Do social media ads really work?

comScore just released report showing that Facebook gets nearly a third of ALL on-line ad impressions. That is almost three times as many as Yahoo and a whopping 15 times that of Google. Considering there were over ONE TRILLION ad impressions measures during Q1 – that is a darn significant amount of presence.

Not a bad bang for your advertising buck, y’know?

But do they actually work? Do display ads on Facebook actually generate what marketing is supposed to do – increase sales or, in the case of a non-profit, increase donations?

I am not going to degenerate into the pros and cons of click-through rates and how low the percentage of ad clicks actually occur. Heck, with over a trillion impressions a CTR rate of 0.1% still generates over a million clicks. Not too shabby.

But, I ask again – does it work? Do consumers see ads on their Facebook page and find they motivate them to seek more information? Or, are the display ads we see just mere wallpaper?

I am not doubting the comScore numbers in the least. I’m sure those ads are displayed and appear on enough pages to register these numbers. But are they really seen? It is like listening to the radio. The station may play a commercial and you may actually hear it – but did you listen to it?

This is a complex question that goes beyond a simple yes/no argument. The effectiveness of social media display depends on a variety of factors – starting with the content of the ad. As with any advertising medium, a campaign can fail because the message is unclear, poorly conceived, inappropriately placed, etc.

Still, given the relative low cost of getting big impression numbers on Facebook it would seem like a great place to advertise. Having done a few campaigns I know that Facebook does a good job of showing you impressions and clicks and the stats can be quite impressive. I have spent less than a thousand dollars and gotten literally millions of impressions (and literally hundreds of clicks).

If you let these numbers wash over you, you begin to think that ALL advertising should migrate to the web. The stats will dazzle you. Seventy-one percent of US Internet users have a Facebook account. The average time spent on Facebook per session is a whopping 23 minutes (top that Google!). Anyone you would possibly want to reach is on Facebook so you’d be a fool not to advertise there. Right?

If you spend any time on-line you will read pundit after guru signal that traditional media advertising is dead. Everything is on the Internet. Ask Pepsi how that worked for them this year.

The reality is that social media advertising – like social media marketing and social media engagement and social media hoopla – is an effective way to reach your target audience. It is just not the only way. Should it be part of your media mix? Absolutely! At these prices you’d be crazy not to participate.

From a traditional media marketing perspective I see social media advertising taking the place of traditional print ads. We spend more time on line than ever before and the dramatic decline of the printed newspaper is well documented.

Just don’t get blinded by these huge numbers. A trillion impressions is amazing…what did they get you?

Check out this chart from eMarketer. They suggest that unique visitors may not be all that unique since we all browse from different places and often clear out our cookies:

You can read the article here. But, this suggests that in the US unique visitors are inflated by a factor of three! How does that affect ad impressions?

The better question to ask is – how does that affect ad impression frequency. The age-old maxim for marketing is reach and frequency. Of the one trillion impressions recorded in Q1 – what was the frequency. I know we can do the math and approximate all of this but in the end….we just don’t know.

So, I return to my original question. With all the hubbub of social media marketing, how cool it is, how it is the next big thing and will eliminate all others – does it work?

I have seen case studies (and you can see plenty here) but I would love for someone to share with me one success story where social media was the only marketing medium used.


Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist


Addendum: Just as I was about to hit “publish” comes word that Facebook is refining their ad analytics to include measurements for both reach and frequency. a step in the right direction. Stay tuned.


About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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3 Responses to Do social media ads really work?

  1. Elias Shams says:

    The effectiveness of Ads on Social media are getting there. It’s no brainer to see that social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, it’s time for such a hot space to enter into a new category. There is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the enterprise about their online connections.

    A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube, Flickr and others have been doing a decent job of providing additional marketing exposure and even in some cases, additional revenue. However, as more and more social networking sites pop up, how do you manage your brand across all these channels? Maybe more importantly, which one of these sites should you select as the one that will help you best reach your target audience? The proliferation of the social media avenues is becoming overwhelming.

    This glut of information reminds me of the early 90’s when WWW was adopted broadly by the general public. Every company rushed to have a presence, to the point it became literally impossible to find the right information on the Web. That’s when a better generation of search engines – at first the Yahoo! and then Google – entered the market and helped us find the most relevant information by just typing simple keywords in their search box. If you had asked before Google launched, if there was a need for another search engine – most would have said no, we already have those….

    Then came Web 1.0 & 2.0 – Youtube, Flickr, myspace, Facebook, Twitter and countless others have turned everyday people into content producers, influencers and experts. We basically tripled down on the information overload How do you know which channels to select for deploying your social media strategy? How do you know which one is the right channel to let your fans and followers to find you, your products, and services? Most importantly, who is Joe Smith that is recommending that person, that company, that product?

    I hope my can accomplish such a mission. The site is not another social networking platform. Yet the portal to all your existing social media channels. The platform helps you, your fans, your potential clients to make an intelligent decision as to which company to connect to or follow via which social media channels and why? It’s free!

    CEO & Founder

  2. Ross says:

    Small business trying to attract local business can find facebook ads very beneficial. ( Ryno Motors in Almonte, Ontario, Canada stopped using print advertising two years ago and began an online presence and social media integration effort. Shortly after establishing a good online presence they began running facebook ads. In six months they tripled their customer list and are now expanding their small service center into an 11 bay garage capable of servicing vehicles fro cars to heavy trucks.
    For small business and start-ups, Ads on social media are an affordable option that I have witnessed returning increased business.

    • smthree says:

      Thanks for the info. It would seem that social ads would be a great replacement for print in the automotive sector. It is interesting to see that Ryno has had such a positive return.

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