It was April 2004. Facebook — or “The Facebook,” as it was known back then — had launched two months earlier, with only a small pool of college students for users.
But it was that small, specialized audience that attracted Facebook’s first social media advertiser: the youth marketing agency MRY (then known as Mr. Youth).
Back then, social media campaigns couldn’t come close to traditional advertising campaigns on reach, but they offered a direct connection to niche audiences.
For a youth marketing agency, it was cost-effective to advertise only to college-age adults on Facebook, even if the platform had less than a million users at the time.
Today, Facebook has a few more users — 2.8 billion monthly active users, as of Q1 2020 — and Facebook advertising has grown with its user base. The platform's worldwide ad revenue for 2021 is projected to reach $94.6 billion.
Facebook's worldwide ad revenue for 2021 is projected to reach $94.6 billion.
And yet, the core appeal of Facebook and all social media advertising remains the same: targeting specific customer groups.
That’s the advantage social media advertising has over its traditional counterparts. Marketers no longer have to waste as much money advertising to people outside their audience — social media lets them target specific niches and micro-niches, so only potential buyers see their ads.
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social media platform anymore. The emergence of Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, and now TikTok has given digital marketers even more channels for reaching finely defined market segments.
However, with more platforms, new techniques, better technology, and fiercer competition, it’s much harder to break into social media advertising today than it was 17 years ago.
It’s not enough to understand your target audience. You also have to understand the social media platform you buy ads on. Each one is different, with unique best practices. The world’s greatest Facebook advertiser might flop on TikTok, even after applying everything they know.
Lately, many businesses are hiring specialized paid social media marketers to handle these nuances.
But if you want to hire one, what are the most important skills for a candidate to have? And which social media platform should they specialize in?
We interviewed three social media advertising experts and asked them to shed some light on the top skills they need to get their job done — and the social media platforms you might want them to specialize in.
- Marc Barraza, director of paid media at MarketerHire
- Ashley Elfend, a paid social media consultant
- Sabrina Reid, global integrated media manager at SAP
5 essential social media advertising skills
What does a social media advertising expert do, exactly? Day-to-day, they run paid advertising campaigns on social media platforms. They know how to optimize for each platform’s unique algorithm, and customize campaigns using different creative, targeting parameters and ad formats.
That may sound dry, but there's plenty of color to the job. Data analysis, people skills, marketing techniques — let’s dive deeper into the five essential skills of a social media advertising expert.
1. Budget allocation.
Paid social media marketers spend a lot of money. A lot. Think $100M or more over the course of a career.
A seasoned social media advertiser knows how to allocate (and re-allocate) that budget wisely across countless campaigns and platforms, based on business goals and the latest performance data — think customer acquisition cost (CAC) and return on ad spend (ROAS).
One constant here, according to Elfend: you should spend about 4X as much on attracting new customers as you do on maintaining old ones.
“The biggest thing would probably be having your accounts set up with the 80/20 rule,” she said.
- 80% of your paid social budget should go towards prospecting for brand new customers
- 20% of your paid social budget should go towards reengaging and retargeting customers who've already heard of you
Why so much on prospecting for brand new customers? “If you can capture people in that first interaction, that's incredible,” Elfend said. “That's the goal."
"If you can capture people in that first interaction, that's incredible. That's the goal."
Some people need a few more touches — but they’re likely less enthusiastic, and they may have already decided against buying your product. You don’t want to over-invest in them.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no one optimal budget allocation. In special situations, experts will even choose to break the 80/20 rule, Elfend noted.
“When Black Friday comes, you want your remarketing audience to be as big as possible,” she said. “You wouldn't be 80/20 anymore — you would probably be more 60/40.”
2. Data analysis.
Because social media advertising comes with so much performance data that’s increasingly rooted in sampling and modeling, analytical skills are a must for paid social media marketers.
If you hire someone who doesn’t know how to use data for ad creative optimization, and broader social media strategy optimization, they'll burn money.
“You have to be able to look at data, analyze data, take findings from data and then apply it to future campaigns,” Elfend said.
