Promoting Content on Social — The What, The Why, and The How


On social media, we've been seeing massive declines in organic reach, which has been resulting in equally massive increases in social posting. But posting more frequently doesn't automatically mean a growth in engagement — in fact, it's almost the opposite. It's time for brands to stop focusing solely on organic reach, and start investing in the things that will actually grow their followings: promoted social.

The Current State of Social

We're investing more in content now than ever before. In fact, content marketing spend is projected to reach over $300 billion by 2019. But even though we're spending billions on great content, oftentimes marketers don't think through the multichannel promotion, especially on social media.

It's no secret that organic reach is pretty much non-existent these days. In January of 2018, Facebook announced they were going to start favoring friends and family over brands, and brand pages saw a massive decline in their reach as a result. And it's not just Facebook — organic post reach is down to 2% on Facebook, 4% on Twitter, 10% on Instagram, and 20% on LinkedIn. That means if you're investing thousands of dollars in content production and relying on organic social to promote those assets, you're spending that money to reach only 2% of your audience.

It's no surprise, then, that brands refusing to invest in social read the above stats and do one of two things: they stop social marketing altogether because there is no reach, or they start posting multiple times a day to reach everyone. The problem with this approach is that, one: the algorithms reduce your reach the more often you post with little engagement, and two: you're missing the opportunity to reach the 42% of the world that's on social media spending an average of 135 minutes per day there.

And this is why people are saying organic reach is dead. But the issue with this line of thinking is that we've lumped social conversation and social content into one bucket and labeled the entire thing “social media marketing”. Organic reach is not dead – you just need to separate social conversation and social content.

Social media is where users go to have a conversation with your brand. Not email, not phone, not your contact form — they go to your social channels. Fans that interact with a responsive brand on social are 48% more likely to make a purchase, and while they do come to social to complain, they also come to social to engage, promote, advocate and just have a conversation with your company.

The conversations you have directly with customers on social is your organic reach. Your timeline is an ad feed. Great conversation can build more organic reach, and great timelines can generate more conversation — but one requires promotion and the other does not.

Right now, only 35% of all published posts on social media are promoted. If you can accept that conversations are organic reach – your posts are your ads it will change the way you approach social content for the better. You can post less with higher ROI, be more strategic with the content you're producing, and set clear, differentiated KPIs for social content.

Being Strategic with Promoted Posts

Organic reach and our approach to social in general is one thing, but an entirely different problem is how brands are promoting content on social. In a nutshell, it usually involves hitting “boost” and walking away.

If you feel like you haven't seen a lot of success with your promoted content, you're not alone. Most brands report that they've increased their investment in promoted content, but have not seen an increase in interactions. The key to seeing the ROI you want with promoted content is to be just as strategic with timeline posts as you are with your other digital ads. If you frame a strategy around the audience needs on each platform, understand the intricacies of each channel's algorithm, and produce the content that performs well there, you can dramatically improve the performance of your promoted posts, and your content marketing in general.

The audience on each platform and their reasons for being there are so different that you can almost consider each social media channel as a separate entity. Outlined below are the top considerations to keep in mind when promoting content on each social channel, and considering these points before promoting posts will give you the foundation you need to see results from your sponsored content.

Promoting Posts on Facebook

Why: Looking at our own data, we saw 92% of our Facebook reach in the past 6 months came from paid promotions, and the profiles we manage that promote posts had 536% more engagements than those that do not. Facebook has the lowest organic reach of all social channels today, so if you want your content to be seen, you have to promote it.

Who: Facebook has the largest reach of all social platforms. Although it skews younger, as most social channels do, you should really consider promoting content on Facebook if you're trying to connect with B2C consumers in any age range.

What Works: The Facebook algorithm cares about three things: the content type, the active interactions (sharing and commenting), and the audience targeting. Videos generally get higher reach than anything else, but a solid headline on a link post or an engaging photo can trump video reach if the content is better. Right now, Facebook cares most about the content that's sparking conversation, so determine which content you're sharing generates the most conversation for your brand and concentrate on producing and promoting more of those posts.

How: Facebook is a double-edged sword — they give you the lowest organic reach, but the highest amount of targeting options. Driving results with your promoted content on Facebook is all about setting the right target audience.

  1. Start by considering the goal of the content. If it's a blog about a trending topic your audience is interested in, use a campaign goal targeted for impressions and keep the audience broad. If it's a website page comparing you to a competitor, set the campaign goal for clicks and target users who know your brand well but haven't converted yet.

  2. Align the goal of the content with the topical elements of the post. Once you know the goal of the content in your post, set your audience by using the key elements of your target customer, and laying on specific interests based on the content in the post. For example, if you've written a blog on the challenges with cyber security and bitcoin for a payment processing client, it would be an awareness piece and you would target users in your audience demographic (the region you serve, the age of your typical client, the education of your typical client, etc.) and layer on interests such as bitcoin, payment processing, technology, etc.

