Social shopping cartMany retailers know they should be reaching their customers in the digital and mobile worlds where people are spending more and more of their time these days. But knowing you need to be there and knowing how to get there are two very different things. One easy way to accomplish both is with social media marketing. It is a digital property that is getting easier and easier to place ad buys into. It's also where most people spend the majority of the time when on their mobile devices. The search for finding a way to prove ROI for social ended once marketers started using social as just another ad platform. And it turns out, it's a very good one. 

There are a number of ways for retailers to use social platforms for their advertising. The most prevalent social ad platforms are Facebook and Twitter. However, each platform is rolling out ways to create ads. YouTube is a great platform for video pre-roll ads where you can have a :15 second version of your TV ad play before the YouTube video requested plays. LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and others are all rolling out ad platforms.

Probably the easiest way to to do Facebook promoted posts. It's a way to get your posts in front of more people, since organic viewing of brand posts has dropped to single digit percentages. You create a post and simply click the button under it that says "boost post" and choose your audience and set your budget. Facebook will tell you approximately how many will see your ad at each budget range, starting as low as $5. This is not, however the most effective way to do social marketing. Highly targeted ads work better than just boosting your posts.

Target-audienceOne of the best things about social ads for retailers is the ability to target specific audiences. You can choose age range, income, education, gender, geography and a whole range of things when choosing your audience. You can also target audiences by interests (in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest). Chose the products you sell (for example, interested in home decor and fashion) or activities related to what you sell (for instance, sports and hiking). Usually you can target interests in a broad sense or a very narrow niche. 

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn also let you target by behavior. This can be based on their purchase history or intent. Or it can be on their device usage. You can also target by how they are connected to you, your page, your app – friends of your fans, etc. 

The most effective social ad campaigns for our retail clients involved custom targeting and the creation of lookalikes. Custom targeting is a way to use your database to target your own customers with social ads. You can upload your email list, phone numbers, customer names or IDs and have the social network cross reference the info you have with the info they have and serve up ads to everyone they find a match for. So, even if the customers in your data aren't connected to you in Facebook or Twitter, the social platform can use your data to find them and serve up your ad to them.

Lookalike audienceCreating a lookalike audience takes your audience from customers to prospects. The social platform will take what it finds in the custom targeting process using your data and then find other social profiles that match or are similar to those of your customers and serves them up an ad. So now you are advertising to both your customers and to people who are just like your customers – in other words, prospects most likely to buy from you. 

Once you have your target audiences, do some A/B testing with your ads. Serve up one ad to a percentage of your audience and another to the rest of them. See which one seems to be pulling best and then switch over to that one. Or make a new one based on what you learned. 

We have found social ads to be very effective for our retail clients. If you want to see the results from one of those campaigns you will find them here. We think it's worth trying. And the cost to try them out can be minimal – start with a small amount, test different formats, networks, audiences and ads a little at a time and then add more money into what's working for you. 

Mike McClureMike McClure, social shopping guy

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