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How to make sure your paid social campaigns succeed

Following our win at the 2018 LinkedIn Marketing Awards, we outline how to deliver successful paid social media campaigns in four essential steps.

As the winners of the Best B2B Lead Generation category at the 2018 LinkedIn Marketing Awards, we know a thing or two about running successful paid social campaigns.

Since 80 per cent of all B2B social media leads come from LinkedIn, even being nominated was a real honour. But actually winning was something else – especially given the quality of the campaigns we were up against. Every one of them is proof that B2B marketers can win at paid social.

Looking beyond the LinkedIn awards, brands as diverse as Barclays, SAP, Mercedes‐Benz and more enjoy huge success distributing their content on social media. It can be a powerful and cost‐effective tool for everything from brand building to lead generation, nurturing campaigns and beyond.

In fact, 75 per cent of B2B buyers and 84 per cent of company executives use social media to inform their purchase decisions.

But for every company that has mastered the art of effective paid social, there are dozens that struggle because they’re still distributing the wrong content, to the wrong audience, at the wrong time.

So, today we’ll outline how to make sure your paid social campaigns succeed in four essential steps. Along the way, you’ll discover what it takes to deliver award‐winning social media initiatives

1. Strategy always comes first

Paid social is usually just one ingredient in a broader distribution strategy that spans several paid, owned or earned media channels. But even if you put your entire budget into social media, the specific platforms and ad formats you should use will depend on your goals.

So, before you spend even a penny creating ads or promoting social media posts, it pays to ask yourself two simple questions: “Who is my audience? And, what am I trying to achieve?”

In most cases, you should focus on your ideal prospects. If your goal is to generate leads or sales, you should certainly be targeting the key decision‐makers your sales team wants to reach.

That said, if you want to raise brand awareness, onboard new clients or foster brand advocates, it may also be worth targeting certain secondary or tertiary audiences that aren’t directly responsible for purchase decisions.

Whatever you decide, create buyer personas that identify the best social platforms to reach each of your target stakeholder groups, as well as the messages and themes most likely to resonate with them.

Then, use the SMART formula to spell out exactly how paid social will feed into your broader marketing objectives. Common goals include driving qualified traffic to your website, growing your online following, engaging your existing followers and generating qualified leads.

Broadly speaking, paid content distribution is worthwhile when the lifetime value of the prospects it helps feed into your marketing loop exceeds the amount you spend reaching and influencing them.

So, set yourself specific goals to achieve and establish clear KPIs you can use as benchmarks to measure and optimise your social campaign against. These strategic decisions will help you target the right social media users with the right content or adverts when you launch your campaign.

2. Create a seamless user experience

The next step when crafting a paid social campaign is to fine tune every detail of the customer experience.

There’s nothing worse than clicking an ad and landing on a page that’s completely different from what you were expecting. When this kind of thing happens, the most common response is to just lose interest. You close the browser window and get on with your life.

This challenge is particularly acute on social media. These prospects are typically less engaged than those you reach through channels like email, and it’s easier to lose their attention. Some marketers say their social media bounce rates are 2 – 3 times higher than they see through other channels.

When creating brand awareness content that’s purely for social media, you’ll need to craft content with bold hooks that instantly grab your audience’s attention and ensure it’s optimised for your chosen platforms.

But if you’re funnelling prospects to a specific webpage, you need to go a step further and design an intuitive experience that anticipates what your audience expects to see at each stage of the journey.

Your paid social posts must draw prospects in and get them excited about what you want to share with them. Then, it’s just as important to make sure your landing page builds on that initial excitement and drives home how your content will improve their lives.

The best way to achieve this is often to start at the end of your content journey and work backwards.

If your goal is to get prospects to download a white paper, you first need to make sure that paper is as valuable as possible.

You can then pick out the most enticing parts to form the basis of your landing page and create ads or social posts to test based on each of those key benefits.

In this way, you can design a seamless content experience that keeps your prospects’ attention and builds their excitement with every click.

