo, a small amount of text, and a link to where you want your users to go. You can send users to your profile or an outside link.
  2. Carousel Ads display multiple images you can scroll through. These are a great option for shops that have multiple products to display.
  3. Collection Ads allow you to display a combination of video and images in a gallery view that gives users a peek at your array of products.
  4. Video Ads are video-based sponsored posts.
  5. Explore Ads appear in the Explore feed, where users whose interests and activity on Instagram matches your target audience.
  6. Sponsored Stories are disappearing vertical ads that appear in the Stories feed.

Instagram ads appear inline in your regular feed. In the upper right corner of the post, you’ll see an indication that the post is Sponsored.

How to Get Started With Instagram Ads

The simplest way to get started with Instagram ads is by sponsoring an existing post. Take a look at your post analytics to find a popular post, then boost it. Learn more about Instagram advertising here. If you are looking for more information, we wrote a detailed guide with everything you need to know about Instagram advertising.

YouTube Advertising Essentials

YouTube is a social media platform for both pre-recorded and live video content. It’s a hub for educational, creative, and entertaining video. Next to Facebook, YouTube is the second most popular social media platform in the world.

Who’s Using YouTube?

YouTube’s largest demographic is adults ages 18 to 29, though it’s widely used by adults of all ages. YouTube is popular with many users ages 13 to 64. Seventy-eight percent of YouTube users are male, while 68% are female.

YouTube Custom Audiences

YouTube’s audience selector is highly customizable. You can target YouTube ads by audience or by content. For audience targeting, YouTube goes far beyond demographics and interests. As a result, you can target viewers based on behavior, whether they’ve shopped at your website, and even target similar audiences to your own.

When targeting by content, you can place your ad among a certain type of selected content. You can target factors such as specific website placements, channels, keywords, topics, and devices.

Types of YouTube Ads

YouTube features six different options for social media advertising:

  1. Skippable Ads are video ads that appear in the YouTube video player. They may play before a video. They also might appear during or after it. Users have the option to skip these video ads after 5 seconds. The ads can be up to six minutes long.
  2. Non-Skippable Ads are video ads that may appear at any point while watching the main video. However, users can’t skip them.
  3. Display Ads show up on the right-hand side of the desktop screen, above the list of suggested videos. These are usually static images or animations.
  4. Overlay Ads are small ad banners that appear on the YouTube desktop display. They show up at the bottom of the video as a box containing text or an image the user can click.
  5. Bumper Ads are six-second, non-skippable ads that appear before the main video on both mobile and desktop displays.
  6. Sponsored Cards are small teaser banners that display content such as a product that’s relevant to your video. They appear on the video for several seconds, then may be accessed by clicking a small icon in the top, right-hand corner of the video player.

How to Get Started With YouTube Ads

Starting out with a short bumper ad or a sponsored card could be an excellent way to try out YouTube social media advertising. Both types of ads are economical for brands on a budget. Learn more about YouTube advertising here. For even more information, swing by our full Youtube advertising guide.

Snapchat Advertising Essentials

Snapchat is also a video-based social media platform with a highly engaged audience. The original inspiration for Instagram and Facebook’s popular disappearing Stories, Snapchat is based on the concept of scarcity. Snapchat holds users’ interests through temporary content. Viewers don’t want to miss a thing, and active Snapchat users closely follow their favorite brands to stay on top of each vanishing post. Your ad could be part of that phenomenon.

Who’s Using Snapchat?

Snapchat’s largest user base is made up of teens ages 13 to 17 (69%), followed by 18- to 29-year-olds (62%). That means Gen Z and Millennials are the primary users on Snapchat.

Snapchat Custom Audiences

Creating a custom audience for your Snapchat social media advertising is flexible, depending on your brand’s needs. You may use an existing list of contacts from your email or device ID list to create a customer list called a Snap Audience Match (SAM) Audience. Additionally, you can create:

  • Lookalike Audiences made of users interested in brands like yours
  • Pixel Custom Audiences made of users that have already interacted directly with your brand
  • Self-Serve Mobile Custom Audiences for users that have configured a Snap App ID and a mobile measurement partner (MMP); these can be created during Snapchat’s mobile measurement partner integration process
  • Third-Party Custom Audiences, which brands can create through Snapchat’s partnership with Neilsen and Oracle that are composed of users that shop similar brands online (only available in the U.S.; however, users outside the U.S. can create custom audiences through Neilsen or Oracle)
  • Saved Audiences that allow you to make audience templates you can use over and over
  • Ad Engagement Audiences made of users that have engaged directly with your ads on Snapchat

