In part 1, we talked about how digital ads have both revolutionized how content creators make fans and caused a lot of headaches recently. While it's easier than ever to reach people with your music, videos, podcasts, and merch etc., it's also easier than ever to waste money without getting measurable results.
With the rising costs of digital ads, it's more important than ever to understand and observe your variables. Before we get into the minutia, let's look at some of the primary platforms where you as an individual can run ads.
The Most Popular Places To Run Digital Ads
If you've spent any time trying to grow your online presence, these platforms won't be a surprise to you. Companies like Facebook and Google built their empires on the back of gathering user data and then allowing companies and individuals to deliver targeted ads to these users.
Google (including YouTube) sold nearly $104 billion worth of digital ad space in 2019, while Facebook (including Instagram) sold nearly $68 billion. Other big players include Amazon and Alibaba (largely for eCommerce), Twitter, Microsoft, Verizon, and Tencent.
That means these platforms both have the biggest "inventory" of potential customers (i.e. people looking at content on their platforms) as well as all the biggest companies spending millions and millions of dollars to reach those eyes. It's no surprise that the best place to advertise your content is, well, on platforms where people go to consume content.
This list notably excludes platforms like TikTok and Spotify, but we wouldn't be surprised to see those platforms join the ranks shortly (if they haven't already). Both of those platforms have grown exponentially in the past two years.
Facebook and Instagram Ads
Let's lump these two in together, because even though the platforms and user bases have plenty of differences, Facebook has created an environment in which running ads to both platforms simultaneously is pretty simple. Plus, if you're going to run ads the right way (i.e. via Facebook Ads Manager), you'll be setting ads up for both Instagram and Facebook the same way.
Facebook and Instagram both boast absurd usage numbers in the billions. No matter what kind of content you make, your potential fans are on these platforms. Both platforms have really leaned heavily into video lately, meaning video ads that don't "feel like ads" are going to be your best bet.
But Facebook is still a great place to run "long-form copy" (think paragraphs) and create posts designed to inspire conversations and shares. Instagram is much more about driving mobile actions (particularly with the stories function) and quick and easy commerce (think buying shirts). Instagram isn't really about viral content, but it is a place where younger people tend to spend more time. If you have a super visual brand as a creator, that can work in your favor.
Meanwhile, if your ads are set up the right way on Facebook, there's a good chance they can get shared and go somewhat "viral" with the right push, extending the value of your ad spend far beyond your initial investment.
YouTube and Google Ads
Similar to how Facebook and Instagram are connected, Google and YouTube are also handled via the same Google Ads platform. But unlike Facebook and Instagram, the differences between YouTube and the larger Google ecosystem are stark.
Google as an ad platform is undeniably more complex when it comes to setting up ads. It also typically requires a lot more research into audiences and keywords. Whether you're trying to advertise videos exclusively on YouTube, show up in text search results, end up on websites that show ads, or any combination of dozens of options, Google and YouTube can be a double-edged sword.
In other words, it's probably easier to waste money on Google Ads than most other platforms. But when you get the targeting right, YouTube and Google Ads can deliver your content to interested potential new fans with scary precision.
Platforms On The Rise
While Facebook and Google are the undeniable leaders in digital ads, there are plenty of popular platforms with their own ad services on the rise. As costs continue to rise on the leaders, it may be worth looking into these oft-overlooked services if you have a unique way to utilize them.
That said, you should always approach these platforms with a certain level of caution and a bit of an experimental mindset. When it comes to content creators, so much of our primary offering (the, you know, content) is usually a free good. So when you're spending money to advertise a free good, you definitely need to have a "path to monetization" in mind.
That applies with these platforms, too.
TikTok is definitely one of the buzziest new ad platforms, thanks largely to how quickly TikTok grew during the pandemic and the potential for virality, even within ad content. Of course, one of the potential drawbacks for large companies is how young the user base skews — which typically means they aren't the right crowd for big purchases and service-based offerings.
But when it comes to promoting content and content creators? TikTok is powerful. The ad platform itself has really developed in the past year, too. For instance, creators can now directly promote their native posts as ads and combine social proof (before this, you couldn't even associate your ads with your own TikTok account).
The pixel and conversion technology is still admittedly not as good as alternatives and there is still plenty of confusion about what can and can't be promoted. The platform's policies and guidelines are at times murky. Also, please do not try to promote TikTok content from within the app. As with all the other platforms, there is much more power in creating a proper ad account via their official platform.
But if you're the type of creator who excels at short-form vertical video content, TikTok still offers very cheap traffic to a very willing audience.
Twitter remains one of the most underutilized ad platforms for content creators, despite being fairly popular with livestreamers (especially Twitch), YouTubers, and podcasters. There may be a few reasons for this.
