Everything You Need to Know About Paid Social Advertising

Back to Blog - by The Digilant Team

At the beginning of 2024, eMarketer raised its forecast for U.S. social network ad spending by an impressive 10 percent. This year, eMarketer now expects social network ad spending to hit $82.9 billion, climbing to $102.9 billion by 2026.

The upswing in social ad spending reflects just how important social media advertising is for brands and agencies within the current digital reality. These days, more than 4.95 billion people worldwide are using social media—more than 60 percent of the global population.

Social advertising offers unparalleled reach and targeting capabilities in an increasingly fragmented and privacy-focused digital landscape. Moreover, with the rise of e-commerce integrations on social platforms, social advertising provides a direct pathway for conversion by enabling consumers to make purchases within the platforms themselves.

With this explainer, you’ll get a complete overview of the current state of paid social advertising: what it is, its benefits, how it’s evolved, and how brands and agencies can make the most of this important tool within their larger marketing strategies

What Is Paid Social Advertising?

Paid social advertising refers to the practice of paying to display ads or sponsored messages on social media platforms to target specific audience segments. These ads can appear in various formats, including banners, videos, or interactive content, and are tailored based on users’ behaviors, preferences, and demographics to drive engagement, increase brand awareness, or promote specific products or services.

Top Social Media Platforms for Advertising

The number of platforms on which brands can purchase paid social advertising has proliferated over the past two decades, and each one boasts unique strengths, audiences, and ad opportunities. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the biggest names in the game.

Facebook: Owned by Meta, Facebook boasts billions of users worldwide, with an estimated 108 million in the U.S. in 2024. The platform offers a variety of ad formats and is an especially powerful option for reaching Gen X and millennials, who represent the platform’s largest audiences.

Instagram: Also owned by Meta, Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing platform known for its visual content. The platform has more than 140 million users in the U.S. as of 2024. While Instagram initially launched as solely a picture-sharing service, the platform later expanded into video and has continuously released new features, including Stories, IGTV, Reels, and Threads. Its popular Stories and IGTV features each present unique highly visual ad opportunities for reaching Gen Z and millennials.

X (formerly Twitter): Twitter, now known as X, is best known for its short text-based updates, which are typically focused on driving timely conversations. While the platform has an estimated 51.6 million U.S. users in 2024 (primarily Gen Z and millennials), usage of the platform has fallen off over the past year in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover and rebranding of the platform.

TikTok: TikTok is a short-form video platform that has gained popularity through its viral challenges and trends. Particularly popular among Gen Z, TikTok has an estimated 108 million users in the U.S. and offers an array of ad opportunities, including shoppable formats. TikTok is particularly notable because of the strength and speed with which it has acquired users; it holds the current record as the fastest growing social platform in history.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn stands apart as a business networking platform for professionals, companies, and recruiters. The platform has 79 million users, including a strong blend of millennials, Gen Xers and Gen Z. Its variety of ad formats are particularly popular among B2B marketers.

YouTube: Owned by Google, YouTube is a video-sharing platform used by more than 241.8 million U.S. viewers. It’s a particularly popular destination for millennial and Gen Z creators, who monetize their work by allowing a variety of ad formats to run alongside, on top of, and within their videos.

Pinterest: Unique from other social platforms, Pinterest is a “visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home and style inspiration, and more.” As of 2024, Pinterest has 87.4 million users, with its top users represented by Millennials and Gen Z.

Reddit: Reddit is a social news forum where content is socially curated and promoted by site members through voting. With 56.7 million users in 2024, Reddit’s top users are represented by Millennials.

Twitch: Twitch, a live streaming service focused on gaming and esports, has more than 240 million monthly active users, 73 of whom are aged 34 and under.

Why Paid Social Advertising Matters

Paid social advertising has become a staple of the modern marketing playbook for a good reason: It works. Due to the logged-in nature of social media platform users, and the level of information they share while on these platforms, social networks know a tremendous amount about their users, and that information can be used when it comes to delivering relevant and highly targeted ad experiences. This is particularly important in light of the forthcoming deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome, now expected to be complete in 2025.

Furthermore, given the active and engaged state that people are in when spending time in social networks, brands have discovered that social media represents a direct-response marketing environment unlike any other. Social media users aren’t just passively observing ads; they’re acting on them—clicking, commenting, sharing, and (perhaps most importantly) buying. That’s why shoppable ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are so compelling. Brands have no trouble seeing the real impact of their social advertising ad spends on their bottom lines.

