Social Ads

What are Social Ads?

The phrase social ads encompasses any type of paid content that appears on a social media network. For example, a Suggested Post on Facebook is a social ad, as is a Sponsored InMail message on LinkedIn. All the major social advertising platforms offer some targeting options (e.g. targeting users by location, gender, interests), but the exact options will vary by platform and ad type.

Platforms and Ad Types


Facebook remains the largest social media network, with 1.71 billion monthly active users as of 2016. The platform offers advertisers extensive targeting options, including targeting based on demographics, behaviors, and interests.

Photo ads: These can include an image, headline, short summary of the content, and call-to-action button. The exact format will depend on the goal of the ad.

Video ads: Facebook recommends creating video ads that are 15 seconds or shorter for a higher completed view rate. They also recommend creating videos that can be followed with the sound off, as most people consume mobile video without sound.

Carousel: Advertisers can incorporate up to 10 images and links in a carousel ad, which a user can scroll through from left-to-right or right-to-left.

Slideshow: Slideshow ads consist of several still images stitched together into a video.

Canvas: These are full-screen interactive mobile ads that open when a user clicks a corresponding ad in their News Feed.


Promoted Tweets: These appear in the timelines of targeted users at a time specified by the advertiser.

Promoted Account: These are ads that encourage targeted users to follow your brand’s Twitter account.

Promoted Trends: Advertisers can pay to have their Promoted Trend appear at the top of the Trending Topics list.


Instagram is owned by Facebook, so its ads follow a similar format.

Photo ads: Photos can be in square or landscape format and will be interspersed with organic content on a user’s Feed.

Video ads: Videos can appear in a user’s Feed or as full-screen, auto-playing ads between Instagram Stories.

Carousel: Users can swipe to view multiple photos or videos in a single ad.


As a social network for professionals, LinkedIn is a popular advertising platform for B2B companies. Audience targeting options include company size, profession, and seniority.

Display Ads: Multiple sizes and formats are available. LinkedIn only serves two visual ads per page at any time.

Sponsored InMail: Messages are delivered directly to users’ LinkedIn inboxes.

Sponsored Content: This is branded content that appears directly in a targeted user’s Feed.

Text ads: Text-only ads appear in the right column of the page on desktop display.


Advertisers can use Promoted Pins to reach their audiences on Pinterest. There are three main types of Promoted Pin campaigns.

Awareness campaigns: Advertisers pay to get their Pins in front of an audience that hasn’t engaged with their brand.

Engagement campaigns: These campaigns encourage users to click or repin a Promoted Pin.

Traffic campaigns: The goal of these campaigns is to get users to click-through a Promoted Pin to visit a brand’s website.


37% of Snapchat users are between the ages of 18 and 24, making this photo-sharing platform a valuable advertising tool for marketers targeting a young audience.

Snap Ads: These are video ads that appear between Snapchat Stories.

Sponsored Geofilters: Advertisers can develop branded overlays that users can put on top of their Snaps.

Sponsored Lenses: These are branded animated overlays that appear over faces in selfies.

Best Practices for Social Ads

Identify top-performing content before you pay. It’s worthwhile to test content organically on social media before you run ads. This will help you identify the content that is getting the most engagement and may be best-suited for promotion.

Keep mobile screens in mind. An estimated 82% of social media users access their accounts on mobile devices. When you’re designing your ads, you need to think about how they’ll look on smartphone screens.

A/B test ads with a small sample. Before running a full-scale campaign, test two ad variants (for example, an ad with the same image but different headlines) with a small audience to determine which is more effective. Use the winner for your larger campaign.

Keep your audience in mind. Remember that people use different social networks for different purposes, and it may not make sense to run the same ads across every social network.

Target the right audience, but don’t get too granular. If you’ve developed buyer personas for your brand, you can use them to set parameters for who you want to see your social ads. However, don’t get so granular that your ads are only seen by a handful of people.

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