There’s no doubt that you can get substantial reach for well-written 10x content through organic promotion, but sometimes that’s not enough. Even high value content can takes weeks – even months – to gain traction and see a ramp up in traffic as made evident by Pamela Vaughan in a past study on HubSpot blog posts.

A slow ramp up isn’t really ideal when you have the C-suite expecting a fast return or you need quick results on a new campaign.

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One of the biggest reasons to consider paid social for promoting your content is due to a substantial decrease in organic reach across many social networks. Social@Ogilvy examined this decline on Facebook, but it’s occurring on other sites like Instagram and Twitter as well.

Benefits of paid search

Marketers spent over $23 billion on social ad spending in 2015, a 33% increase from 2014. That spend is expected to grow to over $35 billion by next year. That spend happens for a reason.

On Facebook alone, mobile ads have a click-through rate 9x higher than traditional web advertisements and promoted tweets have shown average engagement rates of as much as 3% – well over traditional banner advertisements.

With the sheer volume of users across the major social networks, paid social promotion has become a real, tangible driver of leads and sales and smart marketers are leveraging it to take advantage.

According to one study from Content Marketing Institute, 87% of content marketers said they plan to either increase or maintain their budget for paid content promotion.

When you do the same to promote your content marketing you greatly expand your reach into new audience segments, engagement goes up, and you expand the visibility of your social presence

Most importantly… you’re driving significant targeted traffic back to your content.

How to build paid social into your content strategy

Paid social requires careful planning; it’s not a simple as sharing a link to a blog post and boosting it. Consider these key points when setting up your ad campaigns

What is your goal

“More eyeballs” is a good starting point, but go deeper when you’re setting up your goals. This will help you decide how your campaigns will be drafted, targeted and deployed.

Do you want more people to read and share a specific blog post? Are you trying to get traffic to top-of-funnel content for more opt-ins? Do you want to build a social following from people seeing you as an authority based on your content?

What is your budget?

If you’ve never done paid social ads before then you likely won’t have any idea how much to spend. What kind of budget do you have available? You don’t necessarily need thousands of dollars to start testing. A few hundred dollars can help you run test ads on a couple networks, or focus on one specific social channel.

It’s also easier to sell a few hundred dollars to the C-suite in order to test the effectiveness of a campaign.

Which social channel should you use?

You’ll likely want to turn to the big 3 (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) but there are a variety of channels for paid content promotion. Start with researching your audience and your competitors to see which platform(s) may be ideal for running one or more test campaigns.

Ideally you want to go where your largest audience segments go, but don’t rule out secondary social networks. The audience might be smaller but competition and cost could be much lower which could yield better returns.

There’s been a lot of comparison between Twitter and Facebook for advertising, and research from WordStream revealed from benchmark numbers that can help you choose among them.

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Engagement rates on Twitter are higher than most other channels, at 1-3%, yet that comes at a higher cost of $3.50 CPM. And most importantly, their revenue per visitor (RPV) increases 300% year-over-year

How will you keep them engaged after you acquire the new audience?

Don’t drop money on paid content promotion if you’re only trying to drive traffic to a single post. You might see great reach and engagement but those visitors may disappear never to return. Before you setup any advertising, consider how the content is mapped to your sales funnel.

If you’re driving paid traffic to top-of-funnel content, do you have a funnel in place that will pull them in deeper with opt-ins, offers and a strong call to action to retain that traffic?

Make sure your content marketing strategy includes the consistently development of high value content to keep them coming back.

Promoting content with Facebook’s ad platform

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As of the first quarter of 2016, Facebook was boasting 1.65 billion active monthly users. From the user base along Facebook is sitting on a massive data set including demographics, professional data, lifestyle, interests, behaviors and more.

The social network has also partnered with data providers like Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom and BlueKai to expand the data available to advertisers. That means custom audiences can now include things like purchase behaviors so ads can be hyper targeted to specific audience segments.

That makes it one of the best platforms to get your content in front of the audience most likely to click, read and engage. The proof is in the numbers as well, as Facebook accounts for 9% of total digital ad spending worldwide.

Here’s how to setup a Facebook ad campaign to promote your content:

You’ll need a Facebook page to utilize the ad platform on Facebook, as ads can’t be associated with individuals. Once you have a page click the down arrow in the top right of Facebook and select “Create Ads”

1. Ad Objectives

When you launch the Ads Manager you’ll be given a list of options to choose your ad objective.

Since we’re promoting content there are two choices that work best. You can either boost your posts, or you can send people to your website.

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You can use the boosted post option if you’ve already shared content to your page and want to promote that post. Alternatively, you can create a standalone ad design to send people to a specific URL on your site. In this case, it would be to a piece of content like a blog post.

