Carsen is a digital marketer by day and a digital DJ by night. He has a great love for travel and adventure, connecting with new people, and spinning out only the funkiest of beats. No matter if he's marketing or DJing, Carsen has a talent for making people smile.

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Paid Social for Direct Response Marketing in 2016

Much Has Changed

If you would have asked me 3-5 years ago if Social Media Advertising was a good channel to drive online sales, registrations, or user actions, the answer would have been a resounding ‘no’. Much has changed in recent years. Facebook has added a tonne of new ad formats and many of the other networks have followed suit. Social advertising has evolved from an awareness/engagement play, to a hybrid channel where both awareness and Direct Response (DR) objectives can be satisfied. But how has this come to be?

Social Media Advertising for Direct Response Marketing

In this post I’ll explain how social ads have evolved making them more effective for DR, I’ll touch on some of the great new products available, and I’ll even drop some knowledge on how to do it right.

You ready? Let’s do it!

The Evolution

We used to reserve DR strategy for channels like Paid Search and Remarketing because these users, by definition, are already actively looking for your product and are definitely in the market. Beyond these qualifiers, Paid Search and Remarketing offer targeted reach (with the ability to scale for the most part) and trackable performance metrics that can be used to optimize.

The initial challenge with social advertising is the user is not actively looking for your product, but rather, is interrupted within their social feeds with your ad and messaging. Though this used to be a deterrent from using the social space for DR, advertising has become more of a commonplace in Social Media, and is now generally accepted as a part of the social landscape.

As social advertising evolved and became part of the networks’ fabric, the ability to target in new and exciting ways moved us toward true audience targeting and profiling. This ability to target an audience with such granularity allowed marketers to serve highly relevant ads, to a well defined audience. The more relevant the ads became, the more likely the user was to take action, and this is what truly began to transform the paid social space.

The next big advance came from the ad formats themselves. Social ad inventory a few years ago was limited to small, display type units, which had limited effectiveness. Today we have an array of formats to choose from and each unit is geared and suited for very specific objectives. I’ll speak to this in more detail in the next section of this post.

Beyond the great new ad formats and advanced audience targeting techniques, an elevated understanding of how to leverage these elements to produce the DR results has come to fruition. Social Media Advertisers are now well equipped to leverage Social with a Direct Response focus.

The Players

Here at Vovia, we have had the pleasure of running many campaigns, on many social platforms, with a variety of clients and verticals. Through this experience, we have seen first hand how effective strong social advertising can be. Full disclaimer, you are going to get a range of engagements through running social advertising that are not necessarily considered DR (social engagements, impressions, etc.). This is why we still consider Paid Social to be a hybrid platform. That said, here are a few of our favourite hybrid/direct response social products currently available:

Facebook – It’s no secret that Facebook is paving the way in the social advertising space. It was the first platform to offer Social advertising and is continuously developing new and innovative ad products. The targeting on Facebook is probably the most robust of any digital ad platform and the mobile, in-stream units can be incredibly effective. Here are a few of our current faves:

  • Lead Generation Ads – Facebook lead gen ads were developed to “make it easier for people to fill out forms”, and subsequently for marketers to gather email addresses and phone numbers and such. This product auto populates the user’s email address and builds a database of leads that the advertiser can download at their leisure. We’ve been seeing great results from this one, particularly for our home builder clients.
  • Carousal ads – Carousal ads are fantastic if you have a variety of products or services that you would like to promote and specific landing pages for each. This one tends to work very well when a measure of subjectivity is involved with the purchase. For example, the same general demographic and psychographic clusters may have very different taste in furniture. Even though these people look the same on paper, serving them a living room ad with contemporary styling may appeal to one, but not the other. The Carousal ad unit solves this to a degree as you can essentially serve 5 different ads, leading to 5 different places on your website to the same audience set. This pairs up nicely with DR because your ad will be relevant to 4-5 subsets of your segment, and increased relevancy always means increased effectiveness.
  • Website Click Ads – Though these ones have been around for a while, they are still proving to be effective. These ones drive traffic to a predefined place on your website, and have a CTA button built in. We like to use this one to push out focused messaging and to promote a singular product or service.

LinkedIn – LinkedIn has really stepped up its game over the past year or so and has opened up targeting and ad formats not available on other platforms. If B2B or ‘professional audiences’ are your focus, this is definitely the place to be.

  • InMail – This is a fantastic new product that allows you to send messages directly to LinkedIn users, without the need to be connected to them previously. Though there is a minimum spend of $15,000 per quarter, this is a great way to reach a well defined professional audience. InMail messages are only served to people when they are actually logged in, and the advertiser is only charged when the message is opened by a user. A few of our education clients have benefited from this one, using the system to drive information sessions and event registrations.
  • Sponsored Updates – Sponsored Updates were designed for content proliferation, story telling, and thought leadership. However, they can also be used for direct response because the click-through leads to a place of your choosing. I would be careful with this one not to make your ads too salesy, but the LinkedIn targeting makes the Sponsored Update a very attractive unit. This one used to require a minimum spend as well, but that has been recently lifted as long as you don’t need LinkedIn’s help.

Twitter – Let’s not forget about the little blue bird that could! Twitter has also evolved its ad offerings over the past few years, although it does feel like they are playing a bit of catch up when compared to their big brother, Facebook.

  • Lead Cards – Lead Cards are Twitter’s lead gen offering and also make the form completion and submission steps as easy as possible. This product works very well for building email lists and for other ‘signup’ based objectives.
  • Promoted Tweets – Promoted Tweets put your message in front of a defined audience and can be very effective if done right. I would advise including a link to your website (since DR is the objective) and also tapping into something that is already trending to maximize the effectiveness. In this way, your message is guaranteed to get impressions and also becomes part of a bigger story, adding timeliness and legitimacy to your message and offering.

The Approach

Even though Social Media platforms now offer Direct Response flavoured ad products, it still fundamentally different than traditional DR tactics and channels and must be executed differently. Here are a few tips to help you do it right:

  • Be Relevant – As mentioned, Social ads are typically interrupting the user in their social feeds, so your ad/product had better be relevant to the audience or it will just annoy or frustrate them. You can address this to an extent with advanced targeting and segmentation, making the groups that you are serving as tight as possible to make sure you are hitting a suitable audience, but you may also need to rethink and adapt your creative for each segment and target.
  • Be Interesting – Blatant promotion will only get you so far in Paid Social. Instead of broadcasting a sales message, try telling a story. Show the user how your brand fits into their lives and inspire them to take action. The more interesting your ads are, the more likely the user will see it, engage with it, and share it out to their networks. This type of consumer advocacy should always be the aim when creating Paid Social content.
  • Be Smart – Segment and segment and segment some more! Then test those segments against each other to find optimal performance. If results are starting to slip, try expanding by adding a new test group. The targeting is incredible on Social and the audience variants are nearly endless. Take advantage of this!
  • Be Realistic – Set realistic goals and expectations when it comes to your social advertising. Can these platforms be used for Direct Response? Definitely! Are they the best channels to achieve your objectives? That really depends on your product, the length of your sales cycle, your audience, and a plethora of other factors. Set clear, measurable goals and benchmark as your campaigns roll out. Also be ready to adapt and adjust on the fly to make sure that your ad dollars are well spent.


Certain social media advertising products have become well suited for Direct Response due to the specificity of targeting, the advanced segmentation of audiences, and the ability to tailor that messaging to a well defined target. In essence, your content can now speak to the individual, which can be a powerful driver of action.

How do you use Social? Have you used any of these platforms or products for Direct Response campaigns? Let me know how it went in the comments below!