Best social media ad platforms for small businesses

social media potential

If you’re trying to grow your business online, social media is an efficient and cost effective way to do it.

The step from being a regular, ‘organic’, social media user to one that puts money into various platforms can be tough to get your head around.

But once you have a clear understanding of what different platforms have to offer, and how certain features can work for you, the decision will be made easy.

Aside from social media, advertising is an opportunity to reach more people and grow your business, but at the end of the day it all comes down to your budget, and maximising the resources at your disposal.

Which platform should you advertise on?

As a business owner with little marketing experience, it can be extremely difficult to decide what social media platforms to create an account on, let alone advertise on.

It’s easy to feel pressured to advertise on every social media platform out there, but this really isn’t the case.

The question you need to ask yourself is “do my audience demographics match that of Instagram”, for example. Knowing your audience is vital to your decision, and if you don’t know your audience that well, you probably shouldn’t be advertising just yet.

To aid your decision, we will be analysing four of the top ten most popular social media platforms, Facebook, Youtube, Instagam and TikTok.

Facebook ads

Popularity: #1

Monthly users: 2.6 billion

(Source: Sprout Social)

At this given time, Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world.
If you were to advertise on Facebook, your campaign objectives would be broken up into three categories that have various underlying focuses:

● Awareness: Increase your brand awareness and reach more people

● Consideration: Reach people that have some interest in what you offer and may want more information.

● Conversion: Commitment based objective promoting people to visit your store, sign up to your newsletter or register to something, ect.

Now you’ve chosen your campaign objectives, it’s time to create an ad that generates results, so here are some common ad formats that you will use if you advertise on Facebook.

1) Video

Marketer or not, by now you probably know that video content is way more successful than a standard photo, in fact 92% of marketers say it’s a vital part of their marketing strategy.

A video ad will allow you to show off your product features in action as opposed to a still image. It’s more engaging and consumers will prefer it.

2) Image

I know that I’ve been raving about video content and somewhat drowning image ads, but they can act as a quick and easy method to get people to visit your store or chosen destination.

A high quality image is sometimes enough to grab the attention of someone whilst scrolling through their feed.

Maybe your ads are viewed on public transport or a public place, no one will want to watch a video in that environment.

3) Collection

Collection ads make it extremely easy for people to browse your collection.

Designed for mobile devices, a collection ad will consist of a primary image or video that is accompanied by four smaller images in a grid layout.

Not only is it a great way for your audience to browse your products, but they can also check out at the same time with the seamless experience Facebook has designed.

4) Carousel

If you have multiple products that you want to show off, Carousel ads are your friend.

They allow up to 10 images or video ads, with their individual links to be shown at once. This means that your audience can browse through your products and decide which one to buy, whilst being directly linked to the corresponding product page.

5) Lead generation ads

A lead is a person who is interested in your products/services, deeming them a potential customer.

Lead generation ads are ads that target people who may share an interest in what you sell, hopefully turning them into a potential customer.

This ad format can be presented as an image or a video, and is also available on Instagram.

Targeting & measurability

There are 3 main types of audiences Facebook allows you to create in order to target your ad delivery efficiently.

Core Audiences: Primary stage of creating an audience based on:
● Location
● Demographics
● Interests
● Behaviour
● Connections

Custom Audiences: Get back in touch with people who have previously engaged with you:
● Contact Lists
● Site Visitors
● App users

Lookalike Audiences: Reach people who share the same interests as your existing customers. Your page audience data will be used to create a Lookalike Audience.

It’s important to assess the performance of your ads in order to see if they are successful or not. This will allow you to optimize your budget for future/existing campaigns.

Your ad performance will be visible in your ads manager, and will be able to tell you the following:

● Performance – Clicks, reach and overall results.

● Demographics – How your ad performed across different ages and genders.

● Placement – Performance across different placements like Facebook, Instagram, etc.

(Source: Facebook)

Key benefits of advertising on Facebook

● Most popular social media platform

● Huge monthly user base of 2.6 billion

● Extremely diverse user demographics

● Fast to use

● Extremely easy to measure your results

● Easy to optimize around your budget

● Various creative capabilities

Youtube ads

Popularity: #2

Monthly users: 2 billion
Youtube is one of the largest video sharing platforms in the world, and if you regard it as a search engine, it would rank 2nd behind Google.

The platform provides video and non-video ads, which is great as it allows less tech savvy businesses to advertise on YouTube.

However, video will make up 82% of consumer internet traffic by 2021, so optimizing it into your marketing is almost a necessity.

YouTube has 6 different ad formats (video and non-video) that you should become familiar with before advertising on the platform.

1) TrueView ads

Key facts:
● Video ad
● Skippable after 3-5 seconds
● Often consist of a short tutorial or a product display
● Low risk
● Two types In-Stream and Discovery

TrueView In-stream

In-stream ads are self explanatory in terms of their positions (in the middle of a video), they can be up to 3 minutes long and are skippable after 5 seconds.

