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A Simple Guide to Social Media Advertising, Plus Examples & Tips

There are currently 4.62 billion social media users worldwide—over half of the world’s population. You can reach wider audiences and grow your business within this huge pool of people.

But in the busy world of social media, getting to your prospects is easier said than done.

This is where social media advertising can help. 

When done well, social media advertising can help you reach as many prospects as possible. It raises your brand awareness, boosts traffic to your website, and increases sales. 

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of social media advertising. We’ll show you why it’s important, the different types of social media ads, and how to successfully advertise your business on social media. 

Table of contents 

Social media advertising (or social media targeting) involves delivering paid ads to your target audience on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

Here’s an example of a video ad from YouTube:

YouTube Ad for ClickCease
YouTube Ad for ClickCease

This sponsored video appears at the top of YouTube’s search page (note the small “Ad” underneath the title that shows it’s an advert). 

But how does YouTube know which users would like to see this video? 

It all comes down to an algorithm

An algorithm analyzes user information to determine which ads to show. Here’s some of the information the algorithm considers:

  • User demographics, such as age, location, and job title.
  • Online behavior, including their previous interactions with similar types of ads.
  • The quality of the ad and whether other users have engaged with it. 
  • The content of the ad and what it’s all about.

By reviewing this information, social media platforms show relevant ads to the right users. As a result, they increase their chances of getting clicks and conversions. 

Let’s break down some of the common terminologies you’ll come across when advertising on social networks: 

Terminology Definition
Click-through rate (CTR) CTR is the percentage of users that click on your ad. The higher the CTR, the better. 
To calculate your CTR, divide the number of clicks by the number of impressions or views. 
Cost-per-click (CPC) CPC measures the cost of each click. It’s also sometimes called pay-per-click (PPC).
To work out your CPC, divide your advertising cost by the number of clicks. 
Engagement rate Engagement rate shows how much interaction your social media ads have had (engagement includes comments, likes, shares, views, and saves). Sometimes called cost-per-engagement (CPE), a good engagement rate indicates that the right audience is seeing your ads. 
Engagement rates are calculated as the percentage of users who engage with your social media posts compared to the total number of viewers. 
Impressions Impressions are the number of times your ads appear on social media feeds (the feed is the platform’s main page that updates with new content).
Impressions and engagement are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same. A viewer doesn’t need to engage with your ad for it to be classed as an impression—it simply needs to appear on their feed. 
User-generated content (UGC) UGC refers to any content that consumers create. Examples include images, videos, text, and reviews.
Sharing UGC helps businesses develop relationships with social media users. It shows authenticity, builds trust, and encourages other users to engage with your brand.

If you already have a solid social media presence, what’s the point in paying for advertising? 

Let’s find out. 

  • To reach more qualified prospects. Organic posts only get you so far on social media. You can engage with your existing network, but how do you reach other prospects who aren’t familiar with your brand? Digital advertising allows you to expand your reach and target your ideal customers
  • To increase your brand awareness. When done well, social media ads can help you boost your brand awareness. In fact, a recent study found that for 85% of marketers, their social media efforts generated more exposure for their business. 
  • To guide users through the sales process. Create personalized and targeted ads for certain parts of the sales funnel. This funnel moves users through the customer journey and helps you achieve your business goals. 
  • To better understand user behavior. Social media ads provide access to data, analytics, and customer insights. You can see how people engage with your ads and which ads they don’t engage with, and you can also make informed decisions about how to promote your business.
  • To improve your omnichannel marketing. Omnichannel marketing involves aligning your marketing and sales efforts across all your customer-facing platforms. Social media ads are another way to improve your brand perception, maximize your reach, and streamline the customer experience

Now that we know what social media advertising is and why it’s important let’s cover some of the different types of ads. 

Video ads

Video ads are short or long clips on social media feeds that are usually followed by a caption or call to action (CTA). They’re available on practically every major platform. 

Here’s an example from Facebook: 

Facebook video ad for SPUD
Facebook video ad for SPUD

Video ads are a popular method of social advertising, which is no surprise when 98% of people say that video converts the same or better than other forms of content. 

When creating video ads for social media, studies suggest that the shorter the video is, the better. For video ads under 60 seconds, 62% of viewers watch the whole thing, whereas only 26% finish video ads that are over 20 minutes.

This means you have a short period to grab viewers’ attention and keep them interested. Fortunately, platforms like Facebook and Instagram have the tools to create short, engaging videos that users can interact with. 

Also known as reels, these videos are 60 to 90 seconds long and often include a link to a product or service. People can also comment, like, save, and share reels for other viewers to see. 

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Image ads 

Image ads are available on almost every social media platform, but they’re commonplace on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Pinterest. You’ll often see them in news feeds or in the form of banners or sidebars.

These ads allow you to promote your brand using a single photo. Depending on your platform, you can add a footer with a CTA. 

