Social media has been a buzzword for quite some time now in the digital landscape, but paid social is a newer concept. Everyone wants to know what they should be doing on the social platforms, and which ones they should or shouldn’t be using. I like to distill it down.

There isn’t a wrong way to use social media. The bare minimum is definitely to have an account, and post with decent frequency across your channels. Obviously that isn’t enough, but it’s a start. If you have a good digital presence and post with regularity, but find yourself stuck from an engagement perspective, either in terms of raw numbers (likes, comments) or in your followers, it may be a good time to start looking at boosting your posts or initiating paid social media campaigns.

It is important to note that you don’t need to be struggling or even stagnating to use paid social media. You can think of it much like you think of any other campaign you may use; at its core it is advertising. Campaigns will look different on different platforms. Facebook gives you more opportunities to sponsor and boost posts, while Linkedin has a more robust ad campaign manager. Both give you all of the aforementioned options, however. Twitter also has all of these options, but is used mainly to sponsor and boost your posts or your account (from my understanding). As a disclaimer, my experience in paid social is from Linkedin and Facebook, not Twitter.

For a sponsored post, you may want to ask yourself some questions. What is it that you’re trying to promote? Is it something that people will be interested in and want to see? Are you solving a particular problem or posing a thought-provoking question? It’s important to consider how people will be interacting with your post, like sparking conversation and debate, or shedding light on a product offering. Another important facet: is it a one-off or a series? In other words, is what you’re saying a stand-alone post or could it be a string of posts? If it’s the latter an ad campaign may be more effective.

Ad campaigns follow more of an over-arching structure. You have a daily/weekly/monthly budget that you oversee, and pay less or more depending on how your target audience receives you. If the ads have a high click-through rate, you may be more open to opening up your budget, while low engagement may send you back to the drawing board to create more compelling content. At the very least, it should get you to re-consider where your prospects were missing you. Were they not relating to the message, or simply not seeing it? Maybe your target demo (for something like an event) is in a particular state, or people interested in a product could be in a specific industry, like engineering. You could refine this by targeting (at least on Linkedin) by job title or skillset.

It’s also important to note the differences in terms of word count when switching between platform and campaign. On Facebook and Linkedin, a sponsored post can be very lengthy. Meanwhile, a sponsored post on Twitter is still a slave to the (newly enlarged) 280 characters.

An ad campaign is even more limiting. On Linkedin, the headline for an ad campaign is 25 characters, while the description itself allots a whopping 75 characters. If you can say less and get your point across to draw people to a product or website, go for it. Otherwise I would stay away from an ad campaign, as the tiny logo and text requirements are too much to overcome if you have poor brand visibility and even poorer descriptive skills.

That said, you may be able to satisfy the word count without sacrificing, while displaying a clear messaging strategy that is suitable for 4 or 5 ads. Ads can be switched out or run against each other, as long as you have one campaign running, only one ad (the one performing the best at that time) will display.

Who knows if I’ve described your current (or potential) social media strategy, but hopefully you’ll be able to take a tidbit from here and apply it whenever you get the inkling to go the paid route.

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