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Paying for Friends: The Role of Social Media Advertising

Paid advertising on social networking sites is a relatively new and incredibly powerful tool, attracting attention from Fortune 500 companies and local social media management firms alike. Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, and recently StumbleUpon have all jumped on the paid advertising bandwagon, but these popular social networks all have very different functions and very different audiences. Which should you use if you want lots of traffic to new content? What about leads? Loyal customers? Buzz? Here’s your basic guide to buying friends!


facebook advertising sign up page

If you’re going to advertise on one social network, it should probably be Facebook. The user base has reached more than 800 million people, literally spanning across every demographic and interest. They offer several avenues for paid advertising; you can advertise a fan page directly, promote a specific article, or spread the word when someone uses your app. Let’s look at the average user on Facebook and how to target them.

Profile of a Facebooker

The average Facebook user is a casual browser. They’re prone to leave their profile window open for hours at a time, occasionally checking up on it and viewing photos and updating their status. They enjoy following big brands that interact with them and run low-level contests for free stuff. They’re online to keep tabs on their friends and play games, so commercial intent is not initially apparent.

Facebook advertising is a long-term investment. Generally, Facebook users aren’t looking at their profile to make a purchase or respond to advertising. To experience success on Facebook, target users’ interests and appeal to their social bent; don’t try to sell to them directly.

Case Study:

One of Facebook’s hallmark case studies for small business advertising is CM Photographic. Utilizing Facebook’s advertising platform, they were able to target their exact demographic; 24-30 year old women that listed their relationship status as engaged. With this targeting, their ads yielded over a 60% conversion rate, turning a $600 investment into over $40,000 of revenue.

Advertising on Facebook

Best for:

  • Engagement
  • Loyal, returning customers/fans
  • Consistent user base
  • Building communities

Less effective for:

  • B2B lead gen/sales


Linkedin Advertising Sign Up Page

LinkedIn is a tall, chilled glass of B2B sales nirvana. LinkedIn boasts over 100 million users, and every one of them created a LinkedIn profile for professional reasons. LinkedIn is perfectly tailored for business to business transactions. Users are asked when filling out their profile if they’re willing to be approached with business ventures. With the extremely high concentration of business decision makers frequenting this network, you can see how nearly perfect it is for business to business sales. And LinkedIn ads make it even easier to find your next client.

The early publicity snafus with LinkedIn automatically using profile information and forcing users to opt out, rather than choosing to allow their information to be used, the ad platform didn’t get off to as glamorous a start as it could have. For this reason, it’s a bit easier to get in on LinkedIn ads. Let’s take a look at the average user of this network.

Profile of a LinkedIn-er

The average LinkedIn user is a mid-level manager and is moderately tech savvy. Of LinkedIn’s 100 million users, 1.3 million of them are corporate-level executives with decision making authority. In other words, it’s exactly what a B2B marketer dreams about when they think things can’t get any better.

Case Study:

LinkedIn has been host to a great deal of business to business advertising, but few have been more successful with branding strategies than Hewlett – Packard. With LinkedIn’s “Recommendation Ads,” HP grew their number of brand advocates from a few hundred to over 2,000 in just two weeks. They also received 20,000 additional followers on their professional company page on LinkedIn.

Best for:

  • B2B lead gen/sales
  • Major business needs, like partnerships, investments, etc.
  • Professional services

Less effective for:

  • Reach – You’re talking directly with professionals, one-on-one; no viral potential


Reddit Advertising signup page

Reddit is an exceptionally quirky community filled with users that can be both helpful and rude. Their advertising platform is severely underutilized in the social advertising world, and this is perfect for marketers like us; they have a healthy user base (well into the millions of visitors) and more pageviews than any other site in the world, save Facebook.

Their advertising model is slightly more complex than others. In short, they tally the total number of bids in their queue each day and splice out the advertising pie based on the volume of cash you’re willing to pump out in a day. So, say there are 10 people bidding one day and they’re each bidding $10 for that day. If you bid $50, you get 33% (50/150) of ALL of the advertising traffic for that day. In other words, if you hit a day with low ad competition or you’ve got deep pockets, this is an insanely great way to get traffic. So let’s take a look at an average Redditor…

Profile of a Redditor

An average Redditor is generally a liberal male that does not react well to direct advertising. He revels in subtle humor, ranging from non sequiturs to inside jokes and widespread Internet memes. It’s tough to reach these users with direct advertising; a history of crafty users conning Redditors with legitimate-seeming hoaxes makes it difficult to promote your product directly. If you have a unique and intriguing idea, however, you can be wildly successful in a targeted subreddit. That, and if you couch it in enough clever in-jokes and trending images, you’ll probably see some traffic anyway.

Case Study:

Reddit’s advertising platform is quite underutilized at this point, but one case study highlights the immense potential for growth and traffic that a Reddit ad provides.

Patrick Avella, a blogger and web developer, tested out the Reddit advertising waters with a small affiliate campaign. With $100 to start, he ran his ad for four days, yielding 58,587 unique impressions, 1,150 clicks and a 37% conversion rate. He had a very targeted campaign that was neatly tailored to attract interest from Redditors, but the numbers are outstanding, regardless.

Best for:

  • Viral content promotion/ignition
  • Traffic
  • Cause awareness
  • Feedback

Less effective for:

  • Traditional marketing
  • Sales


Stumbleupon Paid Discovery

StumbleUpon may be the most underutilized and wonderful advertising platform on this list. StumbleUpon recently passed Facebook as the highest traffic referrer of any website. And, given that StumbleUpon’s user base is significantly smaller than Facebook’s, that says a lot.

