This article originally appeared on Mashable.
For small business owners, the complex ecosystem of social media advertising can be difficult to navigate. For every success story—and there are plenty—there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small business frustrated by their attempts to attract customers through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, etc.
The problem, fundamentally, is that small businesses are on social media because they feel that they should be—not because it fits into some larger strategy. They've heard about the small businesses that have radically enlarged themselves through those networks, as if by magic—that magic being, in fact, the execution of very smart strategies.
Before you pour further resources into a Facebook page or a Twitter account, it's worth laying out the factors—in marketing terms, the key performance indicators (KPIs)—that determine the success or failure of your business. Are word-of-mouth and customer advocacy essential to your customer acquisition strategy? Perhaps it's worth looking at social media to amplify those messages. Likewise, if you find that your Facebook fans spend more and more often than non-Facebook fans, it may be worth investing in ads that will help you boost your fan count.
Here, we've outlined the ad products offered by the two most popular social networks: Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps in reading about them, you'll find matches with your business' list of KPIs. In that case, you may want to set aside a budget to test them against the marketing investments you're already making. After all, you'll never know what works until you try.
Facebook ads used to be extremely complex, but thanks to a recent overhaul, they're much simpler to purchase these days.
Your first task is to identify your marketing objective. Do you want Facebook users to buy something on your site? You should optimize for website conversions. If you simply want more Likes on your Facebook page—knowing that Facebook fans tend to be valuable customers in the long run—then optimizing for page Likes is the way to go. You can also optimize for website clicks, post engagement, app installs, app engagement, Offer claims and RSVPs to a Facebook event.
Once an objective has been identified, Facebook will guide you to the most appropriate ad type. It's up to you to choose where that ad appears—in the News Feed, for example, or alongside it. Facebook will help you figure out where your ad is likely to perform best. You'll also need to choose a headline, image (you can upload up to five on rotation) and text for your ad. Facebook recommends copy be "succinct, friendly and conversational."
Once you've chosen your ad, you'll need to decide who sees it. You can target people by location, age, gender, interest, relationship status, language, education and even workplace. You can also opt to target only people who are or are not already connected to your page or app, or the friends of people who already like said page or app. This kind of targeting is unique to Facebook, and should be thought out carefully. A restaurant, for example, may want to advertise a group happy hour special to employees of nearby businesses that tend to go out together after-hours.
Lastly, there's the budget. You can allot a daily or lifetime budget, the former of which will allow you to space out your ads over a broader timeframe. You can also decide how you want to pay: You can either pay for specific actions (such as Likes or website purchases), or per thousand impressions. Facebook will help you choose the best one. Pricing varies according to the competition in the demographic you're targeting.
Once you've set up your campaign, you'll want to track its progress through Facebook's analytics dashboard. Pretty quickly, you'll be able to see which ads and images are performing the best -- and can modify your spending accordingly.
Head over to Facebook’s advertising center to get started.
Twitter’s ad suite is much more simple. It's divided into two categories: Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. (A third ad product, Promoted Trends, isn't available to small businesses.)
Promoted Tweets are ideal when you want to advertise a specific message, or product. If your goal is new followers, promoting your account is the most efficient method, as you'll pay only when you add new followers. It's worth testing whether promoting a specific message, or having more followers (who may then see multiple messages), is more profitable for your business over time.
You can opt for two kinds of targeting. The first is by keyword, which will allow you to target those who search, tweet about or otherwise engage with a specific term. You can also target by interests and followers, reaching people who fall into certain broad interest categories (like board games or college basketball) or who follow specific accounts—a skin care brand might want to target users who follow accounts that tweet about beauty and anti-aging advice. You can also limit your targeting to certain devices, like BlackBerry, and by gender.
Once you've set that all up, you can set lifetime and daily maximum budgets for your campaign. If you're running a Promoted Tweet campaign, you set the amount you're willing to pay every time someone retweets, replies, favorites, follows or clicks on your tweet. (Twitter recommends bidding somewhere in the $1.50 to $2.20 per engagement range.) For Promoted Account campaigns, you pay per follower—Twitter recommends bidding in the $2.50 to $3.50 range.
Beyond Facebook and Twitter
While small business participation on Twitter, and especially Facebook, is high, companies may find that other networks (and their ad products) are a better strategic fit. Pinterest, for example, has become essential to women's lifestyle publishers, accounting for as much as 10% of their monthly referral traffic. Tumblr and LinkedIn may also be worth exploring, depending on your target customer demographic and other needs.
To repeat our earlier mantra: You'll never know what works until you try. What you may discover is that social networks and their ad products don't yet provide the kinds of returns that ad products from Google and elsewhere can—and that’s okay, too.
Photos from top: Shutterstock, twitter.com