A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media Advertising

thought balloons on a black background: social media advertising

Today’s marketers invest heavily in social media campaigns, which makes sense, given how much time we spend on social media networks. The ideal social media strategy typically involves a mix of organic content and social media ads. Here’s how to get started creating social ad campaigns.

What is social media advertising?

Social media advertising is a type of digital advertising that exists on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. These platforms collect large troves of user data, from demographic data and personal interests to clicking and scrolling behavior. They use this data to deliver ads to your target audience.

For instance, you may wish to direct social media users to your jewelry ecommerce store. You can upload your ad to a social media platform and describe the type of user that you want to reach, filtering your audience by location, demographics, and interests. That platform will then show your ads to your target audience for the duration of time you set. You can then monitor your website traffic and lead generation to see if your social advertising meets your campaign objectives.

Social media platforms offer different types of ads to help you reach their users. Here are seven popular formats for social media advertisements:

1. Image ads

These are some of the simplest social ads. They show a static image with descriptive text. On many social media platforms, the image and text contain outbound links to your website or ecommerce store.

2. Video ads

A video ad shows a short video clip along with a text caption. For example, on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, outbound links can appear in the video itself or in the accompanying text.

3. Carousel ads

These ads feature a collection of images or videos that social media users can toggle through. These are popular on Facebook and Instagram, which allow up to 10 images or videos per carousel ad.

4. Collection ads

A collection ad on Facebook is similar to a carousel ad, but it features a primary image, below which appears three smaller images, with the option to expand the ad and view additional product offerings.

5. Dynamic ads

A dynamic social media ad is interactive, which means it changes as the user engages with it. Examples of these social ads include surveys and mini games.

6. Story ads

Stories are short-form pieces of content that appear in a user’s feed for a limited period of time, often 24 hours. Snapchat originated the Stories function that other platforms, most notably Instagram, later adopted. Instagram does not enable clickable links in a user’s normal feed, but it does allow links in story ads.

7. Messenger ads

These social media advertisements appear in Messenger, the popular messaging app from Meta, the company behind Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. These paid ads appear in the user’s message feed alongside correspondence from fellow platform users.

Social media strategy and planning templates

Ready to get started with your social media strategy? These free, customizable templates give you tools to plan and execute a strategy that connects you with your target audience while keeping your content calendar organized.

Best practices for social media advertising

  1. Communicate on a personal level/a>
  2. Use platform tools to reach the right people
  3. Adhere to social media advertising policies
  4. Use a strong call to action
  5. Study the data provided by the social media sites

Small business owners may find that the best social media marketing strategy is markedly different from the marketing strategy you’d use for paid Google ads or SEO. Here are five best practices for optimizing your social media advertisements:

1. Communicate on a personal level

Social media is built on user-generated content, and visitors expect content that feels personal. You can tap into this by using conversational language, as well as photos and videos that don’t seem overly slick and produced.

2. Use platform tools to reach the right people

Social media ads cost money, but you can optimize your ad spend by precisely targeting your ideal customers. Use social media sites’ audience targeting tools to reach your desired audience in terms of location and interests. You can also target users based on their browsing habits; for instance, you can target mobile users by using photos that look good in portrait mode on mobile devices.

3. Adhere to social media advertising policies

Each social media platform has specific rules governing what type of content can appear in a social media ad. Follow these rules to ensure that your ad stays up for the full length of its intended campaign.

4. Use a strong call to action

A call to action (CTA) is a statement that encourages users to do something specific, like click to a website or subscribe to a mailing list. Learn from effective call-to-action examples and include a CTA in your social media campaigns.

5. Study the data provided by the social media sites

Major platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide social media advertising statistics to their partners, showing the click-through rates to your website. Use this data to tweak your ad campaigns and compare different ad types.

Social media advertising platforms

Each social media platform has its own characteristics and core user base. You may choose to advertise on multiple social media platforms at once to extend your digital marketing reach. Here’s a rundown of some of the leading social media sites:


Facebook is the flagship product of Meta, and it has the most monthly active users of any social media network. It collects enormous amounts of user data, which lets you precisely target your audiences. You can create your own Facebook ad campaigns and set your social media ad spending directly on the Shopify platform. You can also use Shopify’s Facebook integration to automatically add and update product information in your Facebook shop.


