Social media advertising: How small businesses can build a social media ad strategy

June 6, 2019
5 minutes read

We’ve already discussed your organic social media strategy, but what about your paid approach?

The two are most effective when integrated in a combined approach. In fact, 86% of marketers use both paid and organic social media strategies.

Paid social media consists of ads, boosted posts, and paid tactics to increase your page’s reach and audience (likes, followers, etc.)

Below, we’ll dive into the ins and outs of building and implementing a paid social media advertising plan for your small business.

Establish your goals

The first step to building your strategy is identifying what you want to achieve. Here, you’ll want to consider both business goals and social media-specific goals.

For example, maybe you’re a freelance photographer and you want to get new clients. That’s a business goal. Now, your social media advertising goal can be to generate more traffic to your website where you’ve built an offer for first-time clients, or to have leads sign up for a consultation right through Facebook.

Whatever your business goal is, you’ll want to make sure your social media goals support that. Some other examples of goals for your paid social media advertising could include:

  • Increase brand awareness, which could support business goals like growing your customer base or attracting new high-profile partnerships.
  • Re-engage existing customers and cultivate brand loyalists, which could aid a goal to increase customer lifetime value, for instance.
  • Drive traffic to your website or storefront. This can support the business goal to increase sales.
  • Create buzz about a launch or event. Your business goals may be to simply have high attendance or conversion numbers for the occasion.
  • Generate leads, which is a business goal in its own right, but also helps to increase sales and your customer base.

Write your goals down and attach milestones, deadlines, and numbers to them. This will help you hold yourself accountable for progress towards those goals, both with social media and the rest of your business.

Remember S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable, and Timely. Every goal you set for yourself should meet each of those five requirements — that’s where accountability really comes in.

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When setting your goals, remember to aim high but also be realistic. You may not build a loyal customer base overnight, so you’ll want to start with another goal and build your way to that. Here are some goals you might want to consider:

  • Build brand awareness
  • Drive foot traffic
  • Improve social media ROI
  • Promote a new service

Then choose your KPIs based on your goal. For awareness, you’ll look at things like impressions, while promoting a new service might be click-throughs and conversions.

Know who you’re targeting

If you’re advertising on social media, you need to have an idea of who you want to reach. This can either be broad and wide-reaching, or specific and targeted, depending on your goals.

Build a persona for your target customer. Customer/buyer personas are fictional characterizations of your target customer(s) which are based on insights gathered through market research. Personas help you create hyper-targeted messaging and marketing strategies.

It’s important to understand your persona’s specific pain points and how you can help them absolve those challenges. You’ll then craft your social media advertising approach based on this premise.

Choose the right platforms

When it comes to deciding where you’ll run your social media ads, it’s important to refer back to your goals and personas, and then figure out where you’re most likely to reach them. Each channel has its own unique benefits, capabilities, and users — it comes down to leveraging the ones that help you meet your goals. Let’s break it down:


Facebook is (still!) the biggest social media network of them all, with more than 2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has a lot of advertising options, including different ad types and content types — videos, pictures, text-only, links, etc. Note that images get twice as much engagement as posts without imagery. Facebook also has the most robust targeting options of all social media platforms.

Facebook users are:

  • Mostly 18–49-year-olds
  • Pretty evenly split between male and female, though there are slightly more female users
  • Some college education


Facebook’s visual-first Instagram is a photo-sharing app with 500 million daily active users. You can use it to run ads based on a photo, gallery, or video. If you sell products, consider Shoppable Posts. You can post ads which feature your products, and users can purchase them from within the app.


Instagram users:


Twitter has 336 million active users, and the platform has undergone some changes since its first 140-character-based iteration. Now, users have a lengthy 280 characters to play with. Twitter’s advertising options also include photo-based ads.

Twitter users are:

  • Almost evenly split male/female
  • The majority of users are 18–29 years old, but Twitter has a more diverse userbase than most other social platforms
  • Live in urban areas
  • Earn a $50k–$75k salary

The Wall Street Journal uses Twitter to amplify its content and attract more readers.