In-Stream ads are implemented with a display ad in the top right corner of viewers screens, which shows more information about the company and a clear call to action (CTA) button for viewers to click.

TrueView Discovery

When someone searches for something in the search bar, let’s say marketing, a video which relates to that topic will appear at the top of the search results.

These are great to increase your brand awareness and generate relevant viewers.

2) Non-Skippable ads

You have probably watched a Non-Skippable ad before, they are the annoying ones at the start of videos which you can’t skip.

They can fall at the start of videos (pre-roll) but also in the middle of videos longer than 10 minutes (mid-roll).

These are great for communicating a message that you know is going to be heard, or anything that takes advantage of the 15-20 seconds you have before a viewer is able to skip.

3) Bumper ads

Bumper ads are like Non-Skippable ads in the sense that they can’t be skipped. However, they only last 6 seconds long.

This type of ad can communicate your message in just enough time before viewers get frustrated that they can’t skip the ad, and as a result develop a bad relationship with your business from the get go.

4) Overlay ads

Overlay ads are the small boxes which appear at the bottom of a video, with an image, a small amount of text, and a call to action (CTA) button.

Even if a user wanted to get rid of your ad, they are going to have to look at it to find the exit icon. They are a simple but effective method of advertising.

5) Display ads

With Display ads, YouTube gives you a huge amount of screen real estate to show your ad, catching the attention of a large audience.

Display ads are shown on users’ home screen of the app, just above their suggested videos.

6) Cards and Sponsored Cards

Cards are a simple way to further engage your audience and viewers of your video. It involves putting small, card like images of your other video as part of the one viewers are watching, with the intention prompting users to watch more of your content.

Targeting & measurability

There are various methods to define your target audience. Combining the targeting methods will allow you to reach a specific audience and generate better value for money from your ad spend.

The YouTube targeting capabilities are as follows:

● Demographics & detailed demographics – Specify an audience’s age, gender, income, and marital status. Detailed demographics take into account home ownership, education and parental status.

● Affinity and Custom Affinity Targeting – Target users from Google’s predetermined categories, such as Banking & Finance, Beauty & Wellness, News, Sports, etc. You can create a custom affinity group based on terms users search on Google.

● In-Market, Live Events and Intent audiences – All three targeting capabilities catch users at different stages of their buying journey, In-Market targets those searching for products like yours, Live events target people who have accomplished a milestone, and Intent audiences target users ready to make a purchase.

● Remarketing – Target people that have watched your videos or a specific video on your channel.

● Keywords, Topics and Placements – Target relevant users based on location of your ad. Specify the placement of your ad through related keywords and topics. You can even decide what channel you want your ads to show up on.

(Source: Social Media Examiner)

Your YouTube ads can be controlled through the YouTube ads manager, however, they can also be controlled through Google ads manager, which is recommended.

Google ads will produce the following data about your ads performance:

● Core performance (Views, view rate, Avg. CPV, watch time & Avg. watch time)

● Click performance (Clicks & CTR)

● Engagement performance (Engagements & engagement rate)

● Reach Frequency (Unique users, unique cookies, unique viewers, Avg impressions…)

● Video viewership (Video played length, 25%, 50%, 75% & 100%)

● YouTube engagement (Earned views & earned subscribers)

Key benefits of advertising on YouTube

● Huge reach

● Younger demographic, but still diverse

● Potential to have a positive influence

● Advanced targeting (to reach a relevant audience)

● Encourages creativity

● Enhances your video skills & business capabilities

Instagram ads

Popularity: #6

Monthly users: 1 billion

Instagram is the king of photo and video sharing. Since 2012, it’s ownership has been with Facebook, allowing you to create a Facebook ads campaign, but also run it on Instagram.

For that matter, the process of creating a campaign, setting an objective and targeting an audience is exactly the same as described in the Facebook ads section above.

To top it off, most campaign objectives are compatible with Instagram Feed, Story and Explore ads!

(Source: Facebook)

However, as an Instagram user, you have the opportunity to ‘promote’ one of your feed posts that has previously been posted.

Here is Instagrams step by step guide to promoting your Instagram post:

1. Go to your profile.

2. Tap the post you’d like to promote.

3. Below the post’s image, tap Promote.

4. Fill in the details of your promotion by setting things like Destination (where to send people), Audience (who you want to reach), Budget (how much you want to spend daily) and Duration (how long you want your promotion to run). Tap Next once you’ve completed these details.

5. If you didn’t link to a Facebook Page when you set up your Instagram professional account, you will be prompted to connect a Page. You can choose an existing Page or tap Skip.

6. To complete your promotion, tap Create Promotion under Review.

Unlike the more formal ad process every other social media platform offers, when you promote a post with Instagram, it’s fast and easy to set up – you don’t have to be a marketing guru.