  3. Leverage your own data. Facebook is taking away a lot of their 3rd party data over the upcoming months. To combat this, start leveraging lookalike audiences and your retargeting data to keep your CPC's low. Take the cybersecurity article as the example, if you start with a lookalike audience based on other users who have visited your site, then layer on the available demographic and interest data, you'll be targeting more qualified users which can drive up your relevancy score and drive down your costs.

Sponsored Tweets on Twitter

Why: There is less competition on Twitter. Ad spend reached $2.4 billion in 2017. For context, Facebook is at $39.9 billion.

Who: Twitter is a place where you can reach users in the 18 – 54 age range interested in keeping up with the latest industry news.

What Works: Twitter cares about recency, engagement and relevancy. In the past, we've seen the reverse chronological feed, but since Twitter introduced their algorithm in 2015, they've evolved and now have Ranked Tweets and In Case You Missed It above the chronological feed. This means, when sponsoring posts, content that's more likely to drive engagement with your audience will cost less and perform better over time.

How: Knowing Twitter is all about relevancy and news, the content that will perform best on this channel are the posts that are timely and topical. If you frame sponsored tweets and content around what people are going to Twitter to talk about, you'll be aligning with the mindset of a Twitter user, rather than forcing your brand in front of them.

The good news is that every month Twitter gives us the data we need to build relevant sponsored tweets. Use the Twitter Marketing Calendar to drive campaigns or consider the big topics relevant to your industry throughout the year and build sponsored tweets around those.

Sponsored Posts on LinkedIn

Why: 61 million LinkedIn users are senior level influencers and 40 million are in decision-making positions. Especially if you're in B2B marketing, sponsoring content is a cost-effective way to reach your audience.

Who: LinkedIn users are primarily professionals in the 18 – 49 age range.

What Works: If you think about why you go to LinkedIn, it's easy to know what works: career guidance, industry news and thought leadership. LinkedIn is a little different than other social channels, in that they'll immediately show your post to a fraction of your audience, and then increase your reach based on their reactions. Make sure you're auditing what's driving engagement and producing similar content over time to get the lowest cost and highest reach with sponsored posts.

How: Similar to Twitter, you can see great results with your sponsored content on LinkedIn if you think outside the box. Use tools like BuzzSumo and Ahrefs to research what industry content drives users to share and integrate related topics into your strategy. Once you know that, build content around those themes. Sponsor posts and target users with the job titles of your target audience and with LinkedIn's lookalike capabilities.

Sponsored Posts on Instagram

Why: Looking again at Nebo data, an Instagram account we manage saw a 42% increase in impressions and a 70% increase in engagements after consistently promoting posts. Instagram is owned by Facebook and they're also becoming a pay-to-play content platform.

Who: Instagram skews young – focus on this platform If you have beautiful imagery and are trying to reach users who are 18 – 35.

What Works: Unlike all other channels, Instagram cares about how you engage with followers just as much as how followers engage with you. If you're going to invest in promoting content on Instagram, make sure you also have a resource dedicated to interacting with your community on the channel.

How: We've seen great success by allowing users to organically interact with content for the first 24 hours and then promoting the strong performers. Although we understand our initial reach will be low, we know content that drives a small portion of followers to engage will be positioned well to drive awareness for the brand with users who are not following.

Sponsored Posts on Pinterest

Why: Pinterest consistently drives 70% - 80% of social direct revenue for our retail-focused clients. It's a great place to market your brand if you're in e-commerce or looking for direct-response ROI from social.

Who: Like Instagram, Pinterest also has the highest percentage of users in the 18 – 29 age range.

What Works: You should think of Pinterest as a search engine. It's a platform where you have the most direct control of your reach because common SEO factors like title, description and keyword tags can increase your organic reach substantially. Also, unlike all other social channels, pins age well — you can promote older content or watch content get additional reach over time.

How: Think of Pinterest as a never-ending throwback Thursday — promote, repromote, and focus on continuously advertising your top performing ads over time.

Strategically Promoting Content

In the end, effectively promoting content comes down to two things: know the audience and know the channel. If you focus on the channels where your target audience spends their time, craft content the algorithm prefers, and accept that promoting posts should be the foundation of your social content strategy, then you will ultimately be more effective with your social budgets and see a greater ROI from your overall social media marketing efforts.

A Message to SMX London Attendees:

This content is based off a presentation I gave at SMX London in May of 2018. If you're here for the resources mentioned in the presentation you can find those here:

To download the full deck, click here:

Written by Sarah Lively on May 22, 2018


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