3. Consider the customer journey

Given that it takes 7 – 13 touches to deliver a qualified sales lead, it makes sense to use multiple distribution channels in unison to keep your brand ‘top of mind’ as your prospects research their business needs. But there are a few different roles social media can play in this equation.

When targeting unaware prospects with top‐of‐funnel content, you might want your social posts to be one of the first experiences they have of your brand.

However, you’ll often be better off using retargeting tools to reach prospects with content intended for further along the customer journey. It takes time and forward planning to build lists of site visitors for retargeting campaigns, but this approach will deliver better value than your standard targeting in the long run.

It is also possible to design paid social campaigns targeting prospects with messages designed to generate sales – although these are by far the most expensive to run, in our experience.

Consider the best content formats and tactics to reach your audience given your marketing goals. Then, take steps to make sure your social posts reach prospects with relevant messages at each stage of the customer journey.

Whatever approach you decide to take, the key thing is to have a clear picture of where each channel falls in your typical customer journey and how your paid social activity will feed into your marketing loop.

Remember that prospects won’t always respond to your social content in the way you want them to. Rather than clicking through to your site, some may decide to visit your profile page instead. Make sure these peripheral touchpoints are up to date before your campaign launches.

At the same time, your social media campaigns should integrate seamlessly with the other channels you use to distribute your content.

This is especially important when launching a flagship content piece simultaneously across multiple regions or markets. When teams are siloed, getting them working together efficiently can be a challenge. Make sure everyone knows the plan and is pulling in the same direction.

4. Test, optimise and repeat

With your content created and your targeting in place, all that’s left is to make sure your campaign will deliver on your KPIs.

There’s a whole range of things you can do to test and optimise the performance of your social campaigns, and you should aim to begin that process the moment your campaign launches.

The first thing to look at is your bidding strategy. Ad buying on social media works on an auction model. So, how much you bid will affect what you end up spending. Bid too little and your ads won’t get seen in the first place. Bid too much, and you’ll burn right through your distribution budget.

A common strategy here is to try and be thrifty without being cheap. When running a longer campaign, you can afford to let things tick over slowly with lower bids. But if you’re operating on a shorter timescale, it’s often worth being more aggressive with your bids at first to get the reach you’re looking for.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to strike the balance between maximising your campaign’s reach and minimising your cost per acquisition.

In addition to tweaking your bidding strategy, it’s also important to optimise your conversion rates – and this is where A/B split testing comes in.

We recommend starting with around six social ad variations to test, then selecting your best one or two when a winner emerges

Look carefully at each element of your campaign and consider how it could be improved. Can your targeting be refined to filter out low quality leads? Is there a particular time or day of the week when your audience is most active? Could the design of your content be more eye‐catching?

When funnelling people to a landing page or content piece, test different ad copy to see what gets the best clickthrough rates. Try radically different ideas first to see what works best before fine tuning the most effective angle.

We recommend starting with around six social ad variations to test, then selecting your best one or two when a winner emerges.

If your CTRs are high but your landing page conversions or dwell times are low, that’s a sign your ads are not related closely enough to the content they’re supposed to be promoting. Either discontinue those ads or rework the opening of your content based on the idea behind the ad.

The best marketers weave tests like these into the very fabric of their marketing activities. From the moment your content goes live, you should be thinking about what you can do better.

No campaign is perfect, and there will always be opportunities to reduce your cost per acquisition.

Go back over your strategy. Create bolder, more attention‐grabbing content. Refine your approach to distribution and targeting. Then, repeat the process. That’s what it takes to deliver effective paid social media campaigns.

Key takeaways

  • Strategy comes first. Know your audience and set yourself measurable social KPIs based on your broader marketing goals.
  • Create a seamless user experience. You need to anticipate what your audience expects to see at each stage of the content journey.
  • Consider the customer journey. Tailor the distribution tactics you use to where your prospects are in the buying process.
  • Always be testing. No campaign is perfect, and there will always be opportunities to reduce your cost per acquisition.

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