social media strategy
Creativity Marketing Transformation

4 Brands with Enviable Paid Social Media Strategies

9 Minute Read

2016 has been a huge year for the major players in social media: Instagram launched a new algorithm to much infamy, Facebook introduced Canvas, Twitter made it easier to convey a message via Tweet by discounting media attachments from the 140-character limit, and even LinkedIn has started working to make its user experience more personal and communicative. Many of these changes have augmented brands’ social media strategies, forever changing the way they tell their stories and share their messages with audiences.

For brands that are looking to grow their social presences in the year ahead, that’s a lot to take in and keep up with. Sure, you might know how these platforms work, and perhaps you’ve even chosen those that most closely enable you to achieve your goals, but the art of using social with just the right amount of budget to nudge certain content in the right direction at just the right time is still more nuanced than a set of instructions—or even a trends report—can demonstrate.

Earlier this week, we talked about the benefits of budgeting for a paid promotion strategy in 2017, and explored the ins and outs of paid promotion on each of the major social media channels. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how top brands are creating sponsored content on these platforms to enhance their social strategies.


What do I need to know?

Instagram used to be the democratic social network, the one that displayed all content in the order it was produced and let individuals and brands compete for followers on a level playing field. Now that its algorithm works wizardry to decide what any given user sees, the only way a brand can guarantee its target audience sees its posts is to pay. While the algorithm was largely panned by Instagram devotees, it does spell good news for brands looking to capitalize on social media trends towards organic platforms like Instagram. Its sponsored content is sleek and minimal and only slightly distinguishable from its native counterparts—a fact which may be subject to change. For now, it’s worth knowing that the subtle sponsored content works on two levels: brands with strong existing Instagram presences likely don’t need to pay for boosted placement unless they’re seeking to break into an entirely new demographic, and brands that are just joining the platform can generate tons of content quickly to offer the appearance of a full feed, while a few promoted posts can capture those famously fickle Instagram audiences. Just make sure the photo is worth liking, because no amount of money will get Instagram’s aesthetic-conscious audience to engage with sub-par content.

Featured Brand: Ben & Jerry’s

Long known for its prowess on the platform, Ben & Jerry’s is a classic example of how—and when—to pay on Instagram. Last year, in celebration of Kanelbullens Dag (cinnamon roll day) in Sweden, the company’s Swedish arm ran video ads to promote its new flavor: Cinnamon Buns.

According to Instagram for Ads, the company’s efforts were rewarded: “[Ben & Jerry’s] shot a series of videos to elicit interaction from Swedes on Instagram. The team made sure the videos were eye-catching, worked with sound off, and worked well on automatic loop. At the end of the campaign, Ben & Jerry’s Sweden got great results. With the videos, the company increased ad awareness by 67 percent, brand awareness by 11 percent, and even drove an 80 percent increase in sales.”


What do I need to know?

We recently studied when it makes the most sense to use Promoted Tweets, and that wisdom translates to this conversation, too. In the context of deciding which platforms to select and whether to pay for content promotion or not, brands must identify their social media strategies and goals for the content campaigns they’re running. Then they can effectively study social media trends to find where their target audiences already are and where they will be in the future.

With Twitter, Promoted Tweets are best used to amplify a conversation between a brand and a customer that exemplifies the brand’s values, or to get maximum exposure for a cross-platform campaign by promoting a Tweet containing an image also used on other platforms. While Twitter may not be a great platform for an all-out content offensive, its snappy, conversational nature means that a real-life customer Tweet or particularly pleasing branded one-liner can become paid advertisements in real time.

And now, with the introduction of Promoted Stickers, brands can capitalize on the best of user-generated content. As AdStage explained:

Brands are allowed to design four or eight stickers, such as accessories or props. These stickers are then made available in the #Stickers library for users to add to their own photos. If there are any photos that are posted using a brand’s stickers, these photos are shared with all of a user’s followers, giving brands an opportunity to be featured by their fans in a truly unique and authentic way.

Overall, you can think of paying on Twitter as getting the largest possible audience for existing content. That said, avoid it if you’re looking for a large audience for an all-new social media strategy.

Featured Brand: iClothing

It’s easy to see why iClothing won the 2016 European Search Award for Best Use of Social Media in a Search Campaign—the Ireland-based, women’s fashion e-Commerce site just gets the importance of social media to fueling engagements. According to Twitter for Business, the company partnered with Wolfgang Digital to create a Twitter campaign that would boost engagement. The result? A 25 percent peak engagement rate.


