No More Guesswork — Stretch Social Ad Dollars Further

Making the most of your paid social marketing budget

Four Basic Paid Social Frameworks

Until about two years ago, most brands and agencies applied more faith than data when it came to social ad and promoted post publication. That is, we knew from a certain amount of credible data what would likely perform well based on past performance, and we could generally guess which calendar day and time would yield the highest gains. It resulted in a somewhat unsophisticated process that went like this: “We’ll put $1,000 behind the beer bottle image on Thursday at 6pm because that’s the time we get the most engagement, and our beer bottles resonate best with fans.” Or, we could go a step further and actually test images through smaller ad buys or dark posts before applying larger promotional dollars. The three main approaches were:

  1. A-B Testing

  2. Wait-and-See Approach

  3. Cultural Planning Meets Data

And then the Oreo Moment turned all of our heads during the 2013 Super Bowl, shedding light on a whole new approach:

  1. The Newsroom Approach

The Four Approaches Explained

A-B Testing is data-based and pretty clear: test two or more ad units (or Dark Posts) to see which imagery and copy performs best, and then steer ad dollars towards the top-performing posts. This may also be done by testing performance of organic posts then turning top-performing posts into promoted posts or ads.

What I like to call the Wait-and-See Approach sits at the intersection of owned and paid, and require real-time monitoring: develop a benchmark for an “average” post performance within a certain timeframe post-publication, wait until a post surpasses the benchmark and then “boost” it with paid dollars.

The third approach, what I’ll call “Cultural Planning Meets Data” for lack of a better term, is a mix of cultural calendar planning — i.e. knowing that people will be talking about candy on Halloween more than any other day of the year — and knowing high-performing content based on data — i.e. images of Snickers’ candy bar wrapping yields the highest engagement among audiences — to smartly plan ad dollars by leaning into these insights.

Finally, the Newsroom Approach is arguably the most effective because it operates under the principle that social media (and paid social dollars) are most effective as real-time, responsive marketing.  In this approach, a team tracks daily trending conversations, has some insight into which conversation will most resonate with their audience, and then produces content to publish that same day. This content is so relevant and timely, that limited paid dollars are required to earn eyeballs and engagement. It’s the type of content that is so on-target, it demands a visceral response from its audience — ideally in the form of a like, comment, share or click-through.

No Approach is Perfect, But Newsroom is Best

But with each of these approaches, money is sacrificed to either time delay or guesswork. With A-B testing, presumably, dollars are spent on poorer performing ads during the time it takes to test.

With the Wait-and-See approach, there is a cost associated to eyeballing the page for noticeable spikes (i.e. agency personnel who bills by the hour), and time is lost between the moment of publication and application of paid dollars — meaning, if you could rewind the clock and boost the post at publication time, the post would have likely yielded more impressions and engagement.  

With the insights-meets-data, there is rate of error associated with unpredictability of events. For example, if on the planned publication date of your Snickers Halloween post there’s a major upset in the NFL in which Tampa Bay beats the Broncos — suddenly, everyone is talking about football and not about taking their kids trick-or-treating. As a result, your paid dollars are likely to have been wasted.

And finally, data strongly suggests that timely, relevant, real-time content outperforms planned content, making the Newsroom the most reliable for ensuring smart paid spend. However, the Newsroom approach is only as accurate as the tools and processes upon which the teams rely to track trending conversations and produce timely content. That is, there is an amount of guesswork involved in betting on which conversations will continue to trend, and an amount of time lost to content production and approval paths — again, which amount to potential dollars sacrificed.

Real-Time Newsroom Made Possible

Fortunately, brands and agencies have new options for taking some of the guesswork and time out of timely, relevant social content, helping to make the most of paid budget.

The right tools can help take the guesswork out of trend and content performance prediction, maximizing the value of dollars spent. Accurate listening tools like Brandwatch, Synthesio, Sysomos and Crimson Hexagon (to name a few), can help track longer-term conversations and on a daily basis report noticeable spikes. Tools like Spredfast’s Spark can report micro-trends and glean insights into which trends are gaining traction hour-by-hour and offer predictive insights as to which of those trends will continue to spike. And with Intelligence, Analytics, or Content Center, teams can understand which content or campaigns performed best in the past to ensure that newly-produced content is optimized for high performance.

A smooth, efficient, fast process with the right team and tools in place ensures that paid dollars are applied quickly — capturing as many impressions, clicks, likes, and shares as possible. Every newsroom needs a repository of ready-made, pre-approved content that can be updated with a few minor tweaks. This should include a stock of professional-quality product and lifestyle photos that can be further manipulated with text or design, and easily published to relevant social networks (Note, we can store this content in our Content Center).

Not every brand or agency can have an entire team on stand-by for every Oreo Moment, so this crucial piece of system needs to be efficient and paved for speed. Every newsroom also needs a social strategist and creative on stand-by to concept the content and then create it. And of course, the appropriate approval teams from brand, senior creative, marketing, PR and/or legal need to be routed into the workflow so that they can be quickly tapped for a nod wherever they may be — whether that’s in the same room looking over your shoulder, down the hall in a meeting, or on a Delta flight across the country. Chances are, these executives will be out of reach, but thankfully, Spredfast's mobile approval paths that can help streamline and speed up internal communication.

Market at the Speed of Life

We understand that not every brand can operate in real-time — some brands are tied to regulatory bodies like the SEC, FDA or state alcohol and beverage committees. But even regulated industries can develop a repository of pre-approved content and work with their legal teams for faster approvals.  Our goal is to empower our customers to be successful in social, and this means equipping them with the strategies and tools to impact the bottom line. Now that you are savvy on these techniques, go forth and market at the speed of life!


Kelly Ferraro's picture

Kelly Ferraro

Kelly Ferraro is a Strategy Director for Spredfast, where she leads social strategy for global customers. Kelly is a social media and running addict. She is an east coast transplant currently living in Austin, TX.