Siegel then gave some concrete tips for companies who want to plan and implement paid social campaigns on Facebook.
One strategy is to feed Facebook with data from a company's own customer relationship management system, giving it information on those who signed up for emails from the company. Facebook can find lookalike audiences based on the demographics of this data, without actually knowing who exactly your customers are. "This is a great way to find a new customer base," Siegel says. Facebook then targets those people with your ads.
Siegel also recommends having a testing budget, so that companies can try out different strategies to see what works and what doesn't. She also urged brands to take advantage of very simple to implement features on Facebook such as the call-to-action buttons "Shop Now!" and "Sign Up."
Another tip: Unlike in search, it is important to keep the ad images that run on social fresh, changing them every week if not more frequently.
But Richter warned that the best-planned campaign is useless if there is no tracking or measurement mechanism in place to determine the actual return on investment (ROI) from social spend. She likens a campaign without tracking to playing pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, where brands are just guessing what the results will be.
"You need to track your progress, see what's working in search, and leverage that in paid social," she says, noting that companies should identify technology solutions that tell them how they are performing and allow them to test different features.
Asked by one audience member how to sell a paid social program to skeptical management, Richter recommended using Google Analytics, Bit.ly, or pixel tags within Facebook to tag referrals from social media pages with code that shows where the user came from.
"Make sure paid social is getting the credit, or is becomes hard to make a case for it. Social is not always the last click before purchase," she notes.
Asked about other social media platforms that are appropriate for paid social, Richter commented that Twitter is in particular suited for targeting customers who have been tweeting about a TV show on which they have advertised. "This is a great example of social as an extension of a media plan. We have seen great success in getting people to convert from Twitter and raising awareness of a brand," she says.
Richter and Siegel both agreed that Pinterest shows great potential for the future, but still has work to do in terms of tracking results. But Instagram, they agreed, is woefully behind, as it does not yet allow embedded links that could lead a user to a brand's website.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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