Instagram says it only takes around 60 minutes for your ad to be reviewed, meaning you could create it in the early hours of the morning and let it run all day.

Targeting & measurability

When promoting a post, you can target people by location, interests and age & gender.

Although this process is far more simple than the likes of YouTube/Facebook targeting capabilities, there’s no need for it to be overcomplicated.
When you are selecting various locations and interests to target, a search bar appears with a drop down menu, allowing you to search for any niche.

Once this is completed, your budget can be set and your potential reach reviewed. These will be two key insights that you will use to track the performance of your promoted post.

When it comes to measuring the success of your promoted post, Instagram will tell you how many people it reached and how many liked it, shared it and saved it.

However, let’s say you chose to direct visitors of your post to your profile, here is where your page analytics are useful.


Insights are the data points collected from your Instagram page, which are split into Activity, Content and Audience.

Your page activity tells you how popular you really are, allowing you to see the number of accounts you’ve reached, total impressions, interactions, profile visits and website clicks.

The great thing about content insights is that it tells you how many times each of your posts have been seen, letting you know if your audience is engaging with your content.

Finally, Audience takes a look at your following in terms of gender, then reviewels how many followers you gained at 12 am, 3 am, 6 am, 9 am, 12 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, and 9 pm each day.

On Top of this, your audience is broken down further into top locations.

(Source: Later)

Key benefits of advertising on Instagram

● Fast Growing platform

● Easy to promote a post

● Easy to engage with your audience
● Detailed page insights that break down your audience, content and page performance

● Facebook intergration

TikTok ads

Popularity: #7

Monthly users: 800 million

All the way from China, TikTok, formally known as, is a slightly different form of social media, one that requires some confidence.

TikTok posts are 15 seconds long, and the time is often filled with a trending dance, prank or funny video. It doesn’t seem long, but a lot can be achieved in this short time.

Being an upbeat, ‘current’ platform, it caters to a younger demographic than most, but the platform is growing rapidly so there’s nothing to say its demographics could diversify.

In december 2019, the 18-24 age bracket dominated the platform, and moving closer toward 2021, they still rule TikTok. The app even says that 60% of its users are Gen Zers (born between 1997-2012).

(Source: Statista)

There are 4 ways you can advertise on TikTok, all different in their position and creative ability.

1) Brand Takeover

Either an image, gif or video, a Brand Takeover ad will appear in users feeds when they are scrolling through content. If you know TikTok, then you will understand the apps split into categories, which means each ad will show in its specific category once per day.

2) Native Video ads

A Native Video ad can only be a video (9 -15 seconds) and is positioned in the ‘for you page’, similar to the explore page on Instagram.

Unfortunately, these ads can be skipped and, therefore, not as effective.

3) Hashtag Challenges

A hashtag challenge is as simple as it sounds, you create a hashtag specific to you or your business, and promote it to your audience.

Hopefully, your audience will use it on their posts and share it with friends, creating the network affect and boosting your brand awareness.

4) Branded Lenses

If you’ve used Snapchat before, you will know all about lenses and filters. Basically, they are small bits of visual effects added to the background of your image or on to a users face.

Just like Hashtag challenges, a Branded lens has the opportunity to blow up and become extremely popular on TikTok!

Targeting & measurability

TikTok targeting capabilities are similar to that of Facebook, letting you define your audience by location, age, gender, languages, interests, devices and connection type.

You can also upload a custom audience through a CSV, TXT, or ZIP file.

(Source: Social Media Examiner)

For Brand Takeover and Native Video ads you will receive basic information like views, shares, likes, and so on, but TikTok says that utilising third-party tracking on your ads will feed back more specific insights.

Any from the lists of third-party tracking services that work with TikTok use ‘Last Click Attribution’, telling you the following:

● Click-through attribution

● View-through Attribution

● Attribution Window

If your TikTok ad links to your website, installing the TikTok Pixel will allow you to track the successfulness of your ad.

Similar to the Facebook Pixel, the TikTok Pixel is a HTML code snippet that is added to your site. Visit TikTok for more information on how to install it.

Measuring the performance of Hashtag Challenges and Branded Lenses is venturing into the unknown.

The average price of a 6 day Hashtag Challenges is $150,000 and a branded lens design is between $80,000 – $120,000.

The sheer price of these two ad formats suggests that you would be working very closely with TikTok and receive a personalised analytics package to review your campaigns performance.

Key benefits of advertising on Instagram

● Extreme brand exposure (but expensive)

● One of the most creative ways to advertise online

● A chance to start trending

● The opportunity to reach a new niche

Decision time

First things first, just because one platform works best for one business, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you.

Analyse your audience demographics, outline your campaign objectives, and review your budget, then you will be able to decide what platform is best to advertise on.

Go, it’s time to generate results!