The Paid Stumbles platform is simple. There are three tiers of advertising: a “Light” version, a “Standard” version and a “Premium” version. They each cost $.05, $.10, and $.25 per visitor, respectively. Whether you pay for the stumble or not depends on how engaged the user is, and the more you pay per-user, the more likely you are to get engaged viewers (and the more likely you won’t be paying for all of them).

I, personally, am in love with the Paid Stumbles model because it not only gives you traffic from the funds you put into it, but if the paid stumbles you send like your content and thumb it up, you’ll continue to receive referrals from StumbleUpon in the future. It’s an excellent way not only to send a bunch of traffic to a new piece of content or a product launch, it’s also potentially one of the highest-return investments you can make in social media advertising.

Profile of a Stumbler

The average Stumbler is generally one of two things, they’re either 1) looking for some cool new content in areas that interest them or 2) bored and killing time. They’re easily swayed by odd humor (much like Reddit) and pretty pictures. They’re quick to skip over content that isn’t immediately appealing, so you’ve got to capture the Stumbler’s attention with catchy headlines, flashy pictures and unique interactive elements. Appeal to their interest in humor, photography and the unique.

Case Study:

You’ve likely heard of’s financial planning web service and its recent acquisition by Intuit. They’ve been one of the more successful users of StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery platform. After initiating a PD campaign, their average monthly traffic from StumbleUpon rose to over 180,000 visitors, of which only 44% were brought in by Paid Discovery. After their content caught on with the paid Stumbles, the rest of their campaign took off on its own.

Best for:

  • Viral content promotion/ignition
  • Traffic
  • Product launches (if significantly interesting/unique)

Less effective for:

  • Direct sales
  • Conversation


Twitter Advertising Signup Webpage

Hasn’t really found its niche, but if you have a large marketing budget and you’re trying to establish yourself as a brand, Twitter will do wonders for you. Their promoted accounts, trends and tweets allow you to be seen as a credible brand immediately. The barrier to advertising on Twitter is fairly high, as mentioned above, you’ll need a significant marketing budget to be able to take advantage of its paid advertising features.

Profile of a Tweep

The average Twitter user is a multi-tasker, and they tend to be easily distracted. They are generally either tweeting with those who share their interests or following celebrities/big brands. Newsy content does well on Twitter, and it tends to travel quickly. There are a lot of marketers and early-adopters on Twitter, so products and content along a techie bent has the potential to do well.

Case Study:

One of the more successful users of Twitter’s emerging paid advertising platform is Bonobos, an eclectic fashion company. They launched a campaign based on a 24-hour flash sale that was spread through Twitter via a Promoted Tweet. Their sale was a huge success, and Bonobos saw a staggering ROI of over 1,200%. While it’s not yet open to all advertisers, Twitter could be a powerful tool once it enters the mainstream.

Best for:

  • Branding
  • “Get the word out” campaigns
  • Social conversation

Less effective for:

  • Traffic
  • Direct sales

If you’re looking into paid social advertising, I hope this primer has helped! If you’ve already ventured into the world of paid social advertising, tell us about your experiences! Talk to us in the comments.

About the Author: — Mitch Monsen is an entrepreneur with several years of experience creating optimized web content. He operates WhiteFireSEO, a Utah SEO company. He also blogs about SEO, social media marketing and entrepreneurship. For more, follow him on Twitter: @mmonsen7!

  1. Hi Mitch,

    Great overview. Thank you!

    Lynn Bruno

  2. Great review, thanks for sharing.

  3. Tomas Ordoñez Dec 16, 2011 at 9:02 am

    It seems as Linkedin is the only best for B2B. Can you rank the other ones from top to bottom for B2B advertising/reach?

    • I’d put the networks in this order for B2B advertising:
      1. LinkedIn
      2. Facebook (Huge reach, ability to filter heavily for SMB owners)
      3. Twitter (Massive population of marketers, early adopters, techies, and business owners)
      4. Reddit (A few appropriate subreddits for small business owners and the like)
      5. StumbleUpon (Difficult to filter out enthusiasts and target owners/decision makers, even in specific interest categories)

      I hope that helps!

  4. Jeremy Powers Dec 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Mitch – I have been playing with SoMe advertising, both for myself and clients, for about 6 months now. While I think you can buy some quick credibility this way, I honestly have not had a campaign that I felt was more valuable than SEO or even direct marketing.

    Have you had clients that you recommended social advertising over SEO work?

    • I have never recommended social media advertising over solid SEO, but I haven’t recommended just SEO for any client either. Each have their role, and they’re all effective in their own ways.

      Certainly there are some businesses that would benefit less from social media advertising, but the right network at the right time with the right content can be extremely effective. Each has its place, and it varies depending on the situation.

      Thanks for the question though! Glad you enjoyed the post, and I hope it helped you out a little bit.

  5. Social Media Marketing is about observing and influencing the online conversations that are taking place about your business or product. I agree, It’s definitely important to target your key audience in order to have a positive influence on your search engine presence.

  6. Nice post, Mitch – especially helpful as guidelines for driving clients the right way.

  7. I have been reading out some of your posts and i can claim pretty good stuff. I will definitely bookmark your site.

  8. amazing information. Ive been an avid user of stumble for years but never even thought to use the ad’s for my business. I had no clue that their ad setup was so intriguing. I love the concept that you for a stumble but you have the opportunity for endless referrals from that 1 stumble


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