Over two-thirds of business-to-business (B2B) marketers worldwide allocate and invest dollars in social media advertising. They’re going beyond status updates or having a business page and actually using the platforms to create display ads that drive their audience to some sort of an offering, be it a piece of thought leadership (e-book, white paper), educational opportunity (webinar or group call) or their actual product or service.  

In research done by Regalix in the fall of 2016, those marketers were asked to identify the platforms with the best ROI, and interestingly, there’s been a shift. In the 2015 research, LinkedIn was the clear winner. But in 2016, Facebook and LinkedIn were tied for the most effective platform. They scored significantly higher than Twitter, YouTube or any of the other options.

On a broader scale, research done last March showed that when all marketers were surveyed, Facebook was the clear front-runner over any other platform by about a 30 percent margin.  

Those numbers vary pretty dramatically when you contrast them against talking to marketers who simply have a presence on social channels. They are much less confident in their ability to demonstrate ROI, at least in the short term.

Don’t get me wrong. Businesses need to be visible and findable, and in almost every incidence, social is going to be a part of that mix. You just have to match your expectations with the activities you are investing in on a consistent basis.

Posting content, creating a community and sharing your own thought leadership pieces are all very important, but they’re brand-building activities versus lead generation activities. Can you measure the success of a brand? Absolutely, but you have to be willing to invest in research to set a benchmark and then go back and repeat that same research over time to measure shifts and the impact of your efforts.

If you want to build your brand, nurture your community of raving fans and have a consistent place to connect with people — post, update, tweet and share. 

If you want to generate leads, trials, opportunities to sell or sales, then you’re probably going to need to invest in some actual advertising. You can’t count on your audience to make the leap from chatting with you to buying from you without asking for the sale.

If you want to augment your brand work on social channels with some paid advertising, there are some best practices you should consider.

Size matters: But in this case, it’s not the bigger is better syndrome. When it comes to social ads, smaller and more narrowly focused ads perform much better. Relevance is the most critical element of any digital ad. You have a split second to catch your intended audience’s attention, and if your headline is not hyper-targeted, odds are you are going to get ignored. 

A picture is worth a thousand words: If it’s the right visual. Do some simple AB testing to get clarity on which image captures the attention and clicks of your audience. Don’t make an assumption here. It can cost you plenty!

A warm audience wins: It only makes sense that the people who already know you are more likely to engage with your ads. Create that community on your page, and then begin to offer them other opportunities to sample what you have to offer.  

Button, button, who has the button: When you’re creating Facebook ads, you can choose from several buttons (shop now, learn more, etc.). When it makes sense, use one of the buttons. The clear call to action of the button makes a significant difference.

Want to drive leads for your business on social? It’s a smart, effective choice for many organizations. But just remember that it’s not a free ride.