LinkedIn image ad for FutureBrand
LinkedIn image ad for FutureBrand

While video is a popular content format, image ads are quick and simple to create, especially with the help of platforms like Canva (more on this later).

Images can also stand out from the endless flow of watching video after video. This grabs users’ attention, encouraging them to stop and engage with your ad. 


Carousels feature multiple images or videos in a single ad. They’re available on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other platforms. 

Facebook carousel ad for Tourism Calgary
Facebook carousel ad for Tourism Calgary

Most carousel ads allow you to upload up to 10 images or videos within a single carousel. Each has its own CTA so that you can showcase a range of products or services. 

Because there are multiple products or services in a carousel ad, it’s a good idea to keep the text short and sweet. Include too much text, and you risk overcrowding the post, preventing users from engaging.

Both Facebook and LinkedIn offer advice on how to create successful carousel ads.

Text ads

Text ads allow you to promote any text-only post you make on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to widen its reach. These ads often appear in the main social media feed or the right-hand sidebar.

LinkedIn also offers InMail and Facebook offers sponsored messages, both of which send direct, targeted messages to users. 

LinkedIn InMail from Deel
LinkedIn InMail from Deel

The text is especially important because of the lack of visuals in these ads (sometimes there’s a company logo, but that’s generally it). The copy should be engaging, on-brand, and concise. Too much fluff, and it’s unlikely users will read the entire thing. 

With InMail and sponsored messages, you can be more direct and personalized. You can add a user’s name, reference their job, and try to get a conversation going. This makes these ads an ideal choice for targeting a specific audience.

Story ads 

Story ads are full-screen videos or photos that crop up between organic stories. They allow businesses to add emojis, stickers, gifs, and other creative elements to create an immersive and engaging experience for the user. Story ads are used mainly on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. 

The duration of a story ad varies from platform to platform. Instagram stories play videos less than 10 seconds long, while Facebook plays videos 15 seconds long.

If your video is longer than 10 or 15 seconds, the platform will split it into either 1, 2, or 3 separate videos. At the end of the story, viewers can decide whether to keep watching. 

Story ads are becoming increasingly popular. For Instagram, ad spending is growing faster for stories than ads on the main feed. 

This is likely down to 2 main reasons—they raise awareness, and you can tag products directly in your videos for easy shopping. 

Here’s an example of the swipe-up feature on an Instagram story:

Instagram's swipe-up feature for an Adobe ad
Instagram’s swipe-up feature for an Adobe ad

With this feature, viewers don’t even have to leave the app to make a purchase. This streamlines the buying process, making it easier for potential customers to convert. 

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Instagram and Facebook are some of the top contenders for social media marketing in 2022. Another study found that the ad platforms most used by marketers are Facebook (70%) and Instagram (54%).

For B2B advertising, LinkedIn is a popular choice. This professional social network was rated #1 for B2B lead generation, and brands have experienced a 33% increase in purchase intent from ad exposure on the platform. 

But just because these are the most popular platforms doesn’t mean they’re the right choice for your target market. 

Facebook is the most popular choice among men aged 25-44, but it ranks third for men aged 16-24. And almost 9% of female internet users aged 16-24 say that TikTok is their favorite social platform, compared with just 1.5% of users aged 55-64. 

Chart outlining the top social platforms by age and gender
Chart outlining the top social platforms by age and gender

Ultimately, the best platform depends on who you’re trying to reach. For example, consider using Instagram if you want to target male users aged 16-24. If you use Facebook or TikTok, you might not get the same results. 

We’ll discuss finding the right platform in more detail later. 

There’s no single formula for successfully advertising on social media. It’s a case of trial and error, and what works for your business might not work for another. However, some best practices apply to all social media ads. 

Let’s take a look at what those are. 

Identify your target audience

Before you advertise on any social media channel, you need to know who you’re trying to target. That way, you can target them with the right messaging at the right time.

Here are some effective ways of identifying your target customer:

  • Create a buyer persona. A buyer persona is a profile of your target customer. The process of creating 1 involves pinpointing customers’ demographics, behavior, goals, and challenges. A buyer persona helps you better understand your target customers, what they want, and how they behave. Take a look at our buyer persona template to find out who your ideal customers are. 
  • Conduct market research. Perform market research to get a deeper understanding of who your target audience should be. From online surveys and interviews to focus groups and customer observations, there are various ways you can do market research. Choose the best method for your business, and start collecting data. When the research is done, and you’ve analyzed the results, you’ll understand who you need to target with your ads. 

When you know who you’re trying to target, look at ActiveCampaign’s Facebook Custom Audiences

ActiveCampaign's custom facebook audience automation
ActiveCampaign’s custom facebook audience automation

With our Facebook integration, you can use contact information from your ActiveCampaign account to advertise more effectively on Facebook.

Find out more about how to use Facebook Custom Audiences with ActiveCampaign

Use the right social media advertising platforms

To maximize your efforts and boost your ROI, you need to know where your target audience spends their time online. 