For one, Twitter never really garnered the same reputation as a "tastemaking" social media platform like Instagram or TikTok. Which is a shame, because Twitter can certainly allow creators to showcase their personality and wit while also interacting with other creators, journalists, brands, and personalities. It really is much more about the conversation on Twitter.
That said, Twitter engagement is typically much lower and building an active and engaged Twitter account is one of the most difficult things you can do in terms of popular social media channels. But Twitters is also arguably the best social channel for interacting with contemporaries and fans while also showcasing your "voice" as a creator. The likelihood of going viral on Twitter is higher than most of the other platforms and creating an engaged following on the platform can lead to serious superfandom.
No surprise, but Snapchat also has its own ad platform. And right now, Snapchat offers some of the lowest CPM (cost per one thousand people) of any platform. Which means if your goal is to increase brand awareness among younger folks (especially in the U.S.), you probably want to consider Snapchat — especially if you're already familiar with the platform.
Unfortunately Snapchat isn't as great at things like off-platform conversions. You may see a ton of reach, but relatively little follow-through. That's because Snapchat is such a one-to-one platform that a lot of people get on it as a form of messaging (as opposed to a form of content browsing).
That said, Snapchat does have promising results around apparel and, because content and music ads aren't as popular here as, say, Instagram, you still have an opportunity to be original. Snapchat also offers a pixel for conversion measuring.
Creators with a flair for the visual may find Pinterest ads particularly helpful. Of course, it may seem counterintuitive to use an ad platform where audio isn't a primary factor. But with over 400 million monthly users, Pinterest still provides a really compelling opportunity for creators with direct commerce integrations.
For instance — if you're using Shopify and already have a decent following, Pinterest could provide significantly cheaper traffic to your store than traditional social media ad platforms.
Spotify offers a few different types of ads in its own platform. Some of them are pretty traditional — banner ads, pop-ups, videos ads, and audio ads — and some of them are more directly targeted towards artists. It's important to make a distinction between Spotify's own Ad Studio and some of the beta marketing offers within Spotify for Artists.
In general, Spotify Ad Studio is going to provide you with a lot more options. But it's also tailored towards all kinds of brands, not just content creators.
The big knock against Spotify ads when it comes to content creators is they are, quite simply, more expensive than the alternatives. In theory, you'd think if you wanted to get more Spotify listeners, the best place to advertise would be Spotify. But there are fewer available listeners than you'd think (remember, these ads only appear to Spotify free users or, in some cases, podcast listeners). And it's not quite as easy to "test creative" to see which ad is going to have the best impact.
That said, there are people in certain niches who absolutely swear by Spotify ad studio when it comes to driving streams. Also, even though the minimum amount you're allowed to commit to a campaign is $250, you don't actually have to spend that much. You can turn the ads off before you reach that threshold and will instead be billed whatever you spent.
Yeah, Hulu! The platform became the first "OTT" (over the top, aka video streaming) service to allow self-service ads for any business. Are they any good? Who knows! But the fact that you can even try it is pretty cool, since historically advertising on these types of platforms is an enterprise (and costly) affair.
Right now the minimum spend is $500. But the cool thing is you know people are on Hulu to engage in medium to long-form content. So if that's what you've got to offer, you're already targeting the right kinds of folks. The targeting also allows you to hone in on things like zip code etc. We can't be certain, but it sure feels like Hulu ads may be most valuable when you're advertising live events. Otherwise, the CPM is incredibly high, typically floating around the $35 range.
It's probably not wise to blow a budget on Hulu ads testing. But if you've got a big budget and some location-specific targeting needs, Hulu might just deliver the exact kind of audience you want.
Interstitial, Mobile Gaming, And Smart TV Ads
In addition to all the usual suspects, there are plenty of opportunities to advertise your content on mobile and smart devices. Interstitial ads pop up on mobile phones, usually in free apps. They can be used as a form of pattern interrupt to play your content. Free mobile games also offer advertising opportunities to partners. Likewise, plenty of smart TV apps support ads.
In most cases, you'll likely want to utilize an advertising partner to access these types of ads. While there are self-serve and enterprise platforms, they often come with high minimum spends and are more geared towards digital advertising agencies.
That said, utilizing some of these off-the-beaten-path platforms like free mobile games can be just the ticket when facing rising costs and oversaturated platforms like Instagram. The trade-off is that some of these platforms are still a bit of a "data black hole." Meaning it's much harder to pixel and retarget people who engage with your content here. The best way for you to judge efficacy is to see how much your content consumption and engagement metrics have gone up.
But that trade-off might be worth it if it's part of a multi-pronged strategy and you're dealing with a really competitive ad landscape.
In the next installment of this series, we'll look at common words like "KPI" and "CPC" and a bunch of other scary looking acronyms to help you better understand the efficacy of your ads and what financially makes sense for you.