Paid tweets, Instagram ads, Facebook ads and more – what is the best route and what do they really do?


Are you confused by the vast expanse of advertising options presented by social media? Are you uncertain as to whether they really work?

You’re not alone.

When payment structures are based on pay-per-click, it creates some distinct uncertainty about the end budget, and uncertainty always feels like it’s going to be a bit of a rip-off, doesn’t it?

Well, fear not.

Here, we aim to macerate the myths, tear apart the terms and get to the nitty-gritty, so that you can make a decision about which option is best for you.

The facts

Social media advertising can be way more effective than traditional print advertising. Think about it – you print off 2000 flyers for your gardening business. That might cost you £30, give or take.

You spend days dropping your flyers through letter boxes (or you pay someone else to do it for you – let’s add another £60 for 8 hours work at min wage).

A week or so later, you get a call – a client has a huge garden to tidy up. They’ll pay you £250 for the job.

Win-win. You get your £250, minus your outlay of £30 (or £90) – everyone’s a winner.

You get a good ROI (Return On Investment) and some new clients who might become regulars.

But think about it. For those 2000 flyers, your comeback rate is likely to be within figures that you could count on your fingers.

The problem with traditional print advertising is that the flyer probably goes straight into the recycling. It does work, but you might be dropping that leaflet through the letterbox of a house full of gardening enthusiasts; they might be on a 6-month long cruise; they might not care about the garden; they might be moving. And if your business sells V-neck sweaters to teenagers, the hit-rate is likely to be even less.

How about TV / radio advertising?

Radio advertising is surprisingly affordable. The rough guide is £2 per 1000 listeners. So, if you run an advert at 10am, when they have 10,000 listeners, a 30-second slot could cost you around £200. If you air your ad on the late show, which might have 10,000 listeners, it might only cost you £20.

Not bad.

But that’s £200 every time it gets aired. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

And what do you do when the adverts come on? Do you listen as actively? Or do you spark up a conversation? Or switch stations?

Yes, your potential reach is much broader, but are they really listening?

Radio advertising works through repetition – weeks and weeks of hearing the same catchy jingle.

So, the outlay for that repetition adds up to a rather hefty amount.

If we are looking at prime-time TV, a 30-second ad is likely to cost between £3000 and £4000. And the same repetition rules apply.

And that’s before you’ve even created your advert.

Social media advertising

This is where things get interesting, and when we compare, we realise that social media may have all of the gifts. But it’s a little confusing for a novice.

Consider the previous forms of advertising we’ve discussed so far:

  • Printed flyers dropped through letterboxes regardless of demographic or relevance. It’s cheap, but the hit-rate is low.
  • TV and radio advertising is transient, there for the air-period, and immediately gone. Repetition works, but that requires large budgets.

Social media, by nature, learn about your preferences. Facebook probably knows more about you than would be comfortable to admit.

When your friend shares a post about the number of people using food banks, and you respond with a “sad” or “angry” reaction, you’re sharing your friend’s fury; you’re joining together in solidarity.

But you’ve just indicated to Facebook how you feel about social injustice.

When a friend shares a video of people falling over and you reply with the “Haha” reaction, you’re sharing the moment with your pal, but you’re also telling Facebook that you take a little pleasure from other people’s discomfort.

This is all dark stuff if you really think about it. You supply preference information many times every day – and not only are you telling Facebook whether you like or dislike something, but you’re also providing an accurate array of psychometric options – how you feel about things on a scale of 1-6.

And it’s not just Facebook. With Twitter, you share your preferences by retweeting and liking; the same with Instagram, the same with Pinterest…

This is Orwellian! This is terrible!

Don’t cancel your social media accounts. Don’t go and live up a tree with no Wi-Fi. This information is precisely what makes social media advertising effective.

Social media platforms know about their users, which means that you can advertise to exactly the right demographic.

You can define that your advert appears in the timeline of people who are within a 20 mile radius and who:

  • buy from ethical traders
  • are prepared to pay more for quality brands
  • attend independent markets
  • enjoy herbal teas
  • have teenage children who go to concerts

The specificity is scary. But amazing. And the more you understand about your market, the more likely the advert landing in their timeline is going to be an active trigger for them to “Like” your business page and start engaging with you.

Do you know your target market?

So, this is all a bit moot if you don’t really understand who is likely to buy, to engage, or to share. Who is interested in your niche product?

Probably the worst answer to that question is “everyone” – because “everyone” in terms of demographics is the equivalent of dropping 2000 flyers through letterboxes. Or airing a 30-second ad to 100,000 people who aren’t listening.

Do some market research

If social media allows you to pinpoint who is going to see your ad so accurately, then do some independent market research to find out the demographic model of your ideal customer. And make every penny spent advertising count.

So, how much does it cost?

Surprisingly, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as you might expect. But, the long and the short of it is that it depends.

It comes down to your required demographic, what you want to happen as a result of your ad and how you define your audience geographically. You’re effectively Paying Per Click.

If you have a very clearly defined demographic within a small geographic area, the concentration of that demographic is likely to be lower than over a broader geographic region.

In a nutshell, don’t waste your budget on people who are unlikely to be interested.


Twitter is surprisingly expensive in comparison with Facebook, which we’ll explore a little later.

Twitter ads work on an auction-based system, meaning that your budget and the nature of your “bid” determines the price of the campaign. There’s no minimum fee for Twitter Ads and you’re only charged when your ad has achieved a predefined objective.

Twitter state that they cannot provide a precise costing for a campaign since it depends on the specific nature of your ad, but you’re not charged for “organic” activity (activity that doesn’t result in an action).


