Paid Advertising: Friend or Foe?

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"Boosting" a post seems so simple. With a mere tap of your finger, your new book or blog post will now be shared with hundreds more people than you currently have as followers. Or least that’s how it seems on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. But the reality is anything involving money is rarely that simple. Before pulling the trigger on ad campaigns, I usually recommend answering a couple of key questions, which should really be addressed anytime one is launching or overhauling a social media strategy:

  • What are 2–3 objectives you are hoping to accomplish within the next 3–6 months by using social media? 
  • Who is your CURRENT target audience? 
  • What platforms are they most engaged on?

The last two are especially important, as it is nonsensical to invest time and resources in platforms potential readers or clients do not actually use. 

It’s also crucial to understand basic digital marketing terminology before purchasing ads. You will not be able to assess how successful any campaign actually has been if the metrics being referenced are an anomaly. Same goes for outsourcing your social media to a private contractor or agency. There’s nothing wrong with delegating this aspect of your entrepreneurial efforts as a writer. But don’t start paying for advertising or services before being able to differentiate between anticipated versus guaranteed outcomes. Expanding your scope of knowledge of the following jargon is an effective way to pay it forward toward getting the most out of any future ad buys.

  • A/B testing (also known as split testing): A method of measuring two social media posts against each other to see which performs best .
  • Algorithm: Used by platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to determine which pieces of content to show you in your news feed, based on your interests, activity, and interactions. 
  • Clickthrough rate (CTR): The percentage of people that see your post who click on it. What counts as a click and what counts as "seeing your post" vary by social network.
  • Conversion rate (CVR): The percentage of users who see your post or ad who then take a specified action. 
  • Frequency: Refers to how many times your ad was shown to the average user in your target audience.
  • Geofilter/Geotargeting: Adjusting ad content based on the location of a user. In Facebook ads manager, for example, users can be included or excluded from a target audience based on their region, country, state, city, postal code, or address.
  • Impressions: The amount times a post has been seen on via a social media platform.
  • Reach: The number of unique users that viewed content. It differs from impressions in that even if a user sees your post multiple times, they still only count as one person “reached.” Reach is an important metric for understanding how large your audience is now, plus tracking progress of broadening it. 
  • Organic Reach: The number of unique accounts that have seen your content on social media without the use of paid promotion tools. 
  • Paid Reach: The number of unique accounts that have viewed your content with the addition of paid promotion. 

All of that said, there are plenty of free options to pursue in regard to increasing one’s visibility before the spend begins. Here’s a list of my personal faves for bolstering organic reach—particularly on Instagram, LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter:

  • Develop and maintain a consistent post schedule in regard to frequency on the platforms you’re currently most active on. (And deactivate the pages you are not regularly using.)
  • Start using new features. I know, I know, who has time to do "one more thing” on social media? But reels, stories, and booktoks are all ways to get content in front of fresh eyes.
  • Double down on cross-promotion. I cannot stress enough how important it is to give love online as much as you would like to be receiving it in those same digital spaces. How often are you following new people and leaving comments on other writers’ or local businesses’ posts?
  • Make the most of user-generated content (UGC): Reposting photos and captions you are tagged in. This is probably the easiest way to curate content, plus it lets your current audience know you’re listening and appreciate their support.

Be aware a major downside of paid advertising on social media is, once you start paying for more people to view your content, most sites will begin limiting the organic reach of many future posts to not so subtly encourage you to keep buying ads. Thus it is wise to calculate a monthly budget of how much you are willing to spend on boosting posts and other digital marketing opportunities, so $5 or $10 a week does not rapidly morph into hundreds of dollars a month. A good rule of thumb is to put money behind the aspects of your writing career that currently generate the most income. For example if your editing services bring in more revenue than say the quarterly workshop you teach, advertising aimed at drawing in more book development clients is likely the more cost effective choice.

*For more detailed questions related to ads on specific platforms, take advantage of these free mini-tutorials online:

Facebook Ad Costs Explained

How Much Would You Pay….? (Real Google Ad Costs revealed!)

Facebook & Instagram Ads: A Primer On Not Losing Your Mind (or Your Money)