Why Brands Need Paid Social (and who's already winning with it)

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Social media is now pay-to-play for brands.

Your brand’s organic visibility in news feeds has probably been tanking for some time now as social platforms tweak their algorithms to prioritise posts from “family and friends” and paid posts that are specifically targeted for the user.

Social channels are striving to show people content that (the channel deems) is most relevant to the individual.

But where does this leave brands who aren’t playing the paid game?

Well, when it comes to engagement, in no man’s land.



Taking a quick trip back in time, “fan pages” which businesses and brands could set up to collect followers/fans and post directly to them were launched on Facebook in 2007. By 2012 the average organic visibility of fan page posts was just 16%. It dropped even further to 6.5% in 2014.

Research from Ogilvy even suggests that for pages with 500k+ followers this could be as low as 2%.

Subsequent research from SocialFlow found that organic visibility declined by 52% from January to June 2016. And with social platforms making more tweaks to their algorithms recently which prioritise the “most relevant” content further, business and brands will have taken greater hits.

Facebook have even said that we should assume organic reach for business posts will eventually arrive at zero.

There are several things brands can do to counteract this nose-dive in engagement though. Invest in producing high-quality content, being more selective about targeting of organic posts, and/or making sure you’re effectively encouraging followers to engage.



One of the most effective ways of counteracting this nose dive in organic visibility, and to properly engage with people and build relationships, is to embrace the paid functionality of the social networks.

There are a number of reasons why this makes sense:



You can build audiences and target people at a granular level across social media platforms, meaning you’re better able to serve your content to an audience who are likely to engage with it.

Specific platforms can also be used to explore niches. Twitch or Vero for example, which we looked at in our blog The 5 social media platforms shaping 2019, can be used to engage with specific demographics and audiences.



Using a tracking pixel (which is easily done with Google Tag Manager) you can create custom audience lists of people who’ve already visited your website for your paid social campaigns. Retargeting usually comes with higher conversion rates – because people will generally have a higher interest in your brand and products – and lower CPAs. Win Win!



Using paid ads and placements means that, as you’re lining the platform provider’s pocket, your posts will be instantly prioritised in news feeds. You won’t be beholden to the whims of the algorithm, which could de-prioritise an organic post. This enables you get in front of the right people, right now, which will also help to deliver quick results.



With posts being visible instantly and at scale there’s less of a time delay to find out how they’ve performed as opposed to organic posts. With a quick view of performance, you’re better able to edit, change or optimise ads to help boost performance.



Paid social will give you insight into your brand’s performance that you wouldn’t have got through other means.

You’ll get top line data about traffic and reach, but you’ll also get (depending on the platform) demographic performance data, so you can see how your campaigns performed for people of different ages, genders, locations and more.

That means you can get a better understanding of who’s interacting with your brand, and how. Then you can tailor the rest of the digital journey to suit the people who are engaging the most.



This quick accumulation of data also makes it easier to measure performance overall. If you know what you want to measure (reach, engagement, clicks, etc.), and what you want paid social to achieve, you’ll have the data to hand to do some easy arithmetic and determine your ROI and performance.



Thanks to the targeting capability of paid social you’re better able to identify people at different stages of the purchase funnel with your brand and therefore serve them more relevant ads.

If you’ve got someone who’s never engaged with your brand before they should be seeing different content to someone who’s recently abandoned a basket on your site, for example. Paid capability allows you to serve different ads/content to different people helping you to nurture them through the funnel and take the action you want them to take.

We’ve looked at how several brands are already doing this on Facebook in our blog How to create Facebook campaigns that inspire action.



There are significant cost efficiencies to be found with using paid social. You’ll be using a PPC model so you’ll only pay when users take the action you want them to. So, unlike more broad-brush methods, you can target the people you want to at a price that suits you – within reason. You’ll still have to play the game with minimum bids for ads.

After a few cycles of paid ad placement and with data in hand you’ll be able to refine your targeting to drive greater results and ROI.



There are numerous brands already using paid social – although not as many as you may assume. Apparently only 8% according to data from Instagram.

Here are a handful of brands that are using paid social really well:



The fast-fashion market is tailor made for paid social. Customers will flit between brands as they want to “get the look” as quickly as possible, so brands need to capture people’s attention quickly and engage them with hyper-relevant content.

Missguided are one of the brands doing that to maximum effect. There’s a fantastic case study of their tie up with Love Island in 2018 which shows how they used social to support the partnership and drive customers through to purchase, delivering sponsored content in a variety of formats in near real-time, based on what was happening on the show.

It all led to a 40% spike in sales when the show was being aired in the evening.



Integrated shopping features have been available on Instagram since 2016 and were made available to non-US brands in 2018. The furniture and homewares brand, Wayfair jumped on the functionality shopping posts made available and used them to engage followers.

Using carefully curated imagery, showing items in a real-world setting rather than a show room, Wayfair used shopping posts to automatically tag products featured in images with prices and direct people to “shop now” on their own site.

This led to a 300% increase in traffic to their site from social channels.



Hunter used promoted video on Pinterest to target women aged 18-40 and drive awareness and consideration of their “Core Concept” collection. They created two videos, a 32 second and a 10 second spot to be used in people’s feeds and grab their attention. The videos then used pins linked to Hunter’s online store meaning people could shop instantly.

The videos helped to increase brand searches for Hunter on Pinterest by 30%, and significantly boosted referral traffic to their ecommerce site. Plus, Pinners saved the video to their own boards further expanding the reach and creating longer lasting brand awareness.



Eyewear brand Ace & Tate used Snap Ads to increase traffic to their site and boost the amount of home try-ons for their glasses.

Making use of the vertical video ads, Ace & Tate used two types of creative; product show case videos and native videos shown by “friends of the brand” (aka. influencers).

The latter proved most effective, triggering real interest by showing what the try-on boxes looked like in real life. The ads on snapchat delivered a 77% higher conversion rate on home try-ons and 5.4m ad impressions.


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