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Do social media ads really work? We put them to the test!

Christopher Null | March 15, 2013
Social media sites already offer free advertising in the form of tweets and Facebook posts, but these tools can only take your brand so far. The next step involves paying for social media ads, and if you're considering this option, you're probably most concerned with one big question: What will my return actually be? Will spending money on an ad on Twitter or Facebook bring more customers to my business than the same amount spent on Google AdWords?

What was going on here? I'm still baffled. Is Facebook's ad bidding a bait-and-switch system or just bad programming? Regardless of how much you pay, Facebook encourages you to pay even more. Yes, higher bids result in additional clicks because your ad is displayed more often, but shouldn't Facebook's system be smarter about its recommendations?

After four days, the numbers were in, at a mammoth 253,207 impressions and a mere 25 clicks. The total clickthrough rate was an infinitesimal 0.01 percent, at a total expense of $37.70. That works out to an average CPC of $1.51.

The verdict: The numbers aren't terrible, and the heavy exposure, even without many clicks, is worth something. However, the scant number of actual visits makes me wonder if Facebook was the wrong venue for this ad. (My business page did, however, get one extra "Like" during the ad run.)

LinkedIn: Making impressions, not leads

I'm advertising a B2B service, so LinkedIn sounded like a perfect match. Like Facebook, LinkedIn offers both CPM and CPC ads, so I gave a CPM ad a whirl for my first day, bidding the minimum allowed rate of $2 per 1000 impressions, targeting a fairly broad segment of LinkedIn users with job descriptions relevant to my product.

My ad began showing within about 10 minutes, and took off. I hit my $25 limit within an hour. The results for this first day were 13,643 impressions and 6 clicks, for a 0.044 percent clickthrough rate and a whopping $4.17 CPC.

The CPM ad did not feel cost-effective, so I switched to a $2 CPC bid and turned on the "Collect Leads" option, which encourages people who click on your ad to provide contact information.

The final tally: After four days, my ad had 51,192 impressions, 13 clicks, and a low 0.025 percent clickthrough rate. My total spend was $41.50 for a $3.19 average CPC. Take out the first CPM-ad day, and the clickthrough suffers--a net 0.019 percent rate--but the CPC of $2.36 (more than my bid, oddly) is more affordable. I never received any leads from LinkedIn, however.

The verdict: After my ad ended, LinkedIn emailed suggestions on improving my ad's performance.  It said the site's "better performing ads" averaged a 0.02 percent CPC, so my ad actually seems to have been a pretty solid performer for LinkedIn, compared to those by other advertisers.

Next page: Twitter, StumbleUpon, and what you need to know before launching an ad...

Twitter: Clickworthy yet costly

Setting up ads on Twitter is fast and painless. I submitted a single promotional tweet linking back to my home page, with a $25 per day budget and a per-click cost between a penny and $1.50.


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