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How to Choose Social Platforms for Your Advertising

April 19, 2016

In 2015, Facebook boasted 158.4 million users in the United States, LinkedIn 107 million, Twitter 52.5 million, and Instagram 77.6 million.  With usage growth expected across all these platforms, it’s understandable why social media ad spending is projected to nearly double by 2018.

When choosing one or more platforms for advertising, make sure you know your audience.  What platforms are they using?  Why?  And what targeting factors will be most useful for you?

The primary platforms used in advertising are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of their pros and cons, and what you need to keep in mind when building social campaigns.


Traditionally a platform for connecting with family and friends, Facebook is a hub of life updates, photos, apps, gaming, and more – and the single-sign on capability has significantly changed the way consumers access other sites.  For advertisers, this enables cross-device tracking and pretty robust targeting.

With reasonable pricing and granular consumer insights offered, Facebook campaigns are often very effective for B2C companies.  Besides retargeting, you can also prospect targets – follow those who have surfed or placed items in shopping carts, but not yet purchased. There is a growing presence of B2B companies using Facebook for campaigns as well. 

Tip: Facebook ad placements now offer a slideshow option, so consumers can click through multiple images within the placement.


With Twitter, you are limited to sponsored tweets or cards – both of which can include images.  You are also, of course, limited to just 140 characters to get your message across. And yes, that includes any URL you include to direct consumers to your site. 

Twitter is all about real-time, stream-of-consciousness thinking for consumers – but it’s extremely critical to be thoughtful about your creative and message.  Effective copy is key.  Images are also helpful, as they significantly boost your click rates.

Tip: Twitter cards are a great way to A/B test copy or images and see what works for your target audience.  They also offer you more real estate, as there’s a “headline” section that is not counted within the 140 character-limit message.

Best practice: Make sure to have a call to action!


LinkedIn is primarily professional in nature, and absolutely critical for B2B companies to leverage in social campaigns.  It has high conversion rates and lets you target to niche groups.  Its value for B2C companies varies depending on the type of company and goal of the campaign.  (For example, it is a great place for continuing education programs to advertise.)

The downside: cost. The CPC is extremely high, and utilizing display advertising requires companies to sign contracts with LinkedIn with a minimum spend.

The upside: LinkedIn offers valuable targeting data that you can trust.  Users are very specific regarding their job titles, what they do, where they work, etc. – unlike many other platforms.  And, consumers are often more receptive to receive sponsored updates – and you’ll get more qualified leads.


Instagram is considered the social platform of choice for millennials – making it extremely appealing to advertisers looking to reach this desirable age group.  Clearly a powerful and popular social tool for consumers and brands alike, companies are still trying to understand how to navigate this social platform. 

With its growing user base and support of ads, it’s more important than ever to remain thoughtful and strategic when building out your company’s Instagram account. 

You can now manage Instagram ads through Facebook’s ad manager, which makes the process much faster and easier.

Since advertising on Instagram is fairly new, here are some helpful points to keep in mind.


  • Identify your objective.  Does your account serve to drive sales, or to showcase your community? A B2C brand like Nordstrom showcases items with a direct link in their profile to buy the item, which drives sales directly from the social platform.  A digital agency or software company, however, won’t drive sales directly from Instagram. Instead, B2B companies have the opportunity to use the platform to show off their brand personality, and feature events and employees.
  • Think about your branding.  Should you incorporate color? How should your Instagram feel?  You should create a cohesive experience across your photos.  For example, you can use a filter based on your brand colors – simply select ‘highlights’ in the photo editing section. But don’t be too heavy-handed – the key is to be consistent but subtle. Done right, color can play an incredible role in the look and feel of your Instagram account, like this artist’s account here.
  • Quality over quantity.  Instagram is a highly visual platform, and struggling to post too frequently often creates pressure and potentially leads to a drop in quality.  This is even more of a requirement for advertisers, now that Instagram features ads.  Low-quality content leads to unhappy users. So keep it smart, graphic, engaging, and relevant to your followers.  
  • Use the right hashtags.  Hashtags are important, because they immediately expand your audience beyond your followers. However, don’t use too many – the most annoying thing is to see 20+ hashtags on a post, all in an effort to get more likes and eyes on your photo.  Too many hashtags also takes away from the post and generally looks sloppy. Before you add a hashtag, do your research. Check how it’s performing and understand if it’s beneficial for your post – then you can determine which hashtags to use, and which to leave out. 

Because Instagram still lacks the robust analytics of Facebook and Twitter, proving ROI is tough and can be a manual process.  However, it’s still essential for companies to have Instagram accounts, and be creative with them.

What about other platforms? 

Snapchat gets a lot of buzz, as it offers great access to 13-34 year olds.  However, any advertising is strictly limited to increasing brand awareness – there is no ability to link to the brand’s website for further consideration and purchase. 

Pinterest also offers Promoted Pins (similar in idea to Promoted Tweets), and will be offering video ads in the future.  With plans to offer better advertising technology, it’s clearly trying to become a better – and more valuable – player in the space.


At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that social media is constantly changing!  The platforms are very fluid, offering additional functionalities to users and targeting capabilities to advertisers.  Make sure you stay on top of the changes.

Data sources:
eMarketer, Social Network Users by Platform, United States, 2014-2018
eMarketer, Social Network Ad Spending, United States, 2014-2018