This year, paid social will be more important to serious content marketers than ever. A good paid social strategy can increase brand awareness, reinforce relationships with consumers and drive conversions. But it’s not just about allocating budgets for Facebook and Twitter; an effective paid social campaign involves intrinsic planning, good quality content and ongoing evaluation to really achieve success.

The power of paid social

Last year we saw an onslaught of ad blocking software with the introduction of ad blockers for Android and iOS handsets, as well as programmes designed to stop even native ads in their tracks. These developments have resulted in a surge of spend in social media ads, one of the only advertising formats currently safe from the software.

Aside from being immune to ad blockers, paid social campaigns also offer the ability to address a specific audience exactly whenever and wherever desired. Targeting options on big social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest have advanced over the past year, and now present marketers with a fantastic opportunity to deliver content to a very exact group of consumers in a relatively straightforward manner. For example, Facebook’s local awareness ads help marketers to target individuals who are in the local vicinity, while their custom audience feature enables the uploading of existing customer data to create audiences based on historic behaviour. Earlier this year Pinterest stepped up their ad game, giving marketers the option to target users by interests like fashion or travelling, personas like foodies, or life stages such as millennials.

To add to their appeal, the majority of social ads are also very simple to measure. The analysis services offered by the big players such as Facebook and Twitter, provide a clear insight into the success of paid media, and can even assist with AB testing and recording the value of conversions. In 2016, it seems as though paid social ads may be the only reliable way to make sure your digital content reaches its target audience due to algorithms of the big social players and the changes in the ad blocking industry. However, ads don’t do all the work; a good paid social strategy needs to be teamed with good quality content to work effectively and achieve success.

Choosing the right content is essential

However tempting it may seem, whacking £3,000 behind your latest Facebook post is probably not the key to accomplishing long term results. Paid social campaigns should have a clear goal, and the type of content included in them should be carefully chosen.

Start by running a quick audit of your current social channels, and identify the posts that work best – i.e generate the most conversions, have high rates of engagement or drive large volumes of website traffic. If these are obtaining the results you’re after, then they’re probably the right kind of thing to promote in the future.

It’s important to remember that different types of content have different consumption styles, so may not be suited to every social networking platform. For example, posts with a strong call to action often perform best on Facebook, whereas lifestyle focused content tends to work better on Instagram or Pinterest. When planning a paid social strategy, take the time to consider what you want your audience to do, think or feel when they see your post, and which platform best lends itself to this goal.

Empowering your audience

When creating content for paid promotion, understanding the needs of your audience is of utmost importance. Through the study of your customer journey, you should be able to determine the requirements of your target audience at each stage, and think about how you can provide them with the information they need to progress down the sales funnel and potentially make a conversion.

All content designed for paid promotion should have a clear purpose. If it doesn’t, it’s unlikely that the budget put behind it will be spent effectively, and results may be disappointing. Promoted content must also have a strong call to action in order to deliver tangible results. As discussed previously, this will be enhanced by the social platform on which the content is promoted, as well as the style of paid campaign utilised – e.g. using a website click campaign on Facebook to promote a link, rather than one optimised for engagements.

The best kind of content fulfils consumers’ needs, helps them to make smart decisions and satisfies their thirst for knowledge. This is the kind of content that your consumers are likely to engage with, and potentially share with others. Creating content like this empowers your customers, establishing an affinity between them and your brand.

Being flexible

A dedicated paid social strategy must leave room for flexibility. Simply setting up a promoted post and leaving it to its own devices is not enough to ensure success. Certain content may need adapting during a campaign, or may require a follow up piece. That’s why it is crucial for marketers to monitor the reactions of their target audience to the content they promote, and have the ability to amend their plans in a timely fashion.

Similarly, content that marketers expect to resonate with a particular audience may be of no interest to them, but surprisingly sought-after by another group of consumers. Identifying these trends isn’t easy, but with proficient use of analytics tools it is possible. In situations such as these, insights from social media channels can provide a business with a better understanding of their target audience and present them with the opportunity to test certain content on different groups of people to discover more from the results.

As always, success is all about experimentation. Often it’s easy to think we know what customers want, only to find out they need something completely different. The best advice is to learn from your mistakes, experiment with small budgets first, and don’t be afraid to try a new tactic if something isn’t working.

Investing in success

The perceptions of your target audience are molded most strongly in the middle of the customer journey, after an individual is aware of a brand, but before he or she is ready to make a purchase. Content at this stage is vital, as it can differentiate a brand from its competitors and create positive sentiment and rapport with your brand.

To make the most of this opportunity, brands need to secure sufficient budget for paid social. This should be used to effectively execute the paid social strategy they’ve put in place, as well as to create content specifically for paid media campaigns. Reallocating budget can be challenging, but using it correctly can produce an outstanding return on investment. Even better, most social platforms provide accurate reports pinpointing the direct results of ads, be these conversions in the form of sales, contact forms completed, or website visits. Once paid social tactics have proved their worth, it’s likely to be much easier to cement budgets for future campaigns.

A well thought out paid social strategy can help to boost the reach and impact of content when it matters most, alongside generating coherent results that can be easily translated to other areas of a business. Although many brands are still acclimatising to the use of social media as a form of advertising, marketers must dedicate sufficient time and resource to creating a paid social strategy, or risk disappointing results.

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