Types of Snapchat Ads

There are six types of social media ads you can run on Snapchat:

  1. Snap Ads, videos that appear as users scroll through the Discover tab. They give users an option to swipe up for further content, such as an article, longer video, the option to install an app, and more).
  2. Sponsored Lenses, which tend to be targeted to audiences in certain geographic areas. Lenses appear as an option when users take selfies or pictures using the Snapchat app.
  3. Nationwide Sponsored Lenses are sponsored lenses that are not localized, but available all over the country.
  4. Discover Ads place your Snapchat ads in the heart of the Discover page. These are the most costly ads to run, as they’re seen by the widest variety of users.
  5. Local Geofilters utilize geofencing marketing to create custom lenses based on the location your users are in. This is particularly useful for brick-and-mortar stores.
  6. Snap to Unlock Codes are scannable Snapchat logos, similar to a QR code. Users can use the Snapchat app to scan the code. As a result, they’ll be able to view limited-time offers or use exclusive filters.

How to Get Started With Snapchat Ads

Starting out with a Snap Ad could be a great choice for a personal brand or small business. You can use Snapchat’s Ads Manager on desktop to get started with creating an ad. To learn more about Snapchat ads, click here.

Looking for even more info about Snapchat advertising? Check out our full Snapchat advertising guide.

Twitter Advertising Essentials

Twitter is a popular microblogging platform well-known for short, snappy posts. Each tweet is limited to 280 characters and can include hashtags, video, images, and links. There are a number of responsive audiences using Twitter daily. Because Twitter is an active, crowded platform, brands can still grow organically through frequently tweeting and engaging their followers. Twitter is a platform where brands can still grow organically, but sponsoring tweets could give your brand an extra boost of visibility.

Who’s Using Twitter?

At the moment, Twitter is most popular among adult users ages 18 to 29, with males using the platform slightly more often than females.

Twitter Custom Audiences

For Twitter ads, you can customize your audience in a variety of ways. In addition to the standard filters such as age, location, gender, and interests, you can also target by keywords, interests, followers, and more. Targeting by keyword allows you to reach users tweeting about or engaging with specific content. If you choose to target by interests or followers, you can connect with users interested in brands like yours. You can also add categorized interests to help you connect with the right users.

Types of Twitter Ads

There are four primary types of ads on Twitter:

  1. Promoted Tweets are tweets you boost for wider exposure in users’ feeds and the app’s search tool. They’re automated and great for lead generation and turning your audience’s attention toward specific offerings or features. Your promoted tweets can feature text, an image, a GIF, a poll, or an account.
  2. Video ads include Promoted Videos, Amplify Pre-roll, Amplify Sponsorship, First View, and Promoted Live Video (via Periscope).
  3. Cards drive users to take action via photo or video. You can direct a sponsored Card to your website, app download, Direct Message inbox, conversations (by encouraging replies and retweets), and Tweet to Unlock.
  4. Brand sponsored tweets include Branded Emojis, Brand Reminders, Promoted Moments, Promoted Trends, and the Promoted Trend Spotlight.

Explore a detailed breakdown of Twitter’s ad variations here.

How to Get Started With Twitter Ads

Before you run an ad on Twitter, make sure your marketing materials for this particular campaign are snappy and to-the-point. You want them to align with Twitter’s tone as a platform. Starting with a Promoted Tweet is a great way to dip your toe in, and you can set the billing to Target Bid to keep your ad spend within a certain budget. To get started with Twitter ads, learn more here. Find out more in our full Twitter advertising guide.

Pinterest Advertising Essentials

Pinterest is a highly visual online “pin board” with a wide range of users. This platform is particularly popular with users who want to curate visual boards based on interests, fashion, DIY projects, creative pursuits, entertainment, health, nutrition, and more. Brands that utilize Pinterest want to create shareable, beautiful content users can act on right away. If your brand features visuals your users love to save and share, Pinterest is a great place to invest in social media advertising.

Who’s Using Pinterest?

Women primarily use Pinterest. In fact, 42% of the platform’s users are female. Pinterest’s largest age demographics range from ages 18 to 49.

Pinterest Custom Audiences

On Pinterest, you can target your audience in a number of ways. Filter by demographics, interests, keywords, lookalike audiences, or customer lists. If you choose, you can allow the platform to automatically choose the audience for your ad.

