THE BLOG
12/18/2014 04:25 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

5 Social Advertising Mistakes to Avoid

All good things must come to an end. And sadly, we're nearing the end of the golden age of organic reach. But there is saving grace. And that hope rests in social advertising. I know what you're thinking... "$$$." And while it's true that paid social can be costly, the ability to target specific subsections of your audience -- with content that appeals to them specifically -- is a worthwhile investment.

That being said, that investment is completely wasted if you're not effectively running these paid campaigns. And too many brands are committing grave errors during the process.

Here are the top five mistakes marketers make when it comes to social advertising... and how you can avoid making them.

Watch this video or continue reading.

Mistake #1: Not Running Enough Tests

You can't just put ads out there, sit back and wait for them to work. Social campaigns need adequate planning -- and it's just as much about mathematics as it is about copywriting and design.

You might have an ad that has always outperformed others, supported by five years of data. You may know your social audience inside out -- you know their interests and you know what content they respond best to. It this situation, the temptation is to just keep targeting the same audience segment with the same style of creative using those winning copy lines.

Resist this urge to rely on templates. No matter how experienced you are or how much historical data you have, social media can always throw you a curve ball.

The rule of thumb is to use at least 5-10 percent of your media budget for testing.

If 10 percent testing produces insightful results, step it up and see if you can learn more. Don't go nuts though, as you don't want to fall foul of mistake #2 (you'll see what I'm talking about in a moment).

Whether these tests involve a different audience, alternative copy or creative tweaks, it's about challenging preconceived ideas about what works for your brand, market sector or the platforms that you use.

Mistake #2: Running Too Many Tests

Your first test throws up a gem and your latest social campaign is your best yet. You are sold on testing. For your next campaign, you go all out and variant test 37 different images of horses to 43 audience segments in 36 countries.

Dial it back.

Testing isn't just throwing variants out there and then just seeing what comes back. Depending on the size of your budget, horse image 7B might only be exposed to 17 people in Portugal. Your sample size is way too small. Even if that image wins, you've learned absolutely nothing.

The number of people exposed to each variant needs to be large enough to take randomness out of the equation.

Flip a coin three times and it's quite possible you'll get three heads. Flip a coin 100,000 times and it's very hard to deviate very far from a 50-50 split of heads and tails. Having a big enough sample size is the way to ensure that your results aren't just a fluke.

Sample size is a whole subject on its own that we can't cover here, but for practical use you want to keep your sample sizes as large as your budget will allow. Although a sample of 400 will give you reasonably reliable results, 1,000 would be better, 10,000 would be even better, and so on. The larger the sample size, the more confidence you can have in your results.

Testing is essential to social advertising success. But don't go wild and start throwing money away on weird targeting options or an insane number of designs. Move slowly and iterate from your best performers. Then, when you have statistical proof that a variant is working, you can commit more spend to that variant.

Mistake # 3. Confusing Correlation with Causation

You have analyzed the data and found that the R coefficient is close to one (this is "nerd talk" for a perfect positive correlation between two sets of data). But did you really isolate every single factor and ensure that no other variables played a role?

If there's one thing that everyone should know about correlation, it's this: correlation does not equal causation. Just because things are associated, you can't infer that one causes the other.

Marketers unfortunately still see a statement like: "There is a correlation between using our social media tool and increased car sales." And interpret its meaning as: "Using our tool will get more people to buy cars."

That's simply not true.

Always ask yourself what other events could have influenced the relationship between data sets A and B. Then test against those other variables. While this will help, also keep in mind that you can't prove causation without conducting a proper experiment that isolates all of the variables.

Mistake #4: Not Monitoring Comments Under Unpublished Posts

Your customer care team is doing a stellar job -- all incoming messages from Facebook and Twitter are processed and dealt with in a timely manner. But then, for some unknown reason, customer satisfaction plummets. Why?

Dark Facebook posts or unpublished tweets are the culprits.

Unpublished posts are fantastic -- they let you test content without showing these posts to your entire audience. But there's a problem when one team (or agency) runs your paid and a separate team/agency handles the day-to-day community management: neglected comments. These dark posts still get shares, likes and comments, but nobody is monitoring them because they don't fall under organic activity on Facebook and Twitter.

When customers reply to your paid content on social channels, they expect the same responses as your normal posts. And if you neglect them, they'll be just as unhappy. Their experience with your brand is tarnished as a result.

There is a simple fix for this dilemma: use an integrated paid social platform. That's a fancy way of saying that you should make sure your social media management software can also house your paid social activities. This ensures that all engagements are routed into the normal workflow. A comment on a dark post will find its way to your community managers and receive the necessary TLC. Regardless of the channel (organic or paid), you want to deliver the same positive brand experience for your customers.

Mistake #5: Doing Everything Manually

You probably have the best paid team out there. They don't even mind working nights and weekends. But this doesn't mean they should. Manual tasks that don't require human skill shouldn't be done by humans.

You don't need someone to constantly check the performance of campaigns, or wait and see how organic posts perform, before you adjust your spend. If you have certain parameters (e.g. engagement rate) that you are waiting for these posts to hit, you can preset these and then automate the process using workflows in your platform. And frankly, you should.

In the time it takes to pull reports, analyze them, then argue back and forth as to whether you should boost a post... that post might not even be relevant anymore. You've missed your opportunity.

Let your paid platform automate as many tedious tasks as possible, so that you can save your team valuable time and brain power.

But... it's important to not blindly promote posts based on engagement metrics. Sentiment must be taken into account. One post might have a higher engagement than the other one, but there could be more negative comments than positive on the first one. Your automation platform must be sophisticated enough to take sentiment into account.

Paid media strategies are a part of the overall brand experience

Optimizing your paid social benefits your brand financially -- ensuring that your dollars aren't wasted. But more importantly, it'll also help you create better and more consistent brand experiences. Simple tweaks like resolving dark posts in the same environment as regular posts go a long way in showing your customers that you're there for them at every touchpoint.

If you want to dive deeper into the topic and the "how-to" magic behind smart paid social strategies, download this e-book "Everything You Need to Know About Paid Social".