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Social Media Ad Budget: Best Practices

John Lahr
March 06, 2017

"It can be difficult to judge exactly how much you should be investing into social media advertising” - Tom Shackleton

One of the most persistent dilemmas facing a social media marketer is how much to spend on boosting each post or campaign.

Your limited budget is already split up between several different areas of marketing (like SEO, email, display ads, etc). You want to ensure what you have allotted to social promotion is spent effectively and wisely.

According to Buffer’s Kevan Lee, most companies spend around $200-$350 per day on social media (“You Have $100 to Spend on Social Media Marketing. Here’s One Way to Spend It”).

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of devoting more budget and resources to promoting your content. Here, we talk about the best practices for that social media advertising budget.

How do you determine how much to put behind each post?

This post will outline using your metrics, industry data, targeting, and messaging to get the biggest return from your promoted social posts.

use historical data to prioritize spending

Use your social media advertising data to prioritize spending.

Start by looking at past results. The data you have from previous social media marketing campaigns will help inform future promotions.

Which social networks send the most traffic to your website? Which have the highest conversion rates? Where your audience has engaged with ads in the past is a great indication of which networks are effective.

Don’t just take a look at where your social promotions were successful. Also consider how much budget you allocated and how it was used.

Did you spread the full budget evenly across each post? Did you put all or most of the budget behind a single post? Was there one or a few posts that performed better? Use past success as a model for future spending.

Look for patterns in high-performing posts to help identify the types of post, content, and other variables that help increase engagement.

use industry data to identify trends

Use industry data to see trends

Another metric to use to determine where to spend your budget is the industry.

While different sources differed slightly, generally, the ranking of social media channels by ad spend is:

  1. Facebook
  2. YouTube
  3. Instagram
  4. Twitter
  5. LinkedIn
  6. Pinterest

In “Social Ad Spend Surpasses TV: New Research,” Michelle Krasniak argues “Facebook is the obvious choice when deciding where to put your social media marketing ad dollars, simply due to the sheer number of people utilizing it.”

Where reach is your primary factor, Facebook should be your top choice.

But you should keep targeting in mind (more on that later). Does your target audience use Facebook? Would your message fit into the context of Facebook? If your messaging seems out of place or interrupts, it will have a negative impact.

Another factor to consider is competition. With so many other brands putting their budgets toward Facebook ads, could you stretch your dollar further on other networks? Sometimes it is better to zig and let everybody else is zag.

“Today, if you're a marketer and you want results, you usually get a better outcome buying inventory on Facebook than you do buying inventory on the open internet. However, we've seen Criteo demonstrate that through thoughtful inventory curation, the application of machine learning, and a focus on e-commerce, you can get outstanding results on the open internet.” - Benedict Evans

Don’t forget Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Periscope, and other platforms.

track the competition to take the lead

Track the competition to get the upper hand

Where your competitors are spending money can also inform your social advertising strategy. Monitoring what they are doing can give you ideas for what to do next, identify gaps you can fill, and indicate trends they’ve uncovered in their own research.

How do you know they have promoted a post? “If any of their posts have an unusually high rate of interaction, this could be as a result of the post being boosted,” explains Tom Shackleton in How to Set the Right Social Media Advertising Budget.

So far, no tools can accurately determine how much your competitors are spending on a post (but we are working on it!). But even knowing the exact dollar amount will not make a great difference if you have different goals or targeting.

Instead, pay more attention to the networks they have chosen, the types of posts, and content. Usually, their strategy is based on their own data or research.

use targeting to reach your audience

Use targeting to reach the right audience

Once you’ve identified which networks on which to advertise, make sure you optimize your targeting for the biggest impact.

Casting a wide net is a waste of money because you’ll pay for wasted impressions and unqualified leads.

Smaller, more targeted audiences will mean your budget lasts longer, and you will reach users who are more likely to convert. Your targeting should be based on your buyer personas.