Types of Pinterest Ads

There are five types of ads to choose from on Pinterest for your social media advertising campaigns. These ads function similarly to the options on Instagram and include:

  1. Standard Pin
  2. Video
  3. Shopping
  4. Carousel
  5. Collections

You may choose to turn an existing pin into an ad, or create a campaign in the Ad Manager.

How to Get Started With Pinterest Ads

The easiest way to get started with a Pinterest ad is to sponsor one of your existing branded pins. Make sure the pin is original to your brand, aesthetically appealing, upbeat, actionable, and relevant to the times. To learn more about Pinterest ads, click here.

TikTok Advertising Essentials

TikTok is still an up-and-coming platform in the United States. It’s known for short, vertical videos focused on showcasing a wide range of humor and creativity. TikTok is known for its massive organic reach and capacity for launching viral videos and sounds. Brands that use TikTok for marketing don’t take themselves too seriously, as the video content on the platform tends to be lighthearted and sometimes silly. TikTok’s tone is playful and energetic, which is great for brands that want to harness pure fun to propel their reach to the next level.

Who’s Using TikTok?

Sixty percent of U.S. TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24. However, older Millennials into their mid-30s seem to also favor the platform.

TikTok Custom Audiences

Create custom audiences on TikTok based on a user’s Customer File, engagement and app activity, and website traffic. Additionally, you can create lookalike audiences made of users that have a history of interacting with brands, products, or services similar to yours. You can adjust how specific your audience is–from laser-focused on users like yours to casting a broader net.

Types of TikTok Ads

  1. Brand Takeover Ads appear first thing in the user’s main feed, on the For You page. You can display them as video, images, or animated GIFs that send the user to a link of your choice.
  2. In-Feed Ads are short native ads that play in the main feed as users scroll through.
  3. Branded Hashtag Challenges allow brands to sponsor a hashtag that may then be used organically in platform-wide hashtag challenges. Hashtag Challenges often go viral and result in high exposure for brands and profiles that utilize them.
  4. Branded Effects, such as a custom TikTok lens designed for your audience.
  5. TopView ads show up at the top of the For You page three posts down after opening the app. This is prime real estate for brands advertising on TikTok

How to Get Started With TikTok Ads

At this point, TikTok ads are more expensive than ads on other social media platforms. While it’s possible to sponsor paid social media advertising on TikTok, budgetary constraints may limit advertising to larger brands. As the company grows, the options to advertise will continue to expand. To learn more about TikTok ads, click here. You might also be interested in our full TikTok advertising guide.

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re a seasoned pro at social media advertising or just starting out, there’s a wide range of possibilities and platforms to choose from. Here are a few best practices to get you going:

  • Choose your ad platform based on how your audience demographics match up with the platform’s user base
  • Advertise more heavily on platforms where your brand is doing well
  • Experiment with ways to grow your audience on platforms where you don’t have as much traction
  • Choose platforms and ad types that fit your budget
  • Always test variations of your ads to see what works best

And if you are sending social media traffic to your website, you should make sure that it is a well-oiled machine and able to capture attention. To do that, you’ll need a good plan and the best tools. Here are a few lists of plugins that will skyrocket your conversions and business results.

Do you utilize social media advertising, or are you planning to? Which platforms are your favorites? Drop us a comment and let us know what you think.

Featured image via Sasha Ka /


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  1. I don’t understand some of these numbers. I quote:

    “Women primarily use Pinterest. In fact, 42% of the platform’s users are female.” [What are the other 58%?}

    “YouTube’s largest demographic is adults ages 18 to 29 . . . Seventy-eight percent of YouTube users are male, while 68% are female.” [These numbers make no sense. If 78% are male, why isn’t the remaining 22% female? Or 32% male if 68% are female?]

    After those statements, I stopped reading.

  2. I really enjoyed going through all the great information you’ve provided in this great article.
    Keep up the great work.

  3. Agree with jaimem, working for few B2B clients LinkedIn is the best for b2b and its difficult and expensive 🙂

  4. What about ad blockers? I do most of my Social media tasks on a laptop – adblocker plus – I see NO ads. Also using Facebook Purity – no sponsored posts, no ads on Twitter and FB (only works on a computer, not phones). Latest trends is about 38% of users in Norht America are blocking ads.

  5. What about LinkedIn? I’m currently dealing in the B2B space and LinkedIn appears to be the best platform to reach the right audience. However, their costs are higher and their ad types are confusing. Would be nice to have a breakdown on that platform.

    • Second that one 🙂

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