As with any advertising effort, ROI can vary widely across social media ad campaigns, with returns depending heavily on the tactics, formats, creative, targeting, and platforms being employed. However, when thinking about social media advertising impact at a high level, marketers should keep the following in mind:

While social platforms share a lot of characteristics when it comes to their logged-in and engaged user bases, there are a lot of distinctions among the ad opportunities on each. Let’s look at some examples of ad formats and executions on the most popular social advertising platforms.


Video: Selecting the Facebook Video Feed placement will allow your target audience to see your video ad within their Facebook app feed.

Image: The Facebook Image Feed placement will allow your target audience to see your image-based ad within their feed.

Carousel: The Carousel placement allows you to showcase up to 10 images or videos within a single ad, each with its own link.

Collection: Collection is an ad format that makes it easier for people to discover, browse and purchase products and services from their mobile device in a visual and immersive way.


Video: Similar to Facebook, this placement will allow your target audience to see your video ad within their Instagram app feed.

Image: This placement will allow your target audience to see your image-based ad within their Instagram app feed.

Carousel: As on Facebook, this format allows you to showcase up to 10 images or videos within a single ad, each with its own link.

Collection: As on Facebook, Collection is an ad format that makes it easier for people to discover, browse, and purchase products and services from their mobile devices in a visual and immersive way.

X (formerly Twitter)

Image Ads: These placements allow you to showcase your product or service with a single photo.

Video Ads: These ad units help bring products to life and drive people to a website, app, or simply to engage with your brand’s message.

Carousel Ads: These ad units give advertisers up to six horizontally swipeable images or videos to showcase multiple products or promotions.

Text Ads: With all the elements of a standard post, these simple and native text ads feel like the rest of X content and allow you to expand the reach of your posts beyond your followers to your desired target audience.


Brand Takeover: These full-screen, interstitial ad units appear immediately when users open the app.

In-Feed Video: These immersive, vertical video ads appear in a curated, brand-safe feed for users.

Hashtag Challenge: Brands can create sponsored hashtags to encourage user-generated content, engage users, and attract influencers.

Branded Lens: Brands can create 2D, 3D, and AR lenses that allow users to interact more deeply with content.

Custom Influencers: Influencers can be leveraged in highly customized media executions.


Sponsored Content: Brands can run native ads in the LinkedIn feed across desktop and mobile.

Sponsored InMail: You can send personalized messages, via LinkedIn Messenger, to the people who matter most to your business.

Video Ads: You can engage business decision-makers with video ads in the LinkedIn feed on desktop and mobile.

Dynamic Ads: You can capture attention with personalized ads featuring each professional’s own LinkedIn profile data, like photo, company name, job title, and more.

Carousel Ads: This unit features a swipeable series of cards in a single ad to tell a deeper story, showcase multiple offerings, or provide insights for your audience.

Text Ads:You can drive new customers to your business with LinkedIn’s self-service pay-per-click (PPC) advertising platform.


TrueView In-Stream Ads: This format is best when you have video content you’d like to promote before YouTube and partner videos.

Discovery Ads: This format will play before, during, or after another video and is best when you want to reach viewers broadly with a short, memorable message.

Non-Skippable Bumper Ads (6 Seconds): This format plays in YouTube search results, related video suggestions, and video plays on YouTube watch or channel pages. This format is best when you want to promote a video next to YouTube videos, as part of search results or within other website context from video partners.

What Makes a Successful Paid Social Advertising Campaign?

Successful paid social advertising campaigns will look different depending on the brand, the social platforms leveraged, and the overall strategy employed to reach a brand’s goals. However, there are several essential elements that every campaign needs to include.

Audience Targeting and Segmentation

Audience targeting and segmentation enable marketers to deliver highly tailored messages to specific groups of consumers based on their demographics, interests, behaviors, and more. Effective segmentation helps brands achieve higher conversion rates, improved ROI, and stronger customer loyalty.

Ad Creative and Copywriting

Creative visuals and impactful copywriting work together to differentiate the brand in a crowded social media landscape and evoke emotional responses that drive engagement and action. Well-crafted ads tailor the tone, style, and content to resonate with the targeted audience segment, enhancing relevance and appeal. A strong combination of engaging visuals and persuasive text is crucial for optimizing click-through rates, maximizing conversions, and ultimately ensuring the success of the campaign.

