Paid Social 101: Is It Worth the Investment?

One of the best ways to tap into the vast reach of social media is through paid social advertising. According to Statista, social media marketing makes up about 17% of the average marketer’s budget in 2023, and that share is expected to rise to 20% in 2024. With users of all ages and a variety of segmentation mechanisms, paid social offers an interesting opportunity for marketers. But is the return worth the investment?

Read on to learn about the different ad types offered by social platforms and how to determine whether paid social is the right tactic for your marketing goals.

What Is Paid Social?

Paid social is a marketing channel where businesses pay to deliver their messages directly to users on social media platforms. Because social media has become a crucial aspect of marketing strategies for businesses of all sizes, it is an essential platform to build a strategy around to reach out to existing customers as well as to attract new ones.

Advertisers can pay to prioritize their content in their followers’ feeds on a given social platform, often referred to as promoting or boosting a post. But they can also pay to reach new audiences with a variety of ads and sponsored content.

Paid Social Platforms and Ad Types

With the myriad of social media platforms available today, it can take time to figure out which one is right for your business while factoring in all the other social media trends. Some popular social platforms offering paid media include Meta (Facebook and Instagram), X, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest and Snapchat.

Depending on the audience you’re targeting, you may want to prioritize certain platforms based on their targeting and segmentation capabilities. For example, if you’re looking to engage with B2B audiences, LinkedIn may be your go-to channel to reach specific job titles, industries or even organizations.

Let’s take a closer look at each platform, its users and the advertising solutions it offers.

Meta (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp)

Meta is the largest social media platform globally, with over 2 billion active users. Instagram (owned by Meta) has over 1 billion active users. Meta structures its advertising solutions around goals, including:

  • Awareness
  • Traffic
  • Engagement
  • Leads
  • App promotion/downloads
  • Sales

You can achieve these goals with various ad formats, including:

  • Image and video ads
  • Carousel ads
  • Sponsored posts
  • Messenger ads

Meta also offers the option to create ads for you by using the creative assets in your media library. The platform offers guides to help advertisers understand how to design high-performing ads.

Targeting on Meta can be behavior-based or built around demographics. Advertisers can create audiences of Meta users who have viewed their Facebook or Instagram profiles or visited their website, among other behaviors. Or they can target Meta users who meet certain criteria, such as age, location and interest.

X (formerly Twitter)

X is a fast-paced platform with over 330 million active users. It’s known for its concise messaging and hashtags. Ad formats offered include:

  • Promoted images, videos, carousels and text ads
  • Timeline and Explore page takeovers
  • Live video
  • Retargeting

Targeting options on X allow advertisers to build audiences around:

  • Demographics
  • Interests
  • Conversations and keywords

X offers advertisers some best practices that are similar to what you might find across any digital publisher. As X has undergone a lot of change, some advertisers have been cautious about investing in its advertising options. Concerns about content moderation have left some advertisers concerned that their paid social might be associated with publishers that don’t reflect their brand values.


LinkedIn has over 750 million active members, with a user base focused on career growth and professional networking. It’s business-focused platform makes it an attractive option for B2B advertisers. Like Meta, LinkedIn orients its paid social solutions around objectives, including:

  • Brand awareness
  • Website visits
  • Engagements
  • Video views
  • Lead generation
  • Website conversions
  • Job applicants

Ad formats offered include:

  • Sponsored posts
  • Carousel ads
  • Video ads
  • Sponsored InMail (LinkedIn’s direct messaging tool)
  • Display ads

LinkedIn advertisers can create custom audiences with a variety of advanced filters that layer demographic and behavioral data. The platform also allows you to create audiences of known contacts, such as a prospect list, or build lookalike audiences based on verified users.


TikTok is a video-sharing platform that has grown rapidly since its launch in 2016. It has over 1 billion active users globally, with a younger demographic than Meta and LinkedIn.

