What is social media advertising? (Plus types of ads)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Social media advertisements are a valuable tool for businesses looking to expand their reach and drive traffic to their websites. Depending on the target audience a business wants to engage, they may choose a number of different social media platforms. Different advert formats can suit the different social media channels, including photo and video adverts. In this article, we explain what social media advertising is and the different advert formats that appear on various social media platforms.

Related: What is social media management?

What is social media advertising?

Social media advertising is a way for companies to reach audiences online and drive sales or brand awareness. There are many different social media platforms companies utilise for social media marketing. The type of platform determines how companies go about advertising to consumers.

Related: 8 different types of advertising (digital and traditional)

Facebook adverts

Facebook is a broadly popular social media platform used by many demographics. Detailed targeting options are available which makes Facebook one of the most popular options for businesses engaging in social media advertising. The most common types of advert include:

Photo adverts

Photo-only adverts are a favoured format on Facebook. They include 90 characters of text and a 25-character headline. Popular uses include single product advertisements that link to a company's online shop. Businesses can set up an ad using the business manager options on Facebook or pay to promote a post from the company's Facebook profile. A similar format is a carousel advert, which displays up to 10 images in one ad, each with its own link. This is a strong way for a brand to show off a new range or showcase a series of related products.

Video adverts

Facebook allows a range of video ads, including short, looping clips and long single videos. Choosing the most appropriate kind depends on the audience the business wants to engage with. Short clips tend to have better completion rates (more people watch to the end of the clip) but long, detailed videos can also be successful.

Messenger adverts

One of the more niche formats, companies can choose to place ads in the chats tab of the Facebook messenger app. They appear between the existing conversations and can start an automated conversation with a potential customer. The messenger ad directs them to explore a company's website or social media pages.

Stories

Stories are a full-screen format that appears at the top of both Facebook and its sister platform, Instagram. Here users share short, interesting clips that stay live for 24 hours. Brands can pay to play adverts amongst these stories when a user is viewing their friends' stories. These adverts tend to be very short and to the point. The current Facebook ad management system doesn't allow companies to exclusively select to place ads within stories; they're one of many options possible when a business chooses to create an advert for the News Feed.

Related: How to write a social media cover letter (with example)

YouTube adverts

There are different video advert formats available on YouTube, including the option to advertise in banners overlaid onto other videos on the platform. Common YouTube adverts include:

Skippable and non-skippable adverts

These adverts are videos that appear at the beginning, middle or end of a video. Depending on the format a company chooses, it might be a 15-second-long advert that the viewer cannot skip. They could also be an advert that's up to 30 seconds long but which the user has an option to skip after five seconds.

Discovery adverts

This format shows paid-for videos appearing in the sidebar of YouTube, indicating that they relate to the video the user has chosen to watch. The advert appears with a short amount of text that invites the viewer to watch the video. These ads are usually visually rich and are effective at making viewers curious.

Bumper adverts

These appear as banners at the bottom of a video. They can help collect leads, drive website traffic or build brand awareness amongst a company's target audience. A similar format of advert is available on the YouTube homepage, known as the masthead. This appears on the homepage and is visible whilst the viewer spends time browsing and searching YouTube.

Instagram adverts

Facebook own Instagram so there are many similarities between the types of adverts available for companies on the platform. The population demographics who favour Instagram tend to be younger than those using Facebook, so the platform can be most useful to brands targeting millennials, Generation Z and Gen Xers. Just like Facebook, there are photo, video and carousel formats available to advertisers.

Instagram also offers a Stories function. All of these ad formats work in a similar way to those on Facebook, with the exception that they do not have the same accompanying headlines. There's still the opportunity to add a short text caption (up to 90 characters) to help explain the photos and provide a call to action for viewers. There are also some ad formats that are exclusive to Instagram. Common Instagram adverts include:

Adverts in Explore

The Explore function in Instagram offers a way for users to find new and interesting accounts to follow. It also provides an opportunity for advertisers to place themselves alongside the content that's relevant and trending and build a following. Every user is likely to see different content on their Explore page.

IGTV

This is a platform-within-a-platform that allows users to post longer videos. Adverts of up to 15 seconds long, optimised for mobile format can be placed within IGTV videos. Users can connect these to existing videos on Instagram.

Related: Marketing vs. PR: key differences and 10 career options

Twitter adverts

Unlike Facebook and Instagram, the majority of the audience reachable by advertising on Twitter is male. Tweets are short messages of up to 280 characters which can include an image or short video. Brands can pay to promote these tweets, meaning they appear on the newsfeed of Twitter users in their desired demographic. The desired target audience can focus on demographics, location or interest.

For example, a college in Birmingham could choose to promote a tweet to males aged 18-21 in the West Midlands. These adverts could drive the audience to a website or encourage them to follow the brand on Twitter to receive more updates.

LinkedIn adverts

LinkedIn is a professional networking tool, which brands can choose to utilise for professional networking or recruitment stories and adverts. Many marketing, creative and digital agencies also use it as a tool to demonstrate their expertise and find new business. This could be through sponsored content, blogs, images or articles that appear on the front page of LinkedIn or dynamic ads that use algorithms to make a user's profile picture appear within the advert itself. This can be a strong and engaging recruitment tool, targeting LinkedIn users with specific skill sets the company needs.

The platform also provides a mechanism to directly message a user's inbox–either through a chatbot or via a direct message sent straight to the inbox of a carefully defined target audience. For example, an engineering company seeking new employees could craft and send a recruitment message to the inbox of 100 users who list more than five years of relevant experience on their profiles. The algorithms ensure that messages are only delivered to users who are active, so the messages don't sit in an inbox and become dated before they're read.

Related: What is email marketing? (Tips on how to launch a campaign)

Snapchat adverts

Snapchat offers a two-tier system of advertising, for brands to choose the most appropriate depending on their goals and expertise. There's a simple Instant Create service, which allows a brand to take a simple photo or video and turn it into an advert in under five minutes. This can support simple marketing goals like driving web traffic to a new product or service.

For more complex marketing goals, there's the Advanced Create service which factors far more into the audience demographic considerations, along with budgeting and click rates. The primary audience on Snapchat is young people (aged 24 and under) and ads tend to do well when they're short, snappy and engaging video content. The most common Snapchat adverts include:

Snap ads

These are full-screen, vertical ads that show an image or video. Snapchat recommends these be kept to between three and five seconds. A longer-form version of these can appear as story ads in users' Discover feeds. Both formats can include a call to action, such as installing an app or making a purchase.

Filters and lenses

Filters are overlays that users have the option to apply to their images and videos. This can relate to the location, date or a special occasion or message. They help a user to provide context to their Snaps–for example, if they're visiting a particular Christmas market they may choose a filter that mentions this. Brands can sponsor filters to encourage brand awareness when people apply this filter to their Snaps.

Lenses work in a similar way, in that they're overlaid by the user onto their own content. They're more hi-tech than filters, in that they utilise augmented reality to manipulate the image itself. For example, a makeup brand could introduce a filter that lets users try new shades of lipstick. Again the aim is to drive brand awareness by users choosing to organically share the brand's content by applying it to their own photos and videos.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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