Social media advertising in 2023: types, costs, tips, & best channels
Businesses and brands can no longer afford to ignore social media advertising, mainly because nearly 5 billion people now use social media around the world. Plus, 80% of people make purchasing decisions based on social media posts. Therefore, it’s crucial to properly harness the power of social media ads to reach a broader audience.
If you position your brand well and use a social media marketing strategy effectively, you can connect with your target audience, boost lead generation, and work toward gaining loyal customers. Discover everything you need to know to run successful social ads — from expected costs to best platforms and ad types — in this comprehensive guide to social media advertising.
What is social media advertising?
Social media advertising is the practice of using social media platforms to promote products, services, or brands to a targeted audience. It involves creating and sharing digital advertising content on social media networks to attract the attention of users and encourage them to take desired actions, such as making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or visiting a website.
Benefits of social media advertising
There are several benefits of utilizing social media advertising for businesses:
- Vast reach. Social media platforms have billions of active users, allowing businesses to connect with a wide and diverse audience.
- Precise targeting. Businesses can use social media to reach specific demographics, interests, or behaviors, ensuring their ads are seen by the most relevant audience.
- Measurable results. Social media platforms let you track and analyze campaign performance, impressions, engagement, and conversions.
- Cost-effectiveness. With flexible budgets and various ad formats to suit different business growth objectives, social media advertising is accessible to both small and large businesses alike.
Types of social media advertising
Choosing which social media platforms to utilize is the first step. Then, decide which types of ads to run. Popular content types include:
Image or photo ads
Photo ads show an attention-grabbing visual plus a brief call-to-action (CTA) like “Subscribe here” or “Shop now.” They may appear as news feed posts, banners, or sidebars. For example, Starbucks uses a simple photo marketing campaign coupled with a unique hashtag (#unicornfrappucinno) to drive engagement.
Here’s what it looks like on the Instagram mobile app:
Video ads show moving images. Short videos that are less than one minute in duration are generally more impactful. One bonus of videos is they can show up in search engine results. For instance, a home improvement brand might run a video ad showcasing a time-lapse of a DIY home renovation project, capturing the transformation from start to finish within a 30-second video, encouraging viewers to explore their services.
Carousel ads consist of multiple photos or videos that rotate to create one cohesive ad. Each image can have its own headline, link, and CTA. This top-performing Gap ad on Facebook uses the carousel format to show a jacket in diverse colors.
Try creating social stories for Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. These short-term ads are ideal for time-sensitive deals. Story ads can be photos, videos, or carousels. A shoe retailer, for instance, could create a story ad on Instagram featuring a limited time offer of a "Buy One, Get One Free" promotion, using engaging visuals of trendy sneakers and a swipe-up link to drive immediate purchases.
Use the above formats to work with influencers who have impactful social media followings. An influencer might create video content like Instagram Stories or Reels to showcase their product. One with a large following in the fashion industry could partner with a luxury handbag brand, posting a photo ad on their Instagram feed showcasing the brand's latest collection and including a caption encouraging followers to "Shop the look" with a direct link to the brand's website. These types of “organic posts” tend to resonate with social media users in a more natural way.
Best channels for social media advertising
So, how can you know which platform is right for your business and its target audience? Here’s a demographic breakdown of which audiences are active users on which channels. The top social media channels for advertising are:
There are at least 1.628 billion people who use Instagram, meaning you have the potential to reach over 20% of the world’s population through Instagram alone. The largest age group active on Instagram is 25 to 34 years old, followed by 18 to 24 years old. Users are 48% female and 52% male (data for other genders isn’t available). If your target audience falls into the 18 to 34 age range, seriously consider utilizing Instagram for social media advertising.
Instagram ad formats include photos, videos, carousels, reels, and story ads. Influencer advertising is also big on Instagram, so consider capitalizing on this. Although Instagram ads are typically more expensive than Facebook, engagement on Instagram is higher. Additionally, Instagram is the top social media site that people use to follow and engage with brands. Click here to see how you can get started advertising on Instagram.
With over 3.03 billion active users, Facebook is the most used social media site on this list. The most prevalent age group on Facebook is users 25 to 34 years old. However, Facebook has a pretty even age distribution, meaning that it is a good social media platform to target a variety of groups. Additionally, out of all of the social media platforms mentioned in this post, Facebook is the best platform to use for targeting individuals over the age of 65. Users are 43% female and 57% male.
