A Test-and-Learn Approach to Social Media Advertising Expansion [recording & recap]

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Expanding your reach into new social media channels can be daunting. Not every platform is the correct choice for every brand. What platforms you should focus on depends on your goals and audience. A common mistake in social media advertising is spreading dollars across too many platforms, including the ones that don’t make sense for your company. What’s more, many brands ignore platforms they don’t understand, missing out big revenue opportunities.

In this recorded webinar (with recap below), Two Octobers’ Head of Paid Media Chloe Pascoe outlines a test-and-learn approach, so you can feel confident about where you spend your time and money.

webinar Recap


Choosing Which Social Media Platforms to Advertise On

How do you determine the best social media platforms to advertise on for your industry, as well as for your specific company?

  1. Consider Usage Numbers by Platform
    Consider the top 10 social platforms by active monthly users. Probably not a surprise: Facebook tops the list. When you’re evaluating which platforms to use, look at the volume of active users. But don’t stop there.
  1. Be Wary of Personal Bias
    First, just because you don’t know a platform doesn’t mean you don’t need to be there. For example, I’m not on TikTok. But that doesn’t mean my clients don’t need to be there. We need to remove personal bias from where we want to spend our marketing dollars. And the opposite is true. Just because you know and understand a platform, doesn’t mean that you need to be there. What I have seen historically is people tend to gravitate towards the platforms that they’re most passionate about. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to what’s best for your company. So you have to remove that bias, and then think about what’s best for your particular goals. 
  1. Review Demographics
    Take a look at the demographics of people who frequent each platform. For example, 81% of adults use YouTube. If you’re targeting adults, it’s probably a good place to be. On the other hand, TikTok continues to be the driver for Gen Z. When determining your platforms, think about the demographics that equate to your target audience. 
  1. Keep in Mind Global Differences
    Not all platforms have the same market share globally. So if you’re looking at different countries, depending on what your goals are and what your targets are, your platforms may vary. Research the platforms that are predominant in the area you’re trying to target. Each platform is not equivalent in terms of deliverability and demand in each region. 
  1. Who Has the Purchasing Power?
    I have a 13-year-old son who comes to me all the time saying, “I want this.” He can’t buy anything for himself; I have the purchasing power. A social media platform’s most frequent users may not actually be doing the buying. For example, the most active users on Snapchat are young teenagers. Do they have the purchasing power? Maybe not directly. But Snapchat could be a terrific awareness-driving component of your advertising strategy, as long as you figure out how you’re going to reach the parents.
  1. Consider User Intent
    Consider the primary intent of the user is when they are using each social media platform. What is their frame of mind when using Instagram vs. TikTok or Snapchat? Instagram gets me all the time: I buy stuff on the spot. But users on Snapchat are not likely to be in the mode to purchase. 

How to Select the Right Social Media Advertising Platform

  1. Start by determining your audience. Your products and services do not appeal to all demographics. Once you’ve determined your target audience, you can select which platforms to advertise on in order to support different parts of your marketing strategy. Then you can think about how your content needs to vary depending on the platform. How you speak to someone in one platform is different from how you speak to someone in another. 
  2. Identify where your competitors are. Competitor research informs our approach too. Understand where your competitors are advertising. Keep in mind, however, just because your competitor is leveraging one platform doesn’t mean that you have to. 
  3. What funnel stage are you targeting? Each platform can serve different stages of the funnel. Some, like Snapchat, really always support upper-funnel awareness. Others, like LinkedIn, can serve multiple stages of the funnel. By understanding the typical user intent of each social media platform, you can develop an advertising strategy that covers multiple stages of the buying funnel. 

The Test-and-Learn Strategy

The most important thing to remember with a test-and-learn strategy is to set appropriate expectations. Be honest and transparent about what you plan to do, what you expect the results to look like, and how you’ll report back on results.

Why Test and Learn?  

TikTok is a perfect example. When TikTok came out, I think advertisers as a whole discounted it. We thought: TikTok, that’s just people dancing to videos. But that is bias talking. What research have we done? Is TikTok actually going to work for my company—is it going to give us growth? Even though I’m not on TikTok, should I consider it? That’s why it’s important to test.

Testing allows us to compare the performance of leads from different channels. Sometimes, social ads and paid search ads work against each other. If you find social ads performing really, really well, while search ads aren’t, you might want to re-allocate your media spend. Testing helps us uncover these opportunities. You’ll also want to compare the quality of leads between channels. If social is reaching your audience, but it’s not converting, then that’s a different conversation. Testing sets us up to have that conversation. 

Testing can actually be used to expand your campaign coverage over time. Keep an eye out for good results from testing new audiences, new locations, or new content that should become part of your ongoing campaign across multiple platforms.

Determine Your Test Budget 

I recommend using a separate budget for testing, so that you don’t dilute your current efforts, if that’s possible. 

Make sure to research and budget for the cost differences between platforms. Each platform has different average costs. For example, LinkedIn is more expensive per click than other platforms, but it’s a great place to be if you’re selling b2b. 

Define Your Test Goals  

Determine and align on the purpose of the test. Are you testing awareness, aiming for website traffic, or trying to grow conversions? There are lots of ways to measure success in social media. When you’re clear and aligned as a team, you’ll be able to make good decisions throughout the test, as well as interpret the final results. 

