6 Mistakes Small Businesses Make with Social Media Ads (and How to Avoid Them)

By Natasha Lane

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Social media has changed advertising forever – and that’s a fact.

One of the biggest, most profound changes pertains to how consumers regard social media advertising. Surveys have shown that people welcome social media ads, as they turn to their favorite platforms for promotional offers and shopping inspiration. Consumers are seeking personalization, transparency, and timeliness when it comes to ads, and social media advertising is able to meet these demands by its nature.

It thus comes as no surprise that we’ve reached a golden era of social media advertising. The numbers prove it: revenue in social media advertising currently amounts to over 99 billion USD, and it’s expected to continue growing at an impressive rate. Among the various platforms, Facebook advertising is still leading the way for small businesses. And ever since algorithm changes on Facebook and Instagram pushed brands further down users’ feeds in favor of content from friends and family, the rules have been made clear: social media is no longer a free-for-all. If you want results, you’ll now have to pay to play.

But one thing is for sure: it’s worth it.

From personalization to cost-effectiveness, ads run on popular social media platforms are proving to be a gold mine for businesses – that is, if they are well conceptualized and executed. To help you make the best out of social media advertising, we’ve singled out some common mistakes and tips to avoid them.


Paid ads as a standalone effort

Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social platform, audiences are keen on preserving the social nature of social media – and although they’re not against ads, people don’t want to see social networks overrun by businesses propelling their promotional messages. They want to interact with brands and be inspired by them before being sold to.

Failing to humanize your brand is one of the biggest social media marketing mistakes – in fact, by not putting in a steady effort to build brand identity and foster a genuine connection with your audience, you’ll be missing the point of social media marketing entirely. That’s why being overly self-promotional on social is a cardinal mistake – and there’s no worse way to do it than by doing more advertising than content marketing.

To avoid this mistake, consider ads a vital part of your existing social media presence, but never a standalone effort. In other words, if you don’t have some kind of a presence and a content marketing strategy to help you build a community of followers around your brand, hold off the advertising. Focus on building a connection and using social platforms for effective customer service. Most importantly, work hard on delivering high-quality, authentic content, then employ paid ads to help you make all that great content visible to a larger audience.


No goals and strategy

A lot of SMBs make the mistake of “winging” their entire social media campaigns, with no clear goals in mind. This is usually the result of a lack of understanding of social media among decision-makers, especially within businesses that have a very limited marketing budget and staff.

With this approach, you’ll end up wasting a lot of your marketing money – and without clear goals, you also won’t know how to track the performance of your campaigns. This stands for every other aspect of digital marketing, so it shouldn’t be any different with social media ads.

Before brainstorming ad content ideas, the very first question you need to ask is What is the purpose of this ad campaign? Some of the most common answers are:

  • driving traffic to your website
  • reaching a wider audience and attracting new customers
  • retargeting prospects
  • showcasing new products/services
  • raising brand awareness and humanizing your brand

The more specific and detailed you are with your advertising goals, the better you’ll be able to guide your strategy in the right direction and measure your success. If your goal is, let’s say, driving website traffic, define the amount of traffic you’re aiming for and the time span within which you aim to achieve this goal. Naturally, this part will require a bit of research to make sure you’re setting reasonable goals in accordance with your industry and target audience.


Ineffective targeting

Speaking of target audiences, take note of one vital fact – the success of your advertising strategy largely depends on how well you understand your audience, and how closely you’re able to define your ideal customer. And I don’t mean just the general approach where you define your demographic by age, gender, geographic location, education, family status, etc. These are important and the first step to segmenting your audience, but you want to take it a step further if you want to hit the sweet spot – deliver the perfect ad content to the right audience, at the right time.  

Tap into the core – what are the ideals and values that your key demographic holds close? How do they spend their time, and how would they like to spend their time? What are their biggest concerns and problems, and in which aspect of their lives does your brand fit in?

Do thorough market research, watch what your competitors are doing, and dig into social listening to get to know your audience better through the conversations they engage in. Create different ads for different audience segments – that’s the ultimate power and beauty of social media advertising. The better you understand not only who your audience really is, but how they think, the better you’ll be able to direct creative thinking to make eye-catching content that resonates with them.


Poor quality

From the concept of each ad to its technical execution, the standards are higher than ever. Big brands such as Red Bull, Samsung, Airbnb, and numerous others invest millions of dollars into creating engaging ads with equally compelling storylines and imagery. Audiences are being served some technically impressive stuff – and they’ve grown picky.

No matter your budget, you can’t afford to roll out an ad that’s lacking in technical execution. This is a big no-no especially on highly visual platforms such as Instagram. Low image or video quality and a lack of a visual concept – ad content in DIY style – is sure to make you look amateur.

Make sure to get truly reliable and creative professionals on your side to create your ads from scratch. Don’t go in over your head – if you don’t have the budget to execute an idea fully and deliver a professional-looking ad, try a different concept or a less expensive medium to create it. It’s better to feature a modest concept that’s filmed well and high in quality, than a grandiose idea with shabby execution.


Not tweaking ads according to metrics

As we’ve previously mentioned, one of the crucial aspects of successful social media advertising is setting clear goals – and then tracking them throughout your campaigns. Make use of Google Analytics, the Facebook Pixel, and the measurement tools provided by each specific social platform. According to Hootsuite, the vital metrics you need to pay attention to in your ad campaigns are:

  • cost-per-action
  • conversions
  • click-through rate
  • traffic activity
  • traffic sources
  • mobile traffic
  • cost to acquire a lead
  • customer conversion ratio

Establish which metrics are most important to your campaign and use them as data to determine the ROI of social ads for your business. Most importantly, use these metrics as pointers to tweak your campaigns. If you’re not getting the results you were hoping for within an established timeframe, turn to the data to figure out what you need to improve and let it guide your next brainstorming session.  

Facebook also allows for split testing your ad campaigns, which is another reason why it’s an advertising powerhouse. If you’re using Facebook, split testing will help you experiment with different ad elements to really find what works best – just make sure that you test different ad formats, rather than just one, so that you’ll have a reliable experiment.


Bad timing

We’ve touched upon timing previously in this post, saying how effective targeting will help you deliver the perfect ad content to the right audience, at the right time. Yet, failing to pay attention to timing is certainly one of the biggest mistakes you’ll often find businesses making. As with other advertising aspects, many small businesses still rely on their gut instincts when it comes to launching their ads, rather than research. And that results in a lot of opportunities missed.

Establish a schedule for launching each ad based on research. This research will once again pertain to each audience segment. You want to find the social media usage patterns of your audience and establish the times when your ads will gain the most visibility. You’ll need to take into account their lifestyles and geographical locations. For example, if your target market consists of working parents, they’re most likely using social at night, after putting their kids to bed – and depending on when that is in their time zone, you’ll know for when to schedule your ads.  


Without a doubt, social media ads are a necessary tool for growing your business in today’s market. Not using them is really not an option anymore, but using them requires careful strategy and patience – so don’t get ahead of yourself and give up if you’re not seeing instant results. Set your goals, take your time, track, test, and improve. Pay attention to your competitors and see how you can learn from them. Hopefully, this article has provided some useful insights to help you avoid the most frequent mistakes and start on the right foot.

Learn more about Social Hire

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Our team are a company that assists our customers further their digital footprint by giving digital marketing on a regular basis.

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