Start by reviewing demographics. This will give you a better idea of the age, gender, personality, values, and interests of people who use the different platforms. Websites like Statista and GWI are reliable sources for this information. 

Take a look at this report from Statista, which shows the distribution of Instagram users by age and gender.

distribution of Instagram users by age and gender
Distribution of Instagram users by age and gender (Image Source)

Analyze your previous engagement rates if you already have a social media presence. To do this, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Which social platforms get the most engagement? 
  • Which types of social content get the most engagement? 

With this information, you can make an informed decision about which platforms to use for advertising. For example, if your followers don’t engage with you on Twitter, but you get a lot of engagement on Facebook, start advertising on the latter. 

Allocate your budget 

You don’t want to overspend on your ads to maximize your ROI. And more importantly, you don’t want to spend money on ads that aren’t converting. 

This is where allocating a budget and setting spending limits come in handy.

Here’s how to create a social media ad spend budget: 

  • Set SMART goals. Do you want to increase your revenue by 15%? Encourage purchases from new customers? Whatever it is, use the SMART goals framework to set specific and measurable goals for your social media budget. That way, you can track how your ads perform in relation to what you hope to achieve. 
Outline of the SMART goals framework
Outline of the SMART goals framework
  • Review previous ad spend. If your company has used social media ads in the past, take a look at how previous budgets have been allocated. Were they successful? Was there room for improvement? Use this information to inform your current budget. 
  • Align your budget with your social media strategy. Make sure your ad budget supports your overall social media strategy. For example, if your social strategy is to reach a wider audience, your ad budget should allocate spending to achieve this goal. 

Paid social media is similar to the PPC format we see on sites like Google Ads. You have control of your ad budget and only pay when users click on the ad. If some ads aren’t converting, you can stop running them. 

You can also set spending limits to ensure that you won’t overspend. If things go well and you want to increase this limit, you can. But starting with a cap is better to ensure you see the results you want. 

Design high-quality graphics and videos 

Poor-quality images and videos can impact your brand perception—and, as a result, your ads’ performance. 30% of consumers say they won’t purchase if the images in an ad are low-quality.

High-quality graphics also build trust with potential customers. Put yourself in their shoes for a second. What would your first impression be if you’re scrolling on LinkedIn and you come across an ad with a pixelated video? Chances are, you wouldn’t stick around to watch it. 

But with a high-quality video, you’re much more likely to engage with it. Why? Because it’s more visually appealing and shows that the company is legitimate and trustworthy with the resources to create top-quality content. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be a graphic designer to create high-quality graphics for social media. Platforms like Canva make it easy for newbie designers to create high-quality, branded images.

Regarding video length, you can create shorter videos on the actual social media websites. Think about TikTok videos or Facebook and Instagram reels—these platforms have the features you need to create engaging, high-quality videos that are ready for promotion. 

For longer videos, you’ll need to find a third-party video editor. Websites like Animoto and Vimeo are good options to choose from and are free to use. 

Continually track your progress 

Social media ads need constant review. Sure, you can set them up and let them run on their own—but you must regularly review their performance.


Because things can change quickly. 

An ad performing well 1 week might not be in the following one. It’s up to you to keep on top of this and make changes if you need to. 

Be sure also to monitor the broader landscape of social media ads. Is more user-generated content hitting the scene? Do people respond better to videos instead of photos? Tracking the latest trends will keep you up-to-date with what people want. As a result, you’ll be able to make the most out of your social media ads. 

Let’s answer some commonly asked questions about social media advertising. 

How do you write content for social media ads? 

It depends on who you’re trying to target, but personalizing your ad copy is always good practice. Why? Because personalization can increase conversions, boost engagement, and give your potential customers a better experience. And when more customers engage with your ads, social platforms will show more of your ads to other prospects. It’s a win-win.

What makes a social media ad successful? 

A well-defined target audience, high-quality images and videos, and a clear CTA are key elements of a successful social media ad. Using the right social channels is also vital to success. You won’t reach the right audience if you don’t advertise on the right social networks. 

What is the most popular social media content? 

According to content marketers, video (54%), images (53%), and text-based posts are the most valuable types of content for achieving social media goals. User-generated content is also growing in popularity, with studies showing that consumers engage more with user-generated content than branded content. 

Target the right customers with ActiveCampaign 

Social media advertising is useful for any business looking to reach a wider audience. It helps you target a wider pool of high-quality prospects while increasing your brand awareness. 

If you want to boost your social media targeting, consider using ActiveCampaign

With our customer experience automation software, you can integrate social platforms (such as Facebook). Use our razor-sharp targeting as part of your omnichannel strategy, and create custom audiences to reach the right type of customer. 

To see it for yourself, take a look at how Cancer Wellness Support used ActiveCampaign to boost their social media presence and streamline their customer communications. 
Sign up to try ActiveCampaign for free.

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