As is similar across the Meta social media suite, Facebook ad formats include photos, videos, carousels, and story ads. Although Facebook serves as a pretty competitive environment for social media advertising, its targeting and retargeting capabilities are unmatched. If you are interested, click here to learn more about Facebook advertising.
LinkedIn has 900 million users. The largest age group active on LinkedIn is 25 to 34 years old. They report being 48% female and 52% male.
Popular LinkedIn ads include image ads, text-and-image ads, and InMail ads (sent to a person’s LinkedIn messenger). Compared to the other social media platforms mentioned here, LinkedIn is known to be more expensive and have fewer advertising features. However, if your target audience primarily exists on LinkedIn, don’t let this deter you – learn how to get started with LinkedIn advertising.
YouTube has over 2.7 billion monthly active users. Additionally, 52% of internet users access YouTube at least once a month, meaning YouTube is a great place to reach a wide range of people. The age group with the highest reach on YouTube is 15 to 35 years old. They’re 46% female and 54% male.
YouTube offers image ads and a variety of video ad options. Examples include skippable in-stream videos, non-skippable in-stream videos, and overlay video ads. Compared to other leading social media sites, YouTube is a great place to display video ads because they match users’ expectations; users come to YouTube to watch videos, meaning a video ad would not seem out of place. Keep in mind that making video ad content can often be expensive and time-consuming. Learn more about this process through the YouTube ad manager.
X (Twitter) has around 528.3 million monthly active users. The largest age group active on Twitter is 18 to 29 years old, with 38.4% being female versus 61.6% male.
Twitter ad formats can be text or image, with both photos and videos possible for use on the platform. The Twitter advertising space tends to have less competition than other leading social media platforms, so if you know your target audience is active on Twitter and you want to save some of your advertising budget, this could be a great social media platform to utilize. Additionally, Twitter users tend to be more affluent and spend 26% more time viewing ads than compared to other leading platforms.
TikTok has 1.1 billion active monthly users, with the largest age group active on TikTok being 10 to 19 years old. TikTok users are 61% female and 39% male.
TikTok ads focus on video formats. As mentioned above, making video content is often more time-intensive, expensive, and sometimes difficult. However, this advertising method can certainly pay off, especially on TikTok and with its ever-increasing popularity, specifically with younger audiences.
Snapchat has 383 million daily active users and is the fifth most downloaded social media app in the world. The largest age group using Snapchat is 15 to 25 years old. They’re 51% female and 48% male.
Snapchat ad formats include photos, videos, carousels, and story ads. Note that Snapchat ads are on the more expensive side and are often slow to yield significant ROI. However, if you can perfect ads on Snapchat, the full-screen immersive experience can be incredibly impactful for your audience.
465 million people use Pinterest every month. The largest age group using Pinterest is 23 to 34 years old. They’re 76.2% female and 17.2% male (the remaining percentage points are unspecified).
Pinterest ad formats include photos and videos. The audience on Pinterest is more limited than other leading social media platforms, and advertisers tend to have less control over ad placement and feel the need to generate new content often to stay relevant. However, if you know your audience is active on Pinterest, they can be worth trying to wrangle for the right niche. Click here to see if Pinterest ads are right for you.
Social media advertising costs
A social media ad campaign can cost anywhere from a few dollars to thousands. It all depends on your budget and level of investment.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how advertising costs work on some popular platforms:
- Instagram. Instagram ads are generally rated on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis. Many factors influence CPC, including how competitive your industry is, audience targeting, the time of year, location, and the time of day. On average, Instagram ads range from $0.40 to $0.70 per click.
- Facebook. Facebook ad pricing is like Instagram ad pricing, rated on a CPC basis. The campaign objective also matters. A campaign focused on getting impressions costs $1.85 per click, while one focused on conversions costs $0.87 per click. Use the Meta Ads Manager (formally the Facebook Ads Manager) as a centralized point to run ads across Instagram and Facebook.
- LinkedIn. LinkedIn ads vary widely in terms of cost — there’s no concrete number we can give you. The social network sells ad space through an auction-style process. You place a bid, competing with other advertisers who want to reach the same target audience. The more popular the audience, the higher the price tag.
- YouTube. There’s also no set cost for YouTube ads. Again, the price varies based on the objective (as in, do you want people to see a video or do you want them to like it?), the desired target audience, the industry, and more.
- X (Twitter). Like other platforms on this list, X ads run on an auction-style system. You bid, indicating what you’re willing to pay for a specific action, and provide a daily budget for your campaign. The more your bid, the greater the likelihood your ad will reach your target audience. In general, X ads cost $0.50 to $3.00 per action (e.g., click or like).
