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Social media advertising for small business

As search marketing becomes more and more saturated, many businesses are seeking effective new ways of getting their brand in front of prospective customers online.

One of the options open to small businesses is to advertise on social networks, such as Facebook, instead of just buying Google AdWords.

“The thing about AdWords now, for a lot of industries and a lot of sectors, is that it’s so incredibly competitive – much more competitive than it was five years ago,” says Jane Toohey, strategy director at marketing company Lumino. “Unless you can be very specific about your search term, it’s almost too expensive for small businesses.”

While the idea of advertising on social media is an appealing alternative – presenting the possibility of direct, personal engagement with a high segment able audience – it seems counter-intuitive to many business owners. Why would you pay when it’s free to have a fan page? And who wants to read advertisements when they’re browsing friends’ pages, anyway?

The truth is that social media advertising is fast becoming a vital tool in online marketing, and while it doesn’t replace search engine optimization (SEO) or search engine marketing (SEM) by any means, it’s capable of bolstering a brand in ways that more traditional methods can’t.

Generating demand

The key appeal of social media over SEM or SEO is the possibility of creating demand, instead of simply meeting it.

“When you advertise on the traditional pay per click method, such as Google AdWords, you’re basically targeting people that are looking to fulfil a demand,” explains Quentin Aisbett, director of OnQMarketing.

Another benefit to advertising on social media is the repeated exposure it affords businesses. Most members on Facebook, for example, log in to their accounts daily.

“It’s a platform that can be used to regularly engage people,” says Matthew Craig, creative director at MindArc Digital. “Once a user likes your business page, you’re likely to engage them on more occasions than the person who may have found you through AdWords.”

An AdWords impression might only appear to a user once, as a result of a one-off search in Google. Paid ads on Facebook or LinkedIn repeatedly appear according to users’ interests, and if the ad results in converting them into a ‘fan’, every update posted by the business thereafter appears in the user’s news feed, acting as an ongoing series of touchpoints – much preferable to a single highly targeted impression.

This is what Adam Coward, marketing manager of Rhymes Kids Music Festival, likes about advertising on Facebook.

“With any ticketing event, kids events especially, there’s a level of timing that we need to be considerate of,” he says. A Facebook user might be curious enough to click through to the festival’s fan page, and even if it’s not the right time for them to buy a ticket, Rhymes will still probably get a ‘Like’ out of the interaction.

“That ‘like’ cascades into the social media network, where other people see that person’s approval,” says Coward. “Even if you might not be making a sale now, it gives you the opportunity to make a sale further down the track, so it’s a pretty cost-effective product.”


Social media advertising still has some way to grow as a marketing medium, especially in Australia. Currently, the most appropriate platform for small businesses would have to be Facebook. LinkedIn follows closely behind for businesses targeting other businesses, and YouTube is slowly gathering momentum as video marketing takes off in Australia.

Lumino’s Toohey encourages small businesses to make sure the social media platform they have in mind is actually used by their target audience before embarking on a campaign.

“The first thing they’ve got to do is profile their target market and make sure that who they want to speak to is using that particular medium because they don’t all use the same one,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend social media to anybody until I’d really been sure that their target market was on there.”

Social media allows businesses to segment and target very specifically, so it’s essential to carefully match the product and the tone of the message to the medium in which it’s being marketed.

“For instance, it’s very hard to advertise a business-to-business service on Facebook, but it’s a potential medium for a product, or a fast-moving consumable good,” says Toohey. “In Facebook, it’s about talking their language. They want to be communicated with on their level, they want to build a relationship with you, they don’t want you to be selling them product all the time. It’s more of a social environment,” she continues.

On the other hand, LinkedIn is a much more formal, business-like environment, so advertising should match accordingly.

“You can actually target specific business titles such as marketing directors and CEOs,” says Toohey.

Facebook allows advertisers to target based on location, age, gender, and interests. Businesses enter interests that they want to target, and Facebook matches impressions to users’ status updates and ‘likes’. Ads can then direct to a fan page or to an external landing page. Advertisers specify the maximum price they’re prepared to pay for these specifications, as well as choosing if they want to pay per click or per impression.

Though YouTube is already a household name in Australia, it has yet to take off as an advertising medium for small businesses.

“Video advertising is going to become more and more important,” says MindArc’s Craig, referring to the sponsored videos that appear in YouTube search results. “Understanding the platforms, say YouTube or Vimeo, is probably going to be very useful in the future.”

While many small businesses are yet to see the branding value in using YouTube to advertise their own video content, others are way ahead of the curve.

“We’ve got our own kids’ music channel on YouTube,” says Rhymes Festival’s Coward. “What we see is a massive influx of smart TVs about to hit Australia. With smart TVs comes the ability for people to look at channel 7, or just flick across to YouTube and have a look at any channel in the entire world they want to look at. I can talk to YouTube directly, obviously with my AdWords campaign, instead of having to go through a controlled media like Channel 7 or Channel 9. It’s a new place to be playing, and I think if we don’t skill up in that area, we’re going to be left behind.”

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