Twitter for Business attributed much of the campaign’s success to a few factors that make sense for any promoted Tweet and/or social campaign:

1. The brand used custom hashtags (#iWant and #iWear) to kick off conversations with fans.
2. It tested different photo types / “creative elements” to determine its audience’s preferences, then applied its findings to the entire campaign.
3. It used tailored audiences to target specific groups it knew would find its content relevant.


What do I need to know?

There are tons of ways to take advantage of Facebook’s paid promotion features, which means you can get granular with your Facebook content. Is it an ad? Native content that could use a little boost? Something in-between? The options on Facebook mean that you can be very specific with how your money gets spent and what it does to your content strategy. As always, native content performs better, and Facebook’s algorithm changes favor native content. But that term is a slippery slope on Facebook, which offers options like “I want this post to be on my page but also a paid advertisement.” Is that native or an advertisement? Yes.

The social media juggernaut is extremely effective because everyone is on it and there are multiple ways to deliver your content. However, the effectiveness and reach of promoted content or Facebook Ads relies on how much a brand is willing to spend. This one is the highest-end, largest outlay, and largest potential reward. It’s worth having a specific social media strategy to maximize your investment here.

Featured Brand: Refinery29

For those of you who aren’t aware, Refinery29’s social strategy is straight-up legendary.


The brand is renowned for its dedication to social media—as of this year, in fact, it’s been building a 10-person team that’s purely devoted to Facebook Live—as well as its proven ability to get to know its audience. In the past, the brand has created original research around its strategy, talking about the tactics that made it so successful. In their research, they point to two findings that are worth remembering for both paid Facebook and Facebook posting in general:

1. Users who were exposed to more Refinery29 ads were, overall, more likely to subscribe to its newsletter.
2. Users who were exposed to the entire funnel the company had built out via social (which comprised “an ad that introduced the brand message, an ad that had more product information, and a clear call to action for an email sign up”) were most likely to convert.

Once you know your audience, it’s important to conduct tests with your paid ads to perfect the strategy that works best with them. But it does stand to reason that working your audience through a funnel makes sense. Keep that gradual approach in mind if you’re considering paid Facebook ads—it’s sure to pay off.


What do I need to know?

LinkedIn is a different ballgame. It’s not pretending to be consumer facing or designed for the brand targeting a traditional audience. But that doesn’t mean LinkedIn marketing isn’t important. It just means that brands need to recognize LinkedIn for what it is, and use it as an outlet for more industry-specific, technical content that may not resonate elsewhere. As part of a holistic content program, marketers can augment their social media strategies with LinkedIn content. Just don’t lean on it to generate massive leads, unless your brand focuses specifically on enterprise clients.

Featured Brand: Yahoo! Inc.

Just recently, I was scrolling through my LinkedIn news feed when I came across one of Yahoo! Inc.’s sponsored posts:


I had to share it. Why? Because, in many ways, it embodies many of the LinkedIn paid promotion best practices detailed in The Kissmetrics Guide To LinkedIn Ads (although certainly not all of them, which might be an impossible feat for every post to pull off). First, it’s displaying content that’s clearly tailored to my interests and the people I follow. Its headline clearly outlines its content—and although it’s not especially punchy, because it’s so relevant to my interests, I’m drawn to click on it. Most interesting is its clear, simple photo, which features a female. As Kissmetrics noted, that’s huge:

According to LinkedIn’s own optimization team, choosing a photo of a woman typically drives the best clickthrough rates. Only use your business logo if you’re trying to build brand awareness. Don’t have too much going on in your photo—remember, it’s a small thumbnail and you have a lighting-quick opportunity to draw the eye to your ad before, poof, it’s gone.

Remember that putting thought into the composite parts of each promoted post is just as important as putting thought into your broader social media strategy. You can have all the right elements in place on a high level—but without the details to back them up, it’s just as easy for your strategy to fall flat.

Make Marketing Work for You

By finding your audience and picking the flavor of paid programming that fits your strategy goals and budget, it’s possible to make your brand’s native content go a long way with a little bit of money spent on promoting it. Gone are the days of paying a flat rate for every impression you hoped to capture. Now, social media has democratized access to audiences, but it’s also allowed them to get ad fatigue and view so much content in a day that making an impression takes more creativity than ever before. Thankfully, the cream still rises to the top: however and wherever you deliver your content, as long as it stands out, it will get results. And if you get creative with your marketing budget and your content creation, impressions have never been cheaper.

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John Montesi is a content marketing specialist who has worked with major companies in Silicon Valley's B2B and SaaS sector. He has placed professional articles in major online industry publications and personal writing in literary journals. John is a technophilic Luddite who still giggles every time his Google Calendar syncs to his phone. He likes to explain complicated concepts with whimsy and ease and is an accidental SME on software, real estate, sports, art, music, cars, and lifestyle brands.

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