Ad types offered by TikTok include:

  • In-feed video ads
  • Branded effects (like video filters)
  • Promoted content

TikTok users can be targeted by gender, location, age and interests, as well as by similarity to an advertiser’s customers. Because of the younger demographic, brands often ask if they should be on TikTok. However, there are many ways to get creative with content appealing to all demographics on the platform.


Pinterest is a visual platform that allows users to search for and save ideas and inspiration. It has more than 400 million active users and is primarily used by women.

Ad formats offered include:

  • Promoted pins
  • Promoted video pins
  • Shopping ads
  • Idea ads
  • Carousels
  • Collections

Pinterest allows advertisers to segment audiences by interests, demographics and searched keywords as well as similarities to existing audiences (called “Actalikes” on this platform).


Snapchat is a messaging app that has evolved into a platform for sharing photos and videos with a younger demographic — particularly Gen Z and millennials, according to the platform. It has more than 280 million daily active users globally. Snapchat ads help brands achieve one of four objectives:

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Generate leads
  • Make online sales
  • Drive app installs

Ad formats include:

  • Single image or video ads
  • Collection ads
  • Story ads
  • Lenses AR experiences
  • Commercials
  • Filters

Snapchat’s audience building features use demographic data and behavioral data to allow advertisers to reach users of a certain age, location, education level and income or to retarget users who have interacted with their profile or website.

Remember that to utilize each platform, you’ll need the assets oriented and sized at the proper specifications. This guide from Hootsuite is a good cheat sheet to reference as you prepare for your campaign.

4 Questions to Ask Before Investing in Paid Social

To determine if paid social is an effective tactic for your business, ask yourself the following four questions:

Who is my audience?

For a successful paid social program, you need to understand your target audience. Are they using social media, and if so, which platforms? Do they expect to interact with your brand or your industry on social media, and if not, is the lift of changing that expectation worth the investment? You should also consider the type of content the garners the most engagement from your audience and tailor your ad types accordingly, as you do with organic posts.

Most paid social platforms use proprietary information about their users to identify an audience for your ads. Depending on the objective you choose (e.g., brand awareness, lead generation, sales), your audience will change, even with the same demographic filters applied. This is because social platforms understand the behaviors of their users and will overlay your demographic preferences with usage habits to create an audience most likely to take the action you desire.

For example, among men aged 40-55 who are interested in technology, there may be some overlap between those who often click or tap on content in their Facebook feed and those who tend to scroll past. But if those habits are very consistent, Meta may show your lead generation ad to the former cohort and your brand awareness ad to the latter. Be sure you’re clear on your objective, or you may find that your ads are mismatched with the users seeing them.

Which platform aligns best with my goals?

Choose a platform that matches your goals and will help you drive the most action. For example, platforms like Meta may be a good option if you want to expand your reach and attract new customers for consumer goods. If you are looking to generate business leads, LinkedIn may be a better choice. TikTok is perfect for brands looking to create fun, engaging content.

What’s my budget?

The cost of paid social can vary depending on the platform, your goals and your audience. Start by identifying the right channel and setting a budget that you can maintain for at least a quarter. You’ll want to give your campaign at least 90 days to show some results. Consider each platform’s minimum or suggested daily spend. And factor in the cost per click, conversion or impression. If you know your average cost to acquire new customers, that may be the ceiling on what you’re willing to pay per conversion.

How will I measure success?

Set clear goals and metrics to ensure you’re getting the most out of your paid social strategy. You should use the platform’s dashboard to track your success closely. Measuring ROI and monitoring KPIs accurately will help you determine the effectiveness of your paid social campaign. Also, ask yourself: Do I need additional tracking on my website, LMS or e-commerce platform?

Is Paid Social Worth the Investment?

Overall, paid social is an effective tool for businesses to promote content and reach their target audiences. But before investing in paid social, it is crucial to identify the right platform(s) that align with your marketing goals since each channel and ad type can significantly impact the results of your campaign.

Remember your budget, target audience and ad type when choosing the best platform for your business. The efficiency and profitability of paid social advertising will depend on the audience you want to reach.

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