Budget Allocation and Bidding Strategies

In the context of paid social advertising campaigns, strategic budget allocation ensures that funds are distributed across different platforms, ad formats, and targeting criteria to maximize exposure and impact. Effective bidding strategies, whether manual or automated, are crucial for competing in ad auctions, where ad visibility is won based on bid amount and ad quality. These strategies cannot be approached in a haphazard way, and this is an area where partners that specialize in paid social campaign execution can be particularly valuable.

Performance Tracking and Optimization Techniques

Proper paid social campaign tracking involves the use of analytics tools to monitor key performance indicators, such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and ROI. By analyzing this data, marketers can identify which aspects of their campaign are performing well and which need adjustment—be it the ad creative, the targeted demographics, the chosen platforms, or the allocated budget. Regular optimization, based on real-time data, allows for the fine-tuning of campaigns to enhance ad performance continuously. This iterative process ensures the efficient use of the advertising budget and drives better alignment with campaign objectives.

In addition to ensuring the above considerations are fully covered within your paid social campaign planning, there are a few common pitfalls within the social advertising space that marketers need to understand if they want to avoid them. They include:

Inadequate Targeting

A common pitfall in paid social campaigns is either too broad or too narrow targeting, leading to wasted spend or missed opportunities. To avoid this, use platform-specific tools to analyze audience demographics and interests comprehensively. Experiment with A/B testing to refine your targeting criteria based on actual campaign data and feedback.

Ignoring Ad Creative Relevance

Many campaigns stumble because they use generic or unengaging ad creatives. To combat this, tailor your ad design and copy to reflect the unique preferences and needs of your audience. Regularly update creatives to maintain freshness and use engaging, high-quality visuals alongside compelling copy that directly addresses user interests and pain points. It’s also important to employ A/B testing to gauge the effectiveness of different messaging and images in resonating with your target audience.

Neglecting Performance Metrics

Failing to track key performance indicators can lead to missed opportunities and inefficiencies. Be sure to establish clear campaign goals and corresponding metrics from the start. Implement robust analytics to track these metrics in real time, and use the insights gained to make informed adjustments.

Social media and its platforms represent a rapidly evolving space—one that can quickly get away from marketers if they’re not paying attention. When it comes to the minutiae of day-to-day changes with each given platform, it helps to work with experts who track these changes as a part of their core jobs. However, at a high level, brands and agencies should be aware of a few ongoing trends that will continue to influence the paid social advertising space in the coming years.

1. Social as a Search Engine

These days, about 40 percent of Gen Z is using TikTok and Instagram for search instead of traditional search engines like Google. That means it’s absolutely vital for digital marketers to be thinking about social platforms a little differently as they move forward—more like search engines, that is. That means considering nuances such as keywords and metadata on social media posts.

2. Politics and Social

In 2024, politics will influence nearly every aspect of life in the U.S. (and around the world) considering the highly charged election season. In past election cycles, social media has played a prevalent role in political advertising—in some cases, in a highly nefarious way. These days, many of the most popular social media platforms have placed restrictions on what kind of messaging can appear within ads, but there will still be a flurry of advertising activity looking to circumvent restrictions and influence voters within social spheres. This will affect not only ad pricing within social networks, but also social media user attitudes toward the messaging they see in their feeds.

3. The AI Effect

Of course, if you’re going to talk trends in the marketing space, you can’t neglect to mention artificial intelligence. Without a doubt, new AI tools and enhanced capabilities will continue to leave their mark on the paid social advertising space. Emerging tools will aid in not only advanced audience targeting and automated optimization functionality, but also in the streamlined development of creative. Brands should stay abreast of these fast-evolving opportunities to enhance efficiency while also improving and facilitating content development.

Beyond this guide, here are a few tools and resources to help with the planning, managing, and optimizing of paid social advertising campaigns:

By working with Digilant, you are getting an expert team who knows the ins and outs of each social platform. Our team will provide strategy based on your campaign goals and objectives to make sure you are on the right platforms to reach your goals. Our team has weekly calls with each platform to talk about latest updates, campaigns, and any troubleshooting. We can also act as an extension of your team to reach your social goals.

Are you ready to unlock the full power of social media advertising for your brand? We’re here to help. Let’s talk about what Digilant can do for you.

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