- TikTok. TikTok ads also don’t have a set price. Factors like the audience you want to reach, your objective, and your industry will influence the cost of TikTok advertising. TikTok uses an auction-like bidding model, with daily campaign budgets set at $50.
- Snapchat. As with the other examples, Snapchat ad costs vary depending on details like the format, audience, and business goal. There’s a minimum ad buy of $5.
- Pinterest. You’ll pay somewhere between $2.00 and $5.00 for every 1,000 Pinterest impressions, and $0.10 to $1.50 per click.
Tips for budgeting and cost management in social media advertising
Social media ad budgets are as diverse as social media ad pricing.
One survey of businesses shows how the percentage of the marketing budget (including traditional and digital marketing) spent on social media varies.
In 12 months:
- Business-to-business (B2B) companies selling products anticipated spending 14.7% of their marketing budgets on social media.
- B2B companies selling services planned to spend 18.3% of their marketing budgets on social media.
- Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies selling products anticipated spending 21.8%.
- B2C companies selling services anticipated spending 18.7%.
Those industry benchmarks can help guide your budgeting decisions. To set your social media budget, take these steps:
- Define your goals, such as social media engagement or driving traffic to a specific landing page. If you’re already creating social media ads, analyze what you spent during previous months.
- List all expenses related to social media ads, from placing the ads to creating ad content. Expenses could include things like graphic design, copywriting, or video production.
- Create your social media strategy. Based on your social media strategy, draft your budget. Try creating an Excel sheet that covers:
- Category. What type of social media will you use, and what costs can you anticipate?
- Creation. Will you make content in-house or outsource it? How much will that cost?
- Per-item spend. Add the above points to get a dollar figure for each social media category.
- Flag one-time versus repeat expenses. For instance, if you want to do video ads, you may have to buy equipment — but only once.
Tally up the total amount required and that’s your budget.
Tips for successful social media advertising
Not sure which social media platforms to choose or which advertising platforms will best get your messaging across? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help:
1. Determine your target audience
Define your target audience — which group of people is most likely to be interested in and benefit from your product, service, or message? Consider demographics like age and location. Research your target users and which social media platforms they use the most — some advertising platforms are used by millennials, while others cater to baby boomers.
2. Decide what kind of social ads will best showcase your product or service.
Think about what type of social media advertising campaign would resonate the most with your target audience while simultaneously best showing off your product or service. For example, videos can showcase unique product features and are perfect for storytelling. Alternately, carousel ads are a great way to showcase multiple different static products simultaneously. If you are unsure about which targeting option to use, pilot different social media advertising campaigns, and track metrics to see which ones resonate with your audience the most.
3. Set key performance indicators (KPIs)
How will you measure ad success? It is necessary to set up KPIs before you launch a social media advertising campaign so you can actively track the success of your endeavors. Some common KPIs for social media campaigns include:
- Reach: how many users come across your social media channel
- Impressions: the number of times your post is visible in a user’s feed
- Follower count: the number of followers your social media account has
- Website traffic: how many individuals visit your website from social media platforms
- Social share of voice: how many individuals have mentioned your brand compared to the number of individuals mentioning your competitors
- Click-through rate (CTR): the percentage of users that viewed your ad and clicked the CTA (call-to-action)
- Conversion rate: the number of users who performed the actions in your social media ad (visited your website, made a purchase, etc.) compared to the total number of clicks the social media ad received
- Revenue: the amount of money you make through a social media platform
For organic content, consider setting engagement related KPIs such as:
4. Create and set up your ads
This process varies depending on your chosen social network and ad format. High-quality, platform-specific optimization is important. Make sure to abide by SEO (search engine optimization) best practices to have the highest chance of using each social media platform's algorithm to your advantage. Consider your objective: are you trying to reach net-new users or retarget existing users? Your ad design and format should reflect the specific audience group you are hoping to reach.
5. Measure your ad success
Check how your ads are doing, keeping your KPI metrics in mind. For example, if you want to focus on click-through rates (CTR), impressions, or likes, try utilizing a native tool such as Meta Ads Manager to track your campaign. If you are focusing on KPIs related to website traffic or net-new customers, track those metrics through your own internal tools. If your ads are flopping, that’s a sign that it’s time to pivot and try something else.
Start building your social media advertising strategy
Now is the time, if you haven’t already made your 2023 social media marketing and advertising plan.
Small businesses can benefit from cost-effective social platforms to boost brand awareness among existing users and attract potential customers.
Whatever you spend on social media ads this year, make every initiative count.