Social media advertisement and its effectiveness: overrated.

Photo credit: Pixabay/FirmBee, cc0 public domain. Google is a registered trademark of Alphabet. MacBook Air is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc. Any trademark or servicemark appearing herein is used here solely for illustrative purposes. No infringement is intended.

New entrepreneurs are often led to think that Facebook ad is everything they need to promote themselves. They also wrongly assume that social media is there for advertising. But here is something I have learned over time through experience.

Facebook advertisement is easy to get in, but not as effective as it seems to be.

Because nearly everyone you know is on Facebook, and because Facebook now is one of the greatest Big Data aggregators on earth, you may be thinking that if you “boost” your page post every once in a while, you will get results.

Wrong.

First, too many people “boost” indiscriminately. Ultimately, a post intended for advertising is different from regular fan page posts, or anything you may ordinarily share on your own personal profile. Good visuals and copy are critical, and advertising on Facebook like everywhere else must be well-planned in advance. “Boosting” your post is largely a waste of money.

Second, Facebook ad has a very low threshold for entry. You can advertise there as low as $5. But if your ad does not intrigue people, it’s wasteful. And exposure is very limited. Those Facebook ads you may see frequently are from businesses that spend anywhere between hundreds to thousands of dollars a week.

Third, Facebook ad shows up randomly on people’s Facebook timelines at unexpected times and unsolicited. And it looks just like someone’s regular Facebook post, except for a small faded word, “sponsored,” below the name of the Facebook page from which advertising originated. Most people, especially smartphone users, simply scroll through these ads without even reading what’s on them. Like the advert banners of the early 2000s, people are now desensitized to Facebook ads.

Facebook ads are not for promoting local events.

If you are putting on a concert or a festival, the traditional print ads are far more effective than any social media advertisement. Even though running a print ad can be far more expensive, they command a better exposure and reader attention especially if it is a display ad in a local alternative weekly or music/arts/entertainment publication. For some reasons unknown to me, promoting events on Facebook really does not seem to convert very well. To make it worse for you, lots of people do indeed go to your Facebook event page or business page, click on “Interested” or “Like” the post, but they don’t really follow through with ticket purchases and you’re being billed by Facebook for audience engagement.

Facebook page is not advertising.

Almost every start-up business thinks of creating a Facebook page the moment they begin. But just because you have a Facebook page does not mean customers are going to find you.

The ugly history truth: When Facebook began allowing non-college students to sign up (at first, only those with an .edu email address could join Facebook!), many businesses started to sign up, as well. Facebook, finding opportunities as an advertising company, soon introduced “fan pages” and required all businesses and organizations to use them instead of personal profiles. Those who did not were banned from Facebook, or more commonly, forcibly converted to a fan page. Then, in order to sell more ads, Facebook began decreasing the amount of exposures these pages would have. Now a typical Facebook page post only shows up on someone’s timeline 1 to 2 percent of the time. This is by design, as Facebook positions itself as an advertising company.

At the same, however, Facebook pages are still meaningful as many people now use the Facebook search box to look up business contact information just as people would use the White Pages back in the 1980s (and online “White Pages” websites in the 1990s till the turn of this century).

If you have something specific to offer, use Google AdWords instead.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter advertisement, Google (and Startpage) displays ads in response to specific search queries, at the top portions of search engine result pages (SERPs). This means you are advertising to a ready audience who are interested in what you have to offer. When someone is using a search engine, they are already in a receptive state.

The downside is that Google AdWords can be somewhat more expensive to start out with.

(Here is a good collection of beginners’ tutorials on Google AdWords.)

Instagram ad is worthless.

Instagram ad is offered as an add-on option to your Facebook ad. The problem is that Instagram user behaviors and the mobile-centric nature of the platform mean that people are fast scrolling through an endless stream of pictures and double-tapping at a breakneck speed without even pausing to actually look at those pictures. And the captions are not fully displayed, unless they tap on “more” to actually make an effort to read the captions. While paid ads display a blue-highlighted link beneath the picture that would take users to your website, Instagram app isn’t a web browser and its webpage display function often crashes if your webpage is large or has lots of multimedia contents (such as videos). This can be a serious problem in particular if your webpage is a “landing page” or any kind of form that collects user information. When I ran ads on Instagram there were lots of views and lots of likes but none of them converted.

Pinterest: a hidden treasure.

I used to think until recently, “Who nowadays still use Pinterest?” But Pinterest is now a very powerful image search engine that shows inspirational (as in inspiring ideas, not as in woo-woo) pictures on any subject matter that people may search. If you are not using Pinterest, you’re missing out. Now, I have not tried paid Pinterest ads, but even without paid ads, it is great for your search engine optimization (SEO) and email list building.

Conclusion

While social media is one of the most accessible advertising platforms for microentrepreneurs, its effectiveness is overrated and return-on-investment (ROI) is fairly low. Don’t expect too much especially when you are new.