How to Convince Stakeholders to Use Social Media Advertising

It’s not good to play tug-of-war with dogs but boy is it fun

I recently wrote about how organic social media is dead. In response a dear former colleague asked me to comment on how to get stakeholders to invest in paid social ads. So here we go.

To all my vendor partner readers: You’re welcome.

To my other readers: This isn’t a short read but if you have this challenge I say it behooves you to read right on through. Get a drink and get comfortable.

If you’re struggling to hit goals with organic posts, this is for you

In the aforementioned article I hearkened to the fact that organic metrics aren’t what they used to be. If you rely on organic social posts to get results you are really struggling right now. These days you need paid social advertising to get those impressions, create that engagement, or drive traffic, to name a few outcomes. You hate to read it, I know, but it’s the price of admission these days.

So, what if your manager or stakeholders don’t believe social ads work? What if they don’t have a budget? I’ve got some thoughts for you. Here we go.

Before we continue!

Sorry, quick interlude. Are you aware of the purchase funnel? Here’s what it looks like, just in case…

Social media is fantastic at getting people to the awareness part of this funnel. What social media is not good at is getting people through the rest of the funnel. Social should not be relied upon to drive sales. It should not be relied upon to convince customers, at scale, to make a decision (you can do it one on one in a conversation, though). So if your key performance indicators (KPIs) involve anything below awareness…stop reading!

If you disagree with me, post in the comments!

Your stakeholder doesn’t believe in advertising

In keeping with my tradition, here’s the answer up front: paid social ads are more affordable than most people think. Once they see the cost and the benefits it brings, they come around.

Now the long answer.

If a metric is important enough to set, it is important enough to spend a certain amount of effort to hit. Effort takes the form of time or money. How much of each you need depends on data. Benchmark data.

Take a look at your last ten organic posts on Twitter and pop their metrics into a spreadsheet. Impressions. Engagements. Clicks. Average out those metrics. These are your benchmarks. Now put your KPIs next to your benchmarks. How many organic posts do you need to make before you hit those numbers? How long does it take you to draft a social post? Do the math. If the result exceeds a reasonable time frame, you need paid social media.

If you have never clicked on an ad in your life, by the way, I get it, I do, but one day I promise you will.

What I suggest to the unbelieving stakeholder is a pilot. A trial. Call it whatever your heart desires, friend. But put it to them this way: Give me a budget of $50 and a credit card so I can test whether paid social will be effective. Seriously. Fifty big ones. Your manager probably spent that much on brunch last week. Just on the mimosas.

I explain further down in this article how you can structure a trial, so scroll down if you want that. But I’m telling you straight: As long as your KPIs are among the following, you will exceed your organic metrics drastically:

  • Impressions (aka Reach)
  • Engagements (Likes, Shares)
  • Web site clicks (aka web traffic, although on LinkedIn this won’t be cheap)
  • Followers (as above, on LinkedIn this won’t be cheap)

Social networks are scary good at getting in front of people who likely to act on your call to action. If you have never clicked on an ad in your life, by the way, I get it, I do, but one day I promise you will. That’s because social ads are one part art, one part science, and one part finding that ad-hating person on that one day of their life they are most likely to react to your ad. If you did a good job with your targeting you’re going to reach a lot of those people because your post and their interests are well aligned.

I’m confident that the posts you paid to promote will, once benchmarked as above, perform better than the organic ones. Now, with this data in hand, you can work backwards from your KPIs and estimate how much funding you’ll need to hit them. Bet it will cost considerably less than your stakeholder thinks.

Your stakeholder thinks your results will improve with better quality content

The answer first, again: Quality costs money, and if it doesn’t generate the results you need you may be throwing time and effort out the window. In this case it behooves you to spend a little to get the most value from your content.

I said in an earlier article that if you should your best foot forward for every post. But, at the same time, it isn’t possible to score a home run with every swing.

It’s time to do some math again. Take a look at some of your best performing content. How much time or money did it cost to produce? If you work with an agency this should be straightforward. If the content was made by in house staff, estimate how long the content took to make and estimate their (or your) hourly wage and multiply. Don’t forget to factor in your time for proofing and publishing. At this point you may be surprised at how costly those posts were to produce.

Are you happy with the results they brought you? Relative to their production costs? If you’re just using organic social posting, odds are the results weren’t mind blowing.

So here’s my case. If the post was worth spending all this time and effort on, it should be worth ensuring it gets in front of a sizable audience. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t cost much to get that content the airtime and eyeballs it deserves. Often just a fraction of the production costs, in fact. So suggest a pilot (and you can look below for my guide on how to run that).

Your stakeholder has no budget

The answer, first: Your stakeholder may not be able to get their hands on budget now, but ask them to consider setting some aside during their next fiscal planning process. Once they see the results of a pilot, you’re likely to unlock funds.