Don’t forget, each platform measures data and reports on it differently. TikTok and Facebook report different metrics, and even the same metric can mean slightly different things. Make sure you understand these differences and set expectations with your team. 

New Platforms vs. Platform Expansion

When advertising on a social media platform for the first time, focus on seeing if it’s the right platform for you. So if you’re going to TikTok for the first time, find out if anyone wants me to be here—is this my place to be? Select KPIs that reflect that goal. Testing new platforms tends to require loosening the purse strings. Getting top ROI should not be your goal with this kind of text.

Alternatively, when testing expansion, you’re trying to build on your existing success. You’d approach the test differently by testing new content or audiences, and setting KPIs to demonstrate performance improvements over-and-above current results. 

Who are You Targeting?

Different advertising platforms reach people in different stages of the purchase funnel. With search advertising, we’re reaching people who have already expressed an intent, indicating that they’re already in the purchase funnel. But in social, we can serve to most any user of the platform, reaching audiences that we might not be able to reach in search. 

Design the test with an understanding of which stage of the funnel you’re targeting: awareness, consideration/relationship or conversion. Which stage(s) are we focusing on, and what are our goals for each stage? We may set a target for new users reached in the awareness stage and a target for conversions. But it’s important to align on which goals you’re focused on—and which you’re not—when setting testing expectations. 

Reporting Expectations

We recommend reporting bi-weekly on tests. Be transparent; report on both positive and negative findings. Not being straightforward about test numbers can create distrust, both for agencies and in-house teams. The test reporting should be focused on saying, “this didn’t work—what’s next?” or “this did work—let’s continue.” Both help us think about how we are going to move forward. 

Provide industry and client-specific trends as a baseline for comparison. If the entire industry is down during a period, we’d want to consider the results of our tests differently. If Q2 is generally a poor quarter for your marketing program, you should not be aiming for peak performance, but rather an improvement over typical downturns.

Executing a Test-and-Learn Approach

Determine the Length of the Test

I typically recommend six weeks before evaluating a test, but sometimes teams are reluctant, and two weeks might fit better. I would never recommend less than two. Ensure leadership is on board with your timeline.

Finalize the Test Metrics

Align with leadership about the ultimate metrics that will determine the success or failure of these tests. Leadership may want to see impacts beyond impressions, clicks and conversions, such as average cost of sales (ACoS) and ROI. Ensure you’re set up to capture and report accurately for these metrics too. 

Create the Test Schedule 

  1. Prioritize the test platforms. If you’re testing multiple platforms, which should come first?
  2. How often do you want to test a new platform? Trying out every new platform all the time can be chaotic. Assess your appetite for risk and your team’s throughput to set a reasonable schedule for testing new platforms. 
  3. How many tests are you comfortable running at the same time? More tests can lead to faster results, but can be time-consuming to manage and challenging to differentiate results from.
  4. Identify how you’ll determine statistical significance. How will you know if you have enough results to evaluate? Or will you run a time-bound test, in which you’ll stop at the end of the time period, even if you only achieve a few of your target metric? Make a plan, so you’ll know confidently when you can conclude the test.

Regularly Monitor Your Test

Test-and-learn requires daily check-ins. It’s not test-and-forget! Do daily pulse checks, and create weekly reports. With larger tests, you’ll be using real-time data to make some optimizations during that time frame. And any test can develop unexpected problems. Reviewing the test consistently is essential to keeping on track. 

What Should You Test?

We often start with a test about the viability of a platform, and after demonstrating some traction, move into further testing to refine and improve our outcomes. Our approach will change from “can we deliver ads and engage with this audience effectively?”, to “where can we find the best performance within this platform?”  

These are a few types of test you can pursue:

Tests for New Platforms

  • Overall opportunity in a platform. Start this type of test with fewer audience restrictions and fewer location restrictions. Include a wide range of content. Open it up as much as you can, so you reach a wide audience. But be careful of overspending! This is a really important reason we monitor this type of test on a daily basis. 
  • Can customer lists be leveraged for remarketing? Test your customer lists to see if they’re large enough to be deliverable. Customer lists are terrific for remarketing in social, but sometimes platforms don’t find enough matches for our customer lists to make them viable. 

Tests for Expansion Within a Platform

  • Test a myriad of audiences. 
  • Revise and expand content tests. Change out ad copy, images and/or video, and the ad format itself.
  • Test more locations. 

My Top 5 Social Media Advertising Tests

If you’re still wondering, “where do I start?” take some inspiration from my favorite tests:

  • Video awareness. Test to see if there is brand lift in your campaigns after running video. 
  • Content consideration. How does different content engage your audiences? 
  • Copy ideas. Be bold and use new language that you might not have used before. Consider different approaches, like using “jobs to be done” for ad copy development. You might be surprised at what actually resonates with your audience. 
  • Creative consideration. Test new images, going beyond just images already available on your website. You might also test well-performing historical images against your current ones. 
  • Remarketing. Test audiences who previously engaged in the funnel by using dynamic ads or ads catered directly to them.

Report Regularly

To reiterate an important point: we recommend reporting about bi-weekly on the tests you’re running. Maintain trust by transparently reporting on both positive and negative findings. Tell the story with the data to guide and report on what should happen next. There’s always a lesson to be learned from a test–how will you leverage those learnings into your next test? And consider recommending a pivot in the existing test, rather than ending it all together. 

Two Octobers can help

Need a little help with your social media advertising? Reach out, we’d love to help.

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