We Live in a Pay to Play World—Let’s Embrace It!

Only five percent of your Facebook page audience sees your organic content, and it’s been that way for a long time. It’s time for social media managers (and their bosses who hold the purse strings) to recognize that social media—like all other media—isn’t free. Even $10 can make a difference on Facebook. This was the thesis of the #MCS5 presentation from Abby Meyer, Web Content and Social Media Specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical. This tweet from Melissa Beecher pretty much sums up the reaction from attendees.

Strategic Argument For Paid Social Promotion

Abby shared a simple truth to describe the chicken-and-egg situation that is Facebook reach: “Engagement breeds further reach, and reaching more people breeds engagement.” Unless you have a firecracker of a post or an incredibly large audience, your content will not reach enough people organically. Paying just a few dollars to promote it can kick off this virtuous cycle. This is incredibly important for smaller schools (the Facebook page that Abby manages for the University of Nebraska Medical Center has 14,000 followers).

Promoting a post (or “boosting” as Facebook calls it) should not just be automatic—it should be strategic. Adding dollars to a post allows you to target specific audiences (based on Facebook algorithms, identified interests, locations, or custom contact information you provide). For example, Abby promotes all of her #HumansofUNMC posts with just $10. For her, that upfront investment serves as a literal “boost” to get the posts in front of people who are likely to engage, and then that engagement breeds organic reach. She regularly reaches an audience with this series that is larger than the audience of the Facebook page.

Smiling doctor waving at the camera, telling the story of how he helps kids with cancer.
Understanding Facebook’s Advertising Terminology

Not every Facebook post promotion is the same, even though they have very similar names. Boosted Posts appear on your Facebook page, and can be boosted directly from your page using the blue Boost Post button in the bottom righthand corner of each post. This is the most basic form of advertising, meaning you are somewhat limited in your options, as you can see in the handy chart Abby created for us.

Feature FB Boosted Page Posts Boosted Post Ads Facebook Ads
Appears on FB Page Yes Yes No
Location Targeting Yes Yes Yes
Age & Gender Targeting Yes Yes Yes
Interest Targeting Yes Yes Yes
Language Targeting No Yes Yes
Behavior Targeting No Yes Yes
Ad Scheduling No Yes Yes
Call to Action Button No No Yes
Optimized Bidding No Yes Yes
Multiple Images No Yes Yes
Instagram Ads No Yes Yes
Righthand Side Ads No Yes Yes
Objective Choice No Yes Yes

Boosted Facebook Ads are boosted posts on steroids. They’re ads with the same concept as a boosted post, but with more options available for scheduling and targeting. These are developed in the Facebook Ads Manager, which anyone with a company page can have access to and should definitely be using. Facebook Ads are “dark ads.” These do not live on your Facebook page, and are only seen by the audience you designate—but they can be designed to look like a post from your page.

The Majority of Higher Education Institutions Use Paid Social Promotion

According to the 2017 Social Campus Report from Hootsuite, 67 percent of institutions are currently using paid social media in some capacity. However, only 37 percent of those institutions have invested time or money in any sort of platform to manage their ads (even something as simple as the Facebook Ads Manager). There’s clearly some room for institutions to be more targeted and strategic with their paid social media promotions.

Strategic Paid Social Media Promotion

Here are Abby’s tips to design your paid social media promotions:

  • Know your objective. It will fall into one of three categories: awareness, consideration, and conversion.
  • Select your audience based on demographics and interests.
  • Pay for what works organically to see even bigger results (at UNMC, you can never go wrong with puppies dressed in lab coats).
  • Promote specific hashtags to encourage engagement in real-time at events. It may make sense to promote a hashtag on Facebook to your audience that you know will be at the event, even though they’ll actually be using the hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.
  • Target people who aren’t likely to be a part of your Facebook audience in special circumstances (i.e., athletes for a fundraising run, community members for rec center memberships, the general public for brand awareness).

    Calculate Return On Investment (ROI)

What really made Abby’s presentation stand out was her clear argument for ROI. One example was a general brand awareness campaign that brought attention to the value UNMC provides to the state during the season when the legislature was working on the budget. In 2016, the campaign was conducted via print and radio and saw dismal results. It’s not surprising when you think about it—the call to action in the ads was to visit the campus website for an overview of Nebraska initiatives. When people are listening to the radio while driving or reading a newspaper, are they going to remember a URL and be able to regurgitate it the next time they are online? Even when it’s a vanity URL, UNMC found the answer to be no.

Facebook ad: UNMC is fighting cancer and creating jobs with the new Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center opening this year

So in 2017, they cut the budget in half, and completely replaced print and radio with digital and social ads. A well-constructed branded ad ran at a rate of $300 each week in Facebook, and $300 each week in Twitter. The results were, in Abby’s words, “incredible.” She reached between 30,000 and 40,000 people per week on each platform, averaging 1,000 link clicks per week on each platform. They had to put significant dollars behind the campaign, but it just made more sense to reach their audience digitally for this message. Their target audience is one click away from learning about why UNMC is so great, rather than hopefully remembering the URL later.

Abby shared many more examples of social media promotion resulting in clinical trial participants, recreation center residents, and even new student applications—all clear ROI. The audience was thankful for the info, and for the chocolate she handed out to participants. :)