Video-centric TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform in the United States. Its recommendation algorithm quickly hones in on user interests. A standard TikTok ad appears in a user’s feed and looks like a user-generated TikTok, apart from a small “Sponsored” tag that appears beneath the video’s caption.


When it comes to an active user base, Google-owned YouTube is second only to Facebook. Some people visit YouTube to passively watch videos, but many others actively engage in comment threads and post video responses to existing content. YouTube’s ad suite includes in-feed video ads, bumper ads at the beginning and end of videos, masthead ads, and non-video ads that appear just outside a video window. To advertise on YouTube, you’ll need to create a Google Ads account and choose a target audience, much like you would with traditional Google search ads.


Pinterest is a social media network that offers hyper-curated feeds based on a user’s stated interests. Ecommerce merchants who sell items related to cooking, fashion, home décor, beauty, and handmade goods may have a particularly good experience with Pinterest ads. Pinterest sells ads using an auction system, which can make it tricky to estimate your social media advertising cost on the platform. You may also find that organic posts (those that aren’t ads) can also drive Pinterest user traffic.


Instagram is Meta’s photo- and video-focused social media offering. You can create ads that fit into various Instagram formats, including Stories (self-deleting posts), Reels (videos), and the Instagram photo feed. Many Shopify merchants have written their own Instagram success stories, thanks to the platform’s targeted advertising tools and dedicated user base. You can tailor Instagram ads to specific objectives like lead generation, brand awareness, website traffic, and clicks to an outside landing page.


Although Twitter’s user base is smaller than those of mega-platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, it enjoys cultural currency due to the many celebrities and journalists who choose to communicate on the platform. Twitter’s content is primarily text-based. However, its ad offerings feature a mix of still photos, video, and carousel-style ads that showcase multiple products. You can also use your Shopify store to sell directly on Twitter.


LinkedIn stands out in the social media space for its emphasis on business. Users turn to LinkedIn to recruit for jobs, seek jobs of their own, and promote business-to-business services. It’s a popular platform for B2B advertising, with options that include sponsored content, sponsored messaging, lead generation forms, text ads, and dynamic ads that respond to user input. LinkedIn offers businesses opportunities to tell their company story on the platform. You may want to combine a LinkedIn ad buy with a conscious effort to build a micro-brand on the platform. LinkedIn itself offers online courses for Shopify store owners, geared toward improving ecommerce results through social media ads.

Social media advertising FAQ

How can I target my desired audience on social media platforms?

Reaching your desired audience starts with selecting the right social media platforms on which to advertise. For example, a company interested in B2B sales might do well with LinkedIn ads, given that platform’s business-centric appeal, while Pinterest ads might reach people who enjoy interior decorating, fashion, and travel. Once you’re on the right platform, you can use advertiser tools to target certain users based on their location, demographics, and stated interests.

How do I measure the success of my social media advertising campaigns?

You can measure the success of a social media ad campaign by monitoring traffic to your website or ecommerce store. Focus on customer conversions—the number of site visitors who end up buying something. The platforms themselves do a good job of providing data on user clicks, the number of impressions, and overall user engagement with your ads.

How do I create an effective social media ad?

Creating effective social media ads requires a clear understanding of your product, your target audience, and the ad tools available on each platform. Check out Shopify’s guides for success in creating Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Pinterest ads, YouTube ads, and TikTok ads.

Can I track the conversion rate of my social media advertisements?

Yes, nearly all social media platforms offer tools that let advertisers see the number of clicks an ad yields. To track visitor behavior on your website, including paid customer conversions, you’ll need to install analytical tools that observe a customer’s journey once they’re on your site. You can then discover whether your social media referrals are simply browsing or actually making purchases.

What are privacy concerns associated with social media advertising?

Social media companies collect large amounts of data about their users unless those users ask to opt out of tracking. The upside to this is that data collection allows you to precisely target the kinds of users likely to buy your products. The downside is that users may be uncomfortable with companies collecting data and profiling them to third parties. The industry continues to seek a balance between effective advertising and respecting customer privacy.