Remember above where I talked about goals – if you want to promote social engagement while drawing attention to your content a boosted post is a good choice. Driving traffic to your website is a good objective if you want clicks to go straight to a specific post, content offer page, or perhaps a round-up post of your best content to drive more engagement within your blog.

2. Choosing Your Audience

In step 2 you’ll need to create your ad set and setup the audience you want to target. Since you’re promoting content on a specific topic you want to get laser-specific.

The narrow your audience is, the better. This is where it pays to know your audience segments. Focus your audience targeting by layering demographics and interest info including:

  • Education
  • Work
  • Financial
  • Age (focus on a 10 year range that best fits your audience)
  • Geographics (focus on 1 country or region)
  • Interests
  • Job title (founder, CEO, CMO, co-founder)

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If you get down to just a few thousand in your audience, trim your targeting or add geographic areas to open it up just a little. Ideally you want it at 10,000 or less so you’re still targeting a very specific audience segment.

Remember, it’s an experiment so start small. The goal is not to sell a product or create a ton of leads. The goal is to drive engagement among people who are most likely to read and share.

3. Keep the Budget Modest

A test campaign doesn’t require a significant budget, especially since we’re focusing on such a focused audience. Start with $100, and set your daily budget to about $3.

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Set your campaign to run for a 30 day period (or less). Be mindful though that If you push your campaign out too quickly, you risk having your content buried in the feeds of your audience all at once. By stretching the campaign out a larger portion of your audience is more likely to see the ad.

Be sure to set an end date after setting the daily budget to around $3. This ensures that you won’t spend more than the $100 or so in that first month.

Control the spend even more by making sure the ad is optimized for “pay per click.” Do not pay per impression. Set your bid rate at the mid-range of Facebook’s suggested bid, and leave the scheduling to “running ads all the time”.

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Don’t try to lock your ad into specific windows of time unless you are absolutely sure the specific audience segment you’re targeting is consistently online during that window.

4. Crafting the Best Ad

When you’re prompted to create your ad, choose a featured image for your content post that is attractive and highly relevant. Avoid trying to fit text into the image, as Facebook flags images with text greater than 20% of the image volume and won’t let it pass.

Now you’ll need the content for your ad.

Headline: Make sure you write a compelling headline that grabs the attention of the reader. This is easy if you’re promoting a content offer. If it’s for a piece of content like a blog, focus on the major value proposition or takeaway – or use the content title.

Text: Go with text that emphasizes the takeaway and include a call to action. Keep it short and punchy. Demian Farnworth shares some great tips on writing damn good ad copy.

Call to Action: There are a couple selections here for the button; choose “Learn More.” According to a study from Adroll it has been proven to offer the highest conversion.

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Once your ad is completed, review it and submit it for approval.

Paid content promotion with Twitter

Promoting content on Twitter is a fairly similar approach, but rather than promoting traditional tweets with a character limitation I recommend focusing on Twitter cards instead. Twitter cards allow the inclusion of rich media like images and video.

Content with relevant images typically gets 94% more views and is 40x more likely to get shared than other types of social content.

Log in to your Twitter account, click Profile & Settings and then “Twitter Ads”.

1. Select your campaign objective

Like Facebook, you’ll have a number of objectives you can target. When promoting content I recommend choosing “website clicks or conversions.” You want to drive that traffic back to the original content or landing page.

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2. Setup the basics

Enter the URL for your content or landing page then select categories that match your site. This is not for targeting, but to help determine what platforms display your ad. Limit it to 1 or 2; more than that can limit the scale of your reach.

3. Choose your audience

Like Facebook, Twitter allows you to target various demographics and features. Be sure to layer these to create a hyper-focused ad. Choose relevant keywords, interests, behaviors and locations to get the audience very narrow.

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You can also limit targeting by exclusion of specific audiences and behaviors much in the same way you might use negative keywords in Google Adwords.

4. Set your budget

Again, start with a modest budget to test content promotion. Set a daily maximum budget of around $3, with a total max budget of $100. Leave your pricing at automatic bidding  to try and get bids optimized for the lowest price. Like Facebook, you can also target a specific cost per website click and Twitter will try to optimize bids to get within 20% of your target.

The benefit here is that targeting your cost can give you more flexibility to win competitive auctions for higher-value users.

5. The Creative

You’ve got 3 choices for Twitter promotions; new tweets, Twitter cards or existing tweets. For content promotion, choose to create a Twitter card.

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Draft a compelling headline for a content offer or utilize your content headline and provide the URL for the content or landing page. Upload a compelling image relevant to the content or highlight the offer in the image.

Be sure to preview the content before you publish it.

Advertising on LinkedIn

LinkedIn offers a lot of great potential. While conversions on LinkedIn might be lower, the overall lead quality for B2B companies can be extremely high.

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If your primary goal is drive a lot of engagement to a specific content piece this might not be the ideal channel as it doesn’t drive a ton of volume compared to other paid advertising channels.

