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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?

The takeaway

How I Tested

The budget for these tests was small and the timeline compressed, so consider these results to be anecdotal instead of scientific. It's impossible to run the identical ad across all social networks, but I tried to keep as many variables as consistent as possible. For example:

  • I allocated a maximum budget of $100 for each social network, to be split up over four consecutive days, $25 per day. (Most services did not use the full budget.)
  • I ran a baseline of four days of Google AdWords advertising, with the same budget, before running the social ads. I then shut off AdWords.
  • I designed all advertising to send traffic to the home page of my business, Null Media, and not to various social network profile pages, in order to better compare those results with AdWords' results.
  • I tested each social network consecutively, and ads were programmed so they did not overlap.
  • If an ad network did not use up its ad budget for a day (due to the vagaries of the way ads are presented and bid upon), I did not extend the length of the experiment. Shortcomings in budget expenditures are noted.
  • I tracked results using the services provided by each social media site.
  • When at all possible, I used both the same criteria for the desired viewers of an ad (such as location, demographics, and occupation) and the same ad copy and imagery.
  • I kept all social media accounts active by posting fresh content, two to three times daily, across each account. Some content linked back to the Null Media target domain; some did not.


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