3 Principles of Effective Social Media Advertising

I hear from brand and business owners all the time that they understand the value of advertising on social media, but they don’t know where to begin. If you fall into this boat, this post is for you.

Advertising on social media can seem complicated because there are so many customizations and decisions to be made. Speaking as a former Facebook ads employee, I can attest that there is a lot going on beneath the surface--after all, we recently shipped more than 300 product features in a single half. Keeping up with all of it is impossible...not just due to the volume of updates, but because Facebook and Instagram don’t even publish the majority of them. Luckily, you don’t have to pay attention to all of that.


Yes, social media advertising is indeed simple, because it’s all about measurable results. Don’t stress about advanced products and features--many of them are built with sophisticated advertising teams in mind. Focusing on the basics will get you to 95% optimal. The final 5% is simply not worth your time if you’re flying solo.

So, without further ado, here are 3 principles of effective social media advertising:

1) Every social media campaign plan is based on imperfect assumptions.

The amount of data used to power Facebook’s ad auction is unprecedented, and you can get extremely precise with your targeting and message. Who is your intended audience? What unifies and differentiates them? What message is going to land best? What action would they be willing to take based on your ad? Write down everything you know (or think you know) about your customers. Each assumption is an opportunity to validate and learn.

Pick three to five factors that you’d like to test, and put the ad auction to work.

2) Testing and iterating shouldn’t be expensive.

It doesn’t take much time or budget before for your campaign results to start to indicate market trends. The most important thing to understand is what the data tells you, and what the data doesn’t tell you. For example, if you create two ad sets targeting different demographics, and ‘Ad Set X’ returns a higher click-through-rate than ‘Ad Set Y,’ don’t assume that the audience of ‘Ad Set Y’ is less interested in your product or service. Maybe you tailored your messaging for ‘Ad Set X’ in a way that spoke more to that audience than did your messaging for ‘Ad Set Y.’ Maybe the audience of ‘Ad Set X’ clicks on ads more frequently, but isn’t more likely to complete an action beyond that. There are so many reasons why one ad may perform better than another, but resist the temptation to over-pivot based on a single test.

So, on that note, consider everything you “learn” to be a new, slightly better assumption than you had before.

3) Once you find out what works, scale with caution.

A lot of factors can impact your performance, including:

  • Seasonality (ads for hot chocolate do better in the winter)

  • Trends and context (ads for earthquake insurance do better after earthquakes)

  • Auction fatigue (once you’ve shown your ad to the most likely customers once, the auction can either show it to them again, thereby increasing your frequency, or show it for the first time to less likely customers)

In other words, don’t get too comfortable with your set-it-and-forget-it ongoing strategy. Check on your ongoing campaigns at least once per week and look into major performance changes. Sure, you don’t want to constantly be making adjustments, but think of it this way: your brand and the market are constantly evolving, so shouldn’t your marketing approach? What worked well in 2017 won’t work as well today. Just ask Wannabe “Influencers.” ZING!



Michael Wright is a social media marketing and advertising consultant for brands and businesses. He is the author of a yet-to-be-written bestselling book, maybe. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and LinkedIn for more weekly tips!

Michael Wright