To access relevant data on their marketing campaigns, your expert needs to know their way around Google Analytics, their paid social platforms of choice — and good old Excel, Reid noted.
“I would say the number one skill I learned from the very beginning was understanding Excel and the nature of using pivot tables,” she said. “That really teaches you all the metrics and how those metrics are related.”
“I would say the number one skill I learned from the very beginning was understanding Excel and the nature of using pivot tables. That really teaches you all the metrics and how those metrics are related."
Pivot tables come in especially handy for comparing performance metrics over time and across platforms. Reid uses them to spot day-over-day and week-over-week performance shifts.
“If you don't have the skillset to pull it off, unfortunately it gets really messy,” she said.
3. Campaign structuring.
Structuring actual social media ad campaigns is how advertising experts spend a lot of their time. That means strategically designing ads’ messaging and visual content for different stages of the sales funnel, or for different branding goals.
A paid social media expert should know what types of content fit each goal and each stage in the buying journey.
Some general trends Elfend has observed…
- Prospecting campaigns usually educate brand new consumers about the company, “telling people about the product and who the brand is.” These campaigns boost brand awareness — but they also have a call to action.
- Remarketing campaigns usually attempt to persuade people who’ve already engaged with a company — say, visited its website, or clicked one of its ads — to make a purchase. Often, these campaigns highlight testimonials or discounts.
- Retention campaigns target people who’ve already purchased, and often highlight “new collections or new products that are being launched,” to encourage repeat purchases.
True experts know how to follow these trends in distinctive, on-brand ways, and when to buck the trends altogether.
Most social media ads involve the written word, which makes copywriting an essential skill for paid social media advertisers. When written well, an ad’s phrasing can entice the reader to click, but when written poorly, it can scare off would-be customers.
“So much of it is brand appeal, I think — understanding how the brand might speak to its own customers,” Reid said.
"So much of it is... understanding how the brand might speak to its own customers."
A good paid social advertiser knows how to speak in their client’s brand voice, and get results. No matter who the client is.
“I used to work with a company that was very Gen Z,” Reid said. “They were selling puberty products to teenagers and stuff like that.” That meant she had to write in a youthful, playful tone — ”being clever, having cute emojis.”
True experts in paid social are like chameleons, shifting from goofy to stately, and emojis to data, in the blink of an eye.
They don’t have to create every ad from scratch, though. Knowing when to repurpose copy is just as important as knowing when to write it.
Often, paid social experts use templates to speed up content creation, or boost organic social media posts. An organic social media presence and a paid social media marketing strategy go hand in hand — though actually running a brand’s organic social media accounts is a job for a social media manager, not a paid social expert.
5. People skills.
Maybe it’s obvious, but communication skills are a must for social media advertising, or any advertising, really.
It’s not just the customers that social media advertisers need to connect with. It’s also the clients.
“Having strong people skills, being able to communicate effectively in meetings and not just reading through your numbers” — that’s key, Elfend said.
A true paid social expert can tell a story with their data, one that encompasses platform-level changes — like Facebook’s recent ad reporting update, prompted by Apple’s iOS14.5 — and nitty-gritty performance metrics.
One that’s not boring.
They also ask questions early on to understand of your overall business. Why did you start it? Why have you set the goals you've set? Then they communicate accordingly.
“Being able to connect with [a client] and make them feel like you're a part of their team, versus just another person they're hiring as a consultant, I think is really important,” Elfend said.
Which social platform best fits your goals?
When you’re ready to hire a social media advertising expert, it’s important to choose one who specializes in the channels you’re targeting.
But what if you don’t know which social media channel is right for your business?
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the most popular social channels and the business goals they serve best, according to our experts.
1. Facebook and Instagram ads.
Best for: broad reach
In terms of size, Facebook is the largest social media platform, with Facebook-owned Instagram not far behind in fifth place.
That makes Facebook Ads — which places paid ads on both social platforms — ideal for achieving broad reach, though the algorithm’s microtargeting capabilities lets marketers find lucrative niches, too.
“Facebook is such a big player in the advertising world, we can’t pull off,” Structured Social partner Nick Shackelford told MarketerHire.