Snapchat, though it’s declined in popularity, still has a user base of 188 million daily active users. Snapchat consists of self-destructing videos and photos that users can send to one another or in group chats. They can use filters, add stickers, and create other fun effects to the content before sending. Brands also have channels to which users can subscribe and view their organic content, though there are also paid opportunities.

Snapchat users are:

  • Mostly 18–24 years old
  • Engaged with the app multiple times a day


LinkedIn is a B2B platform, and what’s cool about it is that not many SMBs have fully taken advantage of it. This could be a great way to stand out with minimal competition and “noise” that’s often associated with a platform like Facebook or Twitter. Thought leadership content does well on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn users are:

  • Typically professionals using the platform for business/work purposes
  • College educated
  • In high-income households ($75k+)
  • Mostly male
  • Live in urban areas

When WeWork opened their Denver location, they ran targeted LinkedIn ads to raise awareness and ultimately drive people to their location. I likely fit the bill for a few reasons, including my location and self-employed status on the platform.


A site with 250 million active users, Pinterest is another platform built on visuals. If you can’t put together your own graphics, you may want to hire someone to create them for you. Advertising options on Pinterest include promoted pins, which can drive to content or product pages.

Pinterest users are:

  • Mostly female
  • Earn $50k+ per year, with a household income of $100k+
  • 18–40 years old

Niche social media sites

Depending on your industry or goals, there may be advertising opportunities on niche social media sites.
Nextdoor, for example, is a social media platform which connects local neighborhoods. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, you could target ads in your local area. I also often see ads from home security companies and products like Ring, which makes sense because many conversations are about thieves and petty crime in the area.

Here are a few other niche social media sites that allow for advertising, but you can also do a search specific to your industry:

Set a budget

You don’t need to invest much to get started on social media advertising. Even a $50 investment can go a long way, especially if you’ve followed the steps above.

As far as budget goes, there are two main ways to go:

  1. Cost-per-click (CPC): This is when you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. Advertisers always want to optimize, or lower, this number as much as possible. CPC is good for when you’re trying to collect emails or drive traffic to a website.
  2. Cost-per-impression (CPM): This is when you pay each time some sees your ad. Because an impression isn’t as close to a sale as a click-through, the price per impression is typically lower than for a click. These are great for brand awareness initiatives.

When establishing your budget, along with CPC and CPM costs, think about what the value of a conversion is to you. If you’re selling low-cost products and services, start with a smaller budget with an initial test audience. Optimize your ads (more on that next), and then put more money towards it to reach a broader audience.

If your products and services are high-ticket items, you can afford to get more targeted and spend more money. But again, start with a number that’s comfortable for you, optimize, and increase your budget. Remember: You can get started with as little as $50.

Analyze and optimize your social media ads

After you launch your ads, it’s important to check in on them. You’ve done the work in identifying goals, audience, and budget — now you need to see if your strategy makes sense.

Like we mentioned before, advertisers generally try to optimize their CPC and CPM rates. This means looking at ad success and determining ways to tweak it so it performs better. Sometimes this means changing up the targeting, and other times it requires modifications to the creative.

Keep in mind that if you’re running a highly targeted campaign with lots of audience parameters, the CPC or CPM will increase. But if the value of a sale significantly outweighs the cost to attract the sale, you could still come out on top.

Beyond the metrics from the social media platform, check out your site analytics. Monitor site traffic referred from social media. Tag all of your links with Google’s UTM parameters so you have detailed information to refer to you in Google Analytics. Hootsuite has a great guide to UTMs for social media ads.

Moving forward with your social media ad strategy

Before you throw money into social ads and posts, sit down and document your strategy. If you document goals, audiences, tactics, and results of your campaigns, you can endlessly iterate and improve. It all comes down to what works for you and your business.

What’s keeping you from advertising on social media? Which platforms will you try?

By Alexandra Sheehan

The information and tips shared on this blog are meant to be used as learning and personal development tools as you launch, run and grow your business. While a good place to start, these articles should not take the place of personalized advice from professionals. As our lawyers would say: “All content on Wave’s blog is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be considered legal or financial advice.” Additionally, Wave is the legal copyright holder of all materials on the blog, and others cannot re-use or publish it without our written consent.

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