Don’t be. If your objective is to get traffic to your website, you pay for each click to your site and nothing if the Tweet doesn’t result in a visit.

There are two choices – automatic bidding or maximum bidding.

Automatic bidding

This allows Twitter to auto-optimise click bids for the given objective and predetermined budget maximum on the advertiser’s behalf. When automatic is chosen, Twitter will enter your advert into a bid for the lowest price for your selected objectives.

Maximum bidding

This provides the advertiser with the opportunity to manually select how much a lead, a click or an engagement is worth to their company.

Campaign types

There is a selection of campaign types:

  • Website clicks, or conversions. You’re charged per click to your website. All other actions and engagements (responses, retweets, etc.) are free.
  • Followers. If your aim is to gain new followers, you’re only charged for follows acquired as a result of your campaign.
  • Tweet engagement. You’re charged for engagements on Promoted Tweets.
  • App installs or re-engagement. You’re charged per install or open of your app from your tweet.
  • Promoted video views. You’re only charged for videos viewed as a result of your campaign. A charge is incurred where a video is at least 50% in view and has played for 2 seconds or longer, or if the video is clicked to full screen.
  • Awareness campaigns. Driving awareness of your brand, you pay for the number of impressions (appearances in the timeline).

The Pros

Twitter is an open, global network. This gives you access to the world market. You can promote your tweets, your account or become a promoted trend. The average price for a promoted tweet is somewhere around $1.35 per engagement. A promoted trend can cost up to $200,000 a day! But there are 330 million monthly active users.

The Cons

There is a lack of clarity in their payment structure, but 63.5% of marketers consider advertising with Twitter to provide a good ROI.


Instagram is the video and photo sharing platform that has 500 million active monthly users. With a generally younger demographic, it can be a great place for start-ups because users are quick to engage with companies if they offer something a little different.

Instagram ads look almost the same as regular posts, so they feel less invasive on the timeline than other platforms.

Like Twitter, Instagram ads are objective-based and the vast majority of their users access the service via mobile devices.

The pricing structure is similar to Twitter, so we won’t go into that in detail, but you can opt to boost your posts, send followers to your website, increase conversions and get installs of your app.

Instagram provides the ability, like Facebook, to clearly define your audience (Insta is owned by Facebook, after all). You can specify your audience by location, age, gender, language, relationship status, education, financial and work status, where they live, their ethnicity, their perceived generation, their parents, life events and interests, behaviours and connections. In the US, you can also define their political leanings.

So, Instagram instantly feels a little more customisable, and this is what really makes an Instagram paid ad a worthwhile prospect.

You can set a daily budget as well as a lifetime budget, which puts you in greater control over your potential spend. The minimum daily spend is usually around $1.00 (or currency equivalents).

You can set your ad for optimisation, determining who will see your ads, with three options:

  • Link Clicks (the most commonly used), paying for clicks to your website.
  • Impressions, giving your ad the highest visibility, delivered to people as many times as possible.
  • Daily Unique Reach, delivering your ad once a day, although people may see your ad multiple times.

You can also determine your delivery schedule, with a choice of standard or accelerated, and there are lots of visual options that help to make your advert stand out from the rest.

The Pros

You can define your maximum budget. Your minimum daily spend is low – around $1. There are 500 million active users.

The Cons

If you’re aiming your campaign towards the Baby Boomer generation, you’d be better with Facebook. Instagram is very Millennial, but they are the generation who are keen to engage with brands.


Two billion people use Facebook. It’s the party that everyone’s attending and users are highly engaged with content – more than 800 million people engage with a Facebook post every day of the year.

95.8% of all social media marketers around the world said that Facebook provides the best ROI of any social platform.

Adverts are objective-driven, with a similar list of actions to Instagram, with the addition of product catalogue sales, store visits and traffic driving.

The most straightforward Facebook ad contains a single image, some text (limited to 90 characters) and a headline (25 characters). They favour images over text, not wanting to bombard people’s newsfeeds with information. A video ad has the same text criteria with a maximum video length of 120 minutes. Additionally, there are slideshow ads, carousel ads and collection ads, which are all methods of automating a photo album.

Placing an ad on Facebook is simple and mostly self-explanatory. You can define your maximum daily spend in the same way as with Instagram and you can define your demographic to a hair’s-breadth of accuracy. After you’ve determined your audience, they’ll tell you whether your audience is too broad or too specific.

The Pros

Facebook is the big player and they have the most information about their users, allowing you to define who you want to see your advert clearly. It’s supremely affordable because you can set your budget and they’ll tell you how many people that budget will reach. They provide a weekly update regarding your advert’s performance in line with your budget.

The Cons

Perhaps Facebook users are a little savvier to advertising and are possibly more likely to ignore it. Having said that, advertising is chosen for the individual, so sometimes it’s difficult to feign disinterest.

Which is right for me?

If you’re new to advertising, it might be advisable to play it safe and go for one of the options that have a more transparent pricing structure. The fact that Facebook has such a clear understanding of the preferences of its users undoubtedly makes it the most valuable advertising space.

Of course, Instagram is owned by Facebook, but has a slightly different angle on networking because it’s more about people sharing images than text-based thoughts. If your business is visual by nature and appeals to a younger generation, then Instagram might be the best advertising real-estate for you. By nature, Instagram ads are designed to be less invasive, so they offer an excellent opportunity to engage directly with potential customers.

Whatever you choose, make sure that you understand who your audience is and what your objectives are for your campaign.