In other words, he couldn’t quit Facebook if he wanted to. It’s integral to digital growth, and so easy to use that he argues some businesses were built over the last few years that shouldn’t have been.
However, Facebook and Instagram’s size is a double-edged sword. “It's a very, very saturated market for advertising,” said Elfend.
So how can you stand out if you’re advertising on these platforms?
“Now more than ever, the way to succeed on Facebook and Instagram is creative,” Elfend explained. “The way to succeed on those platforms [...] is having that strong, creative eye as a media buyer.”
2. Snapchat and TikTok.
Best for: reaching young people
“If you're going out to Gen Z or the younger groups, Snapchat and TikTok might be the place you start,” according to Marc Barraza.
An expert knows that succeeding on youth-oriented platforms takes the right kind of creative, though: creative that looks native. It shouldn’t visibly stand out from organic social media content, or interrupt a user’s feed.
The ideal Snapchat or TikTok ad “doesn't look like an ad,” Elfend said. “It's not glaring in your face. It doesn't feel like it's highly styled.”
“It's not glaring in your face. It doesn't feel like it's highly styled.”
Often, successful ads reference whatever’s trending, whether it’s breaking news or a new single from Lil Nas X.
It definitely doesn’t feel like a Facebook or Twitter ad, either. Experts don’t reuse ad creative from those platforms on these ones — they create something new.
Best for: account-based marketing (ABM)
“If you're working in the B2B world, LinkedIn's capabilities are tremendous,” said Reid, “because they have ABM capabilities.”
LinkedIn is dedicated exclusively to business and careers — and users typically keep their employment information up to date on their profiles.
That puts it in a unique position to serve B2B needs, especially when it comes to targeted advertising.
Essentially, advertisers can just upload a list of companies and specific roles within them that they want to target, and LinkedIn makes it happen.
“It’s really the only platform that does that,” Reid said.
Best for: established brands trying to maintain broad awareness
Advertising on Twitter works a little differently than the other social media platforms, because of the mindset of its users. They’re less responsive to ads, according to Barraza, because they don’t want to interrupt the Twitter experience.
“The main thing about Twitter is people want to stay on Twitter,” he said. “People don't really want to go to Twitter and click around to a bunch of websites.”
"The main thing about Twitter is people want to stay on Twitter."
On Facebook and Instagram, on the other hand, people are used to shopping, or jumping off the platform to a news site to read an article.
(Relevant here: Twitter doesn’t offer in-app digital storefronts, like Facebook and Instagram do.)
So far, Barraza has found that paid Twitter is best for “established brands,” and for everyone else, it’s best to latch on to an influencer.
“Any way that you can be a part of those bigger players on Twitter that have such a huge following, that's where you should spend your Twitter ad dollars.”
With in-feed ads, “the results just aren’t there,” he said.
Best for: driving awareness
Aside from its great visual presentation, Pinterest is also known for its convenient search functionality, which retail shoppers often use to discover new brands and products.
“Keyword targeting is the best type of targeting on Pinterest,” Elfend said. “Essentially, Pinterest is used like a search engine.”
"Essentially, Pinterest is used like a search engine."
That means as in SEO marketing, on Pinterest it makes sense to advertise on more specific, lower-volume keywords — think “blue Victorian couch” over “couch.” You’re just more likely to reach a customer who wants what you’re selling that way.
Still, conversions shouldn’t be Pinterest advertisers’ top priority. “Pinterest is really good mainly for driving awareness of your brand versus really, really driving conversions,” Elfend said.
Paid social changes too fast for DIYers
Clearly, a lot has changed in the social media world since 2004. And we’re not just talking about Facebook dropping the “the” from its name.
Social media advertising has become so advanced that managing it across multiple platforms is now its own marketing role. Unless you’re familiar with social media algorithms, data analytics, and the latest digital marketing trends, you may need to seek outside help to get it right.
MarketerHire makes it easy to find the best social media expert for you. Our community includes social media advertising professionals who specialize in every channel imaginable (even Clubhouse!).
They already know the ins-and-outs of whichever channel your target audience uses, so find the right match today.