How to set up targeting

Don’t use the automatic settings on ads platforms - they will not give you the best results. Educate yourself on how to best use the platform. I’ve included some resources to help you use advanced targeting on each platform:

> The Social Media Advertising Beginner’s Guide for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn from Buffer

> Optimize Your Social Media Ad Spend With Advanced Targeting Options from Kissmetrics

> The Lowdown on Instagram Advertising from DMA Solutions


Benefits of different platforms

  • Facebook: has the most targeting options. Use Custom Audiences to retarget leads or website visitors and create “look-alike audiences.”
  • Twitter: offers Tailored Audiences (under Audience Manager in Tools menu) where you can upload an email list, website visitors, and specific twitter profiles to target.
  • LinkedIn: Targeting is more specific to occupation, industry or company
  • Pinterest: Each repin of your ad increases its lifespan

Optimize ad serving with machine learning

Consider using Machine Learning to optimize ad placement

Machine learning can predict when, where, and to whom to show an ad.

“Machine learning as the foundation for matching the right ad with the right person at the right moment, creating a virtuous cycle of better results for marketers, better monetization for publishers, and fewer (but more impactful) ads for consumers.” - Benedict Evans 

With every digital action being captured as data, we can use algorithms to better understand customer behavior - to a much deeper degree than we can as humans. With that understanding, machines can predict when, where, and what to say to a prospect to best drive action. Machine learning enables a level of personalization that was not possible before.

To learn more, check out Wojciech Gryc’s post “A Vision for AI-Driven Customer Journeys.”


Be relevant and offer value

No matter how much you spend or how precise your targeting, social ads will not convert if they are not relevant. The ad MUST be engaging.

Social media’s core use is to connect with a network of friends, family, colleagues, or others who share your interests.

The goal for your presence on social networks should be to create an emotional connection and start a relationship with users. As Neil Patel explains in Social Media Marketing on a Budget: The 4-Step Approach That Works, “the focus is not on getting the sale, but on building trust and your brand reputation with people, so that they buy today, come back tomorrow and tell others about your brand.”

Make sure your ads offer value to the audience.

Informative, valuable ads are even more important with the widespread use of ad blockers. Though less applicable to social networks and apps (for now), consumers’ avoidance of ads is driving a shift towards traditional content marketing.

Take Benedict Evan’s post “The Ad Tech Renaissance”, for example:

“The end of impressions and banners in favor of views and ‘publisher rendered’ (aka native) creative. Of course, this is just a renaissance rediscovery of classical formats - it's how the web worked back in the day. It's a good thing; it brings the open web back to parity with Facebook on the basics, and opens the door for the innovations above to actually work.”

This shift gives the term “social media” an alternate meaning - your content is part of a conversation. And if it it’s relevant, interrupts, or offends, it will be ignored, or worse.

Consider the Mobile Experience

Are people clicking but not converting?

When is the last time you checked the breakdown of devices used by your website visitors?

If you notice high traffic from mobile devices, but low conversion rates, you should make sure your website, especially the landing page, is mobile-optimized.

Even if most of your traffic isn’t from mobile yet, you should optimize your website because it likely will be in the future. Social Media Ad Spending - Statistics and Trends points out “59% of Facebook and 81% of Twitter advertising revenue comes from mobile devices.” That number will only continue to grow. Make sure your website works for those visitors.


evaluate results and make adjustments
Adjust campaign budget and targeting periodically



Monitor and reevaluate your social campaigns regularly to test different networks, new audience segments, and content types.

Eliminate the ads that aren’t generating returns. You can replicate what works and eliminate what doesn’t while sticking within your budget. Invest more in the channels that have lower cost per conversion or higher-value leads.


Deciding how much to spend on promoting social media posts is a daily challenge with several different factors to consider. You can optimize social ads by using your historical data, industry and competitive data, better targeting, and relevant messaging.

The best way to know exactly how much of your budget to spend on each post is to analyze all past post performance, competitor post performance, and industry post performance.

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