There’s some overlap with the previous point, here. Propose the pilot. Everyone has $50 they can make use of without having to consult with a vice president first. But the problem remains: if, after your pilot, you find you need a budget and it can’t be had, what do you do?

Well, at the moment, not a whole lot. If you’re between fiscal years and your stakeholder doesn’t have strings to pull, you’re outta luck. But there’s work you can do in the meantime. If you were able to run a trial, work out how much budget you need to hit your KPIs. Use this time to play with, and learn more about, ad targeting settings on the various social platforms. Take free training and read through tutorials. The more you know when you get your budget, the better a job you’ll be able to do.

One last point. If you’re tempted to spend your own money on something like this — don’t. You may feel passionately about this but you really shouldn’t be subsidizing your employer’s marketing budget. In fact, if you feel that strongly, you may want to consider getting a job somewhere that will let you stretch your wings.

That Pilot/Trial process I mentioned

This is how I structure my paid social media advertising pilots. This process may not translate exactly perfectly to every social platform because it is meant to be a general guide, also. So caveat emptor.

Before you start, here’s what you need

  • As detailed an understanding of your target audience(s) as possible
  • The lay of the land. Networks like Facebook and LinkedIn have Pages and Groups where people with similar interests gather. If you can target these groups your results could be better than just general interest targeting. So do some homework and understand where your audience hangs out, get the names of those groups into a spreadsheet somewhere
  • Some carefully crafted social posts. You want to craft copy and visuals (and you must have visuals) that your audience will respond to. Do your best, you’re more of an artist than a scientist right now because you don’t have much data to work with to perfect your approach.
  • Have a handful of carefully crafted social posts. Don’t just create one post in your campaign because the people you advertise to will likely be exposed to the ads in your campaign only once per day up to a certain limit (usually low single digits) set by the social network. You want to have at least four ads/promoted posts in your campaign. If you only have one, and you just can’t do better, consider creating four copies of it and possibly switching up some copy between each one. This is a form of A/B testing and, while far from sexy, will get you better results.
  • Make sure the imagery you use is sized appropriately for the social network you’re posting on. One size does not fit all. I like to refer to Sprout Social’s guide for this, myself.

Okay, you have all that? Alright champion, the next step is to log into the ads dashboards for your selected social network. If you’re not sure where to work, seriously, go look in the Help pages each network provides. They make the ad dashboards really easy to find, trust me, it won’t take much work.

Once you’re logged in you may want to go plug in your credit card information (assuming you aren’t using a purchase order — that’s another post entirely). Next, find the interface that allows you to create your posts or ads. In some cases, such as LinkedIn, you have to create a campaign before you can create original posts for it (although you can add existing organic posts). Spend some time setting up your ads. Take your time. Check spelling three times. Make sure you’ve uploaded the correctly-sized image.

More things to double-check

Once your ads are set up, create your campaign. Take your time. Explore and understand all the options. Be sure you know the difference between a website campaign and an engagement campaign — they sometimes produce similar results, but one is better at driving traffic than the other! Also double-check:

  • Geo targeting. If your company doesn’t do business in certain countries, or states, or even counties in some cases, be sure to exclude them from seeing your ad.
  • Language. Do you know if your targeting audience can read and understand the language your ads are in? If you’re targeting tech workers, for example, English is a near-universal language so you’re probably safe…but other industries may not have that luxury. So you may want to restrict the language of your campaign to the intended audience.
  • Set budget limits. You don’t want to overspend, so set your campaign budget maximum and double check it.
  • Know your bid type. This affects how the social network charges you. If you are trying to drive visits to a web page, for example, you’ll want to set the bid type to link clicks. If you just want as many people as possible to see your ad you’ll want to pay by CPM (cost per mille, aka cost per thousand people.)
  • Know your bid limit. Did you know your campaign is competing with other campaigns to reach an audience? You’re actually participating in an invisible auction where an algorithm (auctioneer) is taking the highest bidding campaign and showing their ads first until they hit a spending limit or run out of money. Understanding what you should set your bid limit to is worthy of an article all its own, but what I would suggest for now is that you set your bid to automatic and leave it that way for at least one day. This will give the algorithm time to find equilibrium and settle on an average bid cost. You will then look at this amount and decide if it is acceptable. If it isn’t, change the bid limit to an amount you dictate. Your ads will still be seen, typically, but everyone else will get to go first. Your campaign will take longer to complete as a result.

Off you go

Are you still with me after all that? Congrats. Start your campaign and keep an eye on it, make sure your money is being spend wisely and consider stopping it and changing out your copy/images/both if you’re not performing well.

If you have the drive to get all the way here you probably have what it takes to tough it out and learn how to navigate these complex systems. Once you gain confidence and start to see this as routine, know that you’ve also got a new marketable skill to add to your resume. A valuable one.

Okay that was a lot, time to peace out. Good luck, champion!

A digital marketer