Your No-Nonsense Guide to Getting Started with Social Media Ads

"It’s like riding a motorcycle — honing your skills takes time and practice." – Loryn Thompson

The first time I rode a motorcycle, I fell in love. Between the power, the speed, and the freedom, I knew it was something I wanted to keep doing for a long time. But I also knew I had a lot to learn.

Learning to ride a motorcycle requires several new skills. You have to learn how to maneuver and balance a heavy, two-wheeled vehicle, how to change gears, how to let the clutch out smoothly and at the right time, and how to work the hand and foot brakes.

And that’s before you leave the parking lot.

Learning to advertise on social media is a similar experience: there’s a lot to be excited about, but all the options, features, and adjustments can leave you dazed.

Start with the fundamentals

After that first ride, I spent a couple months brooding. I knew I wanted to ride, but I didn’t feel ready for a full-sized motorcycle.

Then, one day, I decided to check out the local Vespa dealership, just to see … A week later, I bought myself a scooter.

On my scooter, I learned the fundamentals of riding — how to balance, how to maneuver on two wheels, and how to stay safe on the road — without having to worry about the full weight of a motorcycle or shifting gears.

By the time I bought my first full-sized bike a year later, all I needed was 45 minutes in a parking lot and I was ready to roll.

If you’ve always wanted to try social media advertising, but found it overwhelming, I’m here to hand you the keys to your scooter.

How ads help new prospects discover your content

“But they already like my page! Why should I have to pay for them to see my content?”

Yes, it was a bit crummy of Facebook to give brands amazing organic reach and then take it away. But they have a business to run, just like you.

I, for one, welcome our benevolent-ish (read: self-interested) paid social overlords. In fact, I would still recommend you use social media ads, even if the reach of “organic posts” never changed. Why?

Because social media ads are great for content discovery. They help your content reach new, targeted audiences rather than people who already know and like your brand.

And, how much do you even know about people who like your page?

For example, if you’re running a promotion with Facebook ads, you want to reach people who have recently considered buying your product, and are therefore most likely to buy — not necessarily an existing, longtime customer.

With organic content, you communicate with existing fans. With ads, you can seamlessly reach new prospects when they are most likely to convert. Your tweet isn’t going to do that!

So, ready to get rolling?

Let’s start with five foundations that produce powerful social media advertising campaigns.

1. Set up tracking on your website

After you open your ads account, the first thing you should do is set up website tracking, which sends your website visitors’ information back to the ads platform.

On Facebook, you’ll get a “pixel.” On Twitter and Pinterest, you’ll get a “tag,” but it’s all the same thing: a snippet of code to pop in the header on every page of your site.

If you use the Rainmaker Platform, StudioPress Sites, or just about any site builder, there should be a “header scripts” box where you can paste in this code so it’s automatically output on all your pages. Otherwise, you will need to work with your developer to make sure the code is deployed properly.

Even if you’re not going to run ads for a while, you should still do this now.

The ads platforms will start building your website audiences as soon as you set up tracking. Doing this early will ensure that, when you do start running ads, you will have as many people as possible to retarget.

Also, set up tracking for your primary conversions (sales, subscriptions, email list opt-ins, free ebook downloads — basically any transaction with a “thank you” page) inside each platform, so you have that data available when you’re ready.

2. Define your strategy

It’s tempting to get into the weeds with social media ads, but just like with most marketing channels, a smart strategy will have a bigger impact than any number of tiny, detailed tweaks.

A good, basic ads strategy includes the following elements:

  • Goal: What are you trying to do?
  • Audience: Who do you want to do it?
  • Tactics: How are they going to do it?

And you don’t have to start from scratch. In fact, it’s probably better not to start from scratch.

This is the time to bring out your best resources and let them shine.

An approach we’ve come to rely on at Rainmaker Digital goes something like this:

  • Promote (to a new, targeted audience) solid, persuasive content that leads readers to a product.
  • Retarget people who have read that content with an offer for that product.

Yep, it’s that simple. By priming people with persuasive content — good, persuasive content, that has inherent value and builds trust — you create a specialty retargeting audience, ready to hear your offer.

As for the “new” audience, I recommend starting with a lookalike audience on Facebook — either based on people who purchased your product or people on an email list. It’s a great way to use the power of Facebook ads without getting too complicated.

3. Develop the ad creative

If you’re using your existing content, you should already be well on your way to a solid campaign. But whether or not you’re starting from scratch, here are a few pointers for developing ad creative that converts:

  • Know the placements. Without worrying about anything fancy, just make sure your creative makes sense for each placement you use. For example, Facebook’s “Right Column” ads are much smaller and shorter than their typical “Feeds” ads, so the same creative might not work for both.
  • Be as direct as possible. Write clearly and succinctly in your ads — don’t hype them up with flowery copy. Think of ad copy as a type of headline. The goal is to grab your readers’ attention and get them to click.
  • Stand out from the feed. Images with color, faces, expression, and action tend to perform better. Video is great, too. Remember, grab their attention.
  • Forget “perfect.” Don’t stress too much about getting the best image or the most polished video. I’ve seen examples where iPhone photos performed better than their polished counterparts, just because they stood out.

4. Launch … and monitor

Take a deep breath, double-check your links and budget, and just go for it! The longer you agonize over your ads, the less time you spend learning what works.

If you get overwhelmed by all the settings, just use the defaults. Remember, Facebook and Twitter want your ads to do well so you’ll spend more money with them. There will be plenty of time for you to tweak and test as you go.

While the ads run, check in on them regularly. If some ads spend a lot but don’t convert, stop them and work on new variations to replace them. Maybe you optimize the text. Maybe you change the audience.

Whatever you do, take your time, and don’t lose sight of your goal.

5. Measure

Speaking of goals, it’s easy to get bogged down in all the metrics these platforms provide.

In all frankness … most of them are not very useful. If your campaign is doing its job — i.e., if it’s accomplishing your goal at a reasonable cost to you — then it’s a success. Period.

Other metrics, such as click-through rate or reach, are useful in diagnosing problems with your campaign, but they mean jack squat if your campaign isn’t doing what you need it to do. Keep your eye on the ball.

Aim for results over time

Overall, yes, social media ads can be a lot to swallow. But don’t feel that you have to succeed right away, and don’t get discouraged if your ads take a while to show results.

It’s like riding a motorcycle — honing your skills takes time and practice.

The technology of social media ads is new, but the strategy is exactly what you’ve known all along. You’ve got this.

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