A common misconception about social media for small businesses is its cost: aren’t all social media apps free to use, after all? In reality, the answer is anything but. Sure, you can download Instagram or Twitter and open an account for free—but what happens next? How do you reach the 58.4% of the world's population that uses social media—or more importantly, the highly specific subset of those people who might be interested in what your business has to offer, but currently don't know that you exist? If you’re hoping to drive traffic to your business’s offerings and connect with future customers, it may be time for you to explore the world of paid social media campaigns, aka ad campaigns. Have you ever swiped through your Instagram Stories and hit a sponsored story for an item that intrigued you—and more than that, felt like you’d been searching online for just that thing? That’s a paid social media ad campaign hard at work, and as a consumer, I’ve found some of my favorite e-commerce small-business items that way. BTW, not all social media ad campaigns look like traditional ads. More on that below. If you’re ready to leverage the reach and growth potential of paid social for your small business, read on. What Are Social Media Ads? Unlike organic social media marketing, which uses social tools for free to build engagement with your followers, paid social media campaigns allow small businesses to reach audiences beyond their followers to advertise their products or services to anyone who might be in the target audience for your product. Your small business might already use social media products for free to communicate with customers—and you might even be under the impression that most businesses stick to the “free” arena when it comes to social media. However, according to Sprout Social, “a staggering three-fourths of all marketers run paid social campaigns,” including small business and solo entrepreneurs. Sprout also points to some vital stats on customer engagement with paid social: “28% of consumers discover new products directly through social media, with that number skewing higher for millennials and Gen Z”—groups that flock to video-heavy, sales-machine social media formats like Instagram and TikTok. You may even already be one of these social-media shopper customers, having bought a beloved kitchen gadget or your dog’s favorite organic pet food from a small business’s targeted Facebook ad or sponsored YouTube post. One of the most vital benefits of a paid social media ad campaign is its laser-focused targeting. By granting your business the ability to tailor the audience for your ads by any number of criteria—like geographic location, age, platform use, income, relationship status, and so many more—you have far more control over the reach of your advertising than in an organic social media model, where your audience largely consists of your self-selected followers. There’s no point in advertising dog food to people with only cats, after all; paid social media solves this problem (and probably makes your pup happier, too.) What Ad Campaigns On Social Media Aren't Though paid social media is a form of advertising, it’s important to distinguish it from the paid advertising tools available through search engines, like—most notably—Google Ads, formerly known as AdWords. Oftentimes referred to as “paid search,” Google Ads allows small businesses to bid on keywords relevant to their products or offerings. In return, ads for that business may appear alongside users’ organic search when a customer goes hunting for the most affordable mani-pedi or a new winter coat. This can happen on the actual search page itself or on banners or embedded ads (been on a news site lately?); either way, the data is being matched to you based on the sites you visit. Paid social media campaigns works a bit differently. The gurus at Wordstream break down a key contrast here: “Unlike paid search, which helps businesses find new customers via keywords, paid social helps users find businesses based on the things they’re interested in and the ways in which they behave online.” Put another way, Google Ads is great for meeting a consumer’s immediate need, while social media is good for creating a need by suggesting items without searching for them. Additionally, the "ads" themselves on social media can look different: exactly like a regular old Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter post, although they're marked as "sponsored" or something similar, which is part of the magic. If you prefer a more traditional ad option, most sites can help you there, too. Why Small Businesses Should Consider Paid Social Media Social media is all about audience, and there’s no better way to grow that audience beyond your follower lists than with paid social media. Here are some hypothetical examples of paid social success in action for small businesses: A pet groomer who specializes in big dogs was able to use social media to hyper-target owners of big dogs with an Instagram ad campaign, based on their search terms and previous purchases online.An accountant with a freelancer/entrepreneur client niche used Facebook Ads to target sole proprietors based on the Facebook Groups they joined.A local yoga studio utilized Twitter’s geographically targeted ads to pull new nearby clients into their classes with a new-student offer.A budding tech startup used LinkedIn’s targeted ads to put their job listings in front of more prospects searching for keywords relevant to their new products, leading them to hire people outside their local reach. In each example, the small business trying out social media ads was able to reach into the vast billions of folks on social media and hyper-target their primary customer, whether through their interests, shopping habits, location, or professional expertise. For some real-world examples, check out the top 10 social media marketing campaigns of 2021 as compiled by the experts at Meltwater. This strategy works for B2B and B2C businesses alike. While the above examples focus on B2C companies, a B2B small business could utilize paid social media to find new partnering businesses in exactly the same way—only by targeting business accounts instead of personal ones. Which Social Media Channel Is Best for Advertising? There are so many social media networks out there—how do you get started with a paid social media campaign? If you’re new to social media in general, or if you can’t devote the sizable amount of time needed to craft and monitor a paid campaign yourself, it’s time to bring in an expert. This could range from hiring a freelance marketing writer to craft pithy copy for your posts to onboarding a company to handle the whole campaign for you, soup to nuts. Feeling like tracking down the latter? Expert Market has compiled a useful list here, for ranges of small business types. If you feel comfortable with the tools and levers of your current social media channels and wish to curate your own paid social media campaign, begin with your most active and familiar channel and grow from there based on its success. Each channel has its own niche for success as well, which means your choice should connect with your primary audience as well as your goals for the campaign (customer conversion? Brand awareness? B2B connection?). HubSpot breaks these niches down further: “Twitter offers short-form content, Instagram focuses heavily on visual content, Facebook has its own marketplace for shopping enthusiasts, and LinkedIn is the home of networking professionals.” To learn more about each individual channel’s offerings and how to utilize them for your particular small business, we recommend checking out their in-depth guide here. How to Identify a Successful—or Unsuccessful—Social Media Ad Campaign As with choosing the right social media networks for your paid social media campaigns, identifying a successful campaign is highly dependent on your goals and your initial investment in the advertising tools. Goal-setting is a crucially important part of measuring a social media ad campaign’s success—and even more so for a paid campaign, to ensure that your investment is worth it. By determining the metrics you’ll use to measure your particular definition of “success” ahead of time (whether that’s email capture, product purchase, likes and follows, or new clients to onboard), you’ll be able to assess more clearly whether your paid social media strategy is yielding you more than eyeballs on ads. Think of it like a road trip, say the HubSpot experts: “You start your journey at your house with the goal of making it to your destination by a certain time. Paid social ads work the same way — your audience is starting their journey with your brand on their newsfeed and your goal is to lead them to the destination — a content offer on your website, an email subscription form, or even your social media profile itself.” So when, if ever, is it time to change course and pull the plug on your social media campaign? First, keep an eye on your spending. Most social media advertising works within a preset budget, and once the money’s gone, you may need to keep re-upping to sustain your momentum. After all, according to Halston Marketing, “Paid exposure, traffic, and growth will only last as long as you keep investing in your ads.” Second, make sure you have enough content in the pipeline to “feed” the algorithm if things are going well—there’s nothing worse than running out of fuel when you’re racing towards a new milestone. This could mean reaching out to a third party to help you generate material for social media marketing, if the task becomes too overwhelming alongside your numerous other obligations as a small business owner. Blending organic and paid social media marketing, as a result, is often a winning strategy for small businesses. This will allow you to utilize the networks’ free tools to build an audience while simultaneously paying to bust through algorithmic barriers and find new customers. Ready to take the plunge with a paid social media campaign for your small business—but need some funding to make it happen? Lendio can help.