At least not yet.

Microsoft just announced the acquisition of LinkedIn. While it’s hard to say what the future of the social network looks like at the moment, I can speculate that Microsoft is going to push for growth which could lead to a lot more visibility through this channel in the coming months.

That also means that the cost per click could climb, and LinkedIn can already be a costly channel. Again, consider that the quality of traffic is higher with more focused targeting so the cost can be worth it with a properly targeted ad and really great content.

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I don’t recommend LinkedIn as the first choice for testing paid content promotion specifically because of the cost. With that said, it can be effective if your research points to a strong audience presence there and you’ve seen results from other paid campaigns you’ve run for your content.

If you want to try advertising on LinkedIn, Kristi Hines has written a terrific walkthrough on setting up your first campaign.

Paid promotion on secondary social networks

The big 3 social networks aside, there are a lot of other social channels where you can try to promote your content with paid ads. Depending on your business or industry you may find various audience segments tucked away on the following sites.

Do a little research and see if these networks offer opportunities for testing out paid content promotion:

  • Pinterest – Sponsored Pinterest posts or working with other users to promote your content/pins
  • Instagram – Advertise using the Facebook platform to extend to Instagram or work with influencers to get shoutouts or content highlights
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon

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Test, Review and Rotate

Every ad you run should be closely monitored, even if you’re just running on a small budget to test them. Each of the platforms offers somewhat similar insights on advertising that you should pay close attention to monitor the performance of your ads.

Facebook Ads

When testing your Facebook ads, don’t just let them run forever. Find ways to optimize the ads, revise, and split them off to improve performance.

  • Keep mobile and desktop ads separate. This makes it easy to optimize ads, bids and conversions based on device since they perform differently between desktop and mobile
  • Test content promotion ad sets using different image to test conversions
  • Refine your audience based on performance and create duplicate ads with lookalike audience targeting

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When reviewing your ad performance, there are a number of metrics that you need to monitor. Every ad campaign you create should have a clear goal along with metrics you use to measure performance.

The most important metric to track is your click-through rate.

Your CTR affects both the number of clicks and the amount you pay per click. Ads with a low click through rate will gradually stop serving as they also become more expensive.

It’s important to note that even the best performing ads will decay over time. The smaller your audience is, the faster this will happen. It’s not uncommon to see decay start to occur around the 10 day mark.

If it happens rapidly and you see your cost per click rise as click through drops then create another ad. Duplicate your ad and refresh the image and copy. Do not edit the existing ad. Just delete it when your new ad goes live.

Twitter Ads

Twitter has an impressive dashboard for analytics, offering separate dashboards for each ad product so you can review specific performance numbers and insights.

This includes data on:

  • Impressions
  • New followers
  • Engagement
  • Follow rates
  • Audience demographic details

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In your analytics dashboard pay close attention to your spend and tweet engagements, but pay closer attention to your engagement rate as well as your cost per engagement. This can give insight into the effectiveness of a campaign.

If it’s underperforming, don’t just shut it off. Test variations of your campaign to see if different visuals or headline copy, or improved audience targeting, will improve your engagement rates.

Monitor Performance Outside of Ad Metrics with UTM Codes

The ad metrics within the social platform will help you track ad performance and your click through rates, but you also want to have a clear picture of how content is performing beyond the ad.

UTM parameters make it easy to monitor campaign performance when you’re promoting the same piece of content across multiple channels, both paid and organic.

UTM stands for Urchin tracking module. UTM codes are small bits of text that place within the URL of content you share or promote that are fed back to your Google Analytics (and other analytics tools) to provide info about each link.

Here’s a sample of what a URL with UTM codes looks like:

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Why UTM’s are Important

These codes help you track the performance of your content so you can see where traffic comes from. Instead of just seeing a ton of traffic to a piece of content as a landing page, you can use UTM parameters to see how much traffic is coming from each individual social network where you’re running paid ads.

Buffer has a complete guide on how to use UTM codes that I highly recommend. If you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your website, go do that first then digest and bookmark that Buffer post.

Use unique UTM codes for each social network, customizing the URL you place within your ads during the ad creation process. This will make tracking and calculating your return far easier after your campaigns have finished running.

Conclusion

Paid ads shouldn’t be your sole method of content promotion. Organic promotion is still the best way to improve reach. Instead of a “one or the other” approach, use it as a means to supplement your content promotion.

Closely monitor any paid campaigns you run and continually refine and test ad variations to improve the performance of your campaigns. This will keep your ads fresh and ensure that content gains the highest reach and engagement over the course of your campaign.

Choose the platforms that best align with your audience but don’t be afraid to test other platforms with a modest budget to see what works best for your content.

Have you used paid social ads to promote your content? Share your results with me in the comments below: