• General Best Practices
What Makes a Good Social Media Ad?
Mia Major

Over the past decade, Facebook has transformed from a platform where we can easily stay connected with friends and family, to a pay-to-play platform, where brands and businesses of all sizes are fighting for clicks, likes, comments and shares. And unfortunately, your school's social media ad isn't just in competition with other schools — it's in competition with their friends' posts, posts from brands they "like" all the time, and of course, dozens of posts with cute puppies, how-to recipes, and relatable videos. That being said, the content you select to represent to offer of your ad is key — and it needs to be "thumb-stopping good."

What I mean by "thumb-stopping good," is exactly what it sounds like: the visual content you choose to represent your school in an ad needs to be intriguing, engaging, and relevant enough to disrupt a user's scrolling experience.

social media ad best practices

Here are the six qualities of a thumb-stopping good social media ad:

1. A clearly defined goal.

Before investing any ad dollars into social media ads, you have to ask yourself what the end goal is. Do you want more fans, post engagement, website traffic, or event attendance? The overall goal of your ad will determine your headline and body copy, image, audience, budget, duration, and call-to-action. So don't skip this oh-so-important step.

Lucky for you, Facebook Ads manager makes it easy to think goal-oriented by selecting the action and outcome that is most in-line with your overall goal:

Facebook Ad Goals Example

Forman School adapts their ad strategy based on their end goal — whether it be video views, page likes, or website traffic. With each ad they change the image, headline text and body text to both A/B test content and ensure it is always fresh. Here are a few examples:

Goal: Video Views

Ad - Video Views

Goal: Website Traffic

ad - website traffic

Goal: Page Likes

Goal - Page Likes

2. A small target audience.

Few pieces social media content are more frustrating than a social media ad that has zero relevance to one's interests, needs, pains, desires, or wants. For example, simply targeting boys ages 14-16 within a 30 mile radius of your zip code isn't going to yield the same results as re-targeting individuals who have visited a specific page or pages of your website. In the case of social ads, the more seeds you sow the more crops you reap. A matter-of-fact, it usually means the opposite.

And Facebook gives users the option to say it isn't relevant:

Hello Fresh Ad Dislike


In terms of defining your audience, you need to first determine who you really want to target? Is it alumni, current parents, or prospective students? Or is it even a smaller segment. Once you determine the "who," you need to determine the "where." This doesn't mean "where" on social media, but rather, where they are in their consumer journey. And, just as Facebook Ads Manager encourages you to think about your end-goal first, it also wants you to think about about where your target audience is in their journey: awareness, consideration or decision.

Facebook - Buyer's Journey

Segmenting content by the "where" in addition to the "who" allows to create ad copy and a CTA that is most compelling to that particular group of people at a certain stage. For example, prospective students who have never heard of you need a completely different message than a prospective student who has already visited your website.

So how do you create these targeted lists? Facebook offers endless ways to craft audiences, but these are our three top ways:

  • Retargeting pixel: Facebook's retargeting pixel is a snippet of code you can install in the tag of your website. The tag tracks website visits, and then retargets website visitors on Facebook (and/or Instagram) with an ad relevant to their website visit. Your remarketing audience created by the Facebook pixel includes all traffic to your site, not just those coming from Facebook or social media.
  • Uploaded List: An uploaded list has its pros and cons. On the plus side, if you're uploading a list, chances are these individuals have interacted with your school at least once, meaning they may be more likely to engage with your ad. On the downside, when you upload a list, it only allows you to target individuals whose email in your list matches their Facebook account, which usually results in about a 50% loss of contacts.
  • Saved Audience: This is evidently the most complicated way to create a target audience, using interest and demographic information, but does allow you the biggest opportunity to reach new audiences. We do recommend working with a consultant when using this type of targeting to ensure you get the biggest ROI.

3. A high-quality, relevant and eye-catching image or video.

Going back to the idea of "thumb-stopping good," the visual you select is going to be the primary reason why someone stops and then reads. Make sure that your visual is relevant to the ad, and if there was no text content, a user could easily guess who the ad is about. You'll also want to avoid using stock photos or low quality photos taken on an iPhone at all costs!

Using your school's branding, fonts, colors, and logo — even just subtly — can help with brand recognition when re-targeting a group of individuals. For example, I know exactly which company this ad is for without reading any other part of the ad because of the image, text, and logo recognition:

Brand recognition - zola

However, this one...not so much. This example is from the brand polar, who is selling a heart rate monitor...not bathing suits. The video and caption are pretty confusing.

Bad photo example

4. A short description of the offer.

Don't leave your target audience confused, and don't expect them to want to read about your offer. Facebook ads are meant to be just that — an ad. So, it might be time to think back to your print marketing days and ask "how did we get our image across in just a few words and an ad?"

In other words, don't do this:

elegant themes example

5. One call-to-action.

A good social media ad has one clear call to action — not two, not three. When selecting your call-to-action, consider who your target audience is and what your goal is.

For example, if you want more alumni to "like" your page, your ad should invite them to "like" your page — not "like" your page and visit your website. Or, if you want to drive open house attendance, your goal should be to drive them to a registration page — meaning the CTA button would say "RSVP."

6. Links directly to a relevant landing page.

While you do want to disrupt a user's scrolling experience with a great ad, you don't want to provide a disruptive experience once they click. Rather, you want it to feel seamless, natural, and relevant. Therefore, it is important to send users to the most relevant page to your ad content. You may want to create new landing pages that provide both a resource for your audience and the opportunity to take the action you want.

For example, if you are promoting your school's open house, direct them to the exact page on which they can register, not just your main open house page. Consider including more information on your landing about the Open House. It's important to keep in mind that every person who clicks your ad might not be ready to register that very second, especially when you are reaching new audiences. Include what students will do, what parents will do, who they will meet, etc. Have photos of past Open Houses? Even better. We want to offer our users information to provide clarity or to help them transition from solely being aware of the event into considering it, and ultimately taking the action we want.

Whitfield School always does this exceptionally well. In October, the school ran a campaign to drive Open House attendance. The campaign consisted of three different ads, all linking to the same ope house landing page.

So, this ad:

whitefield open house ad

Linked to this page:

whitfield landing page

Whitfield social media ad campaign for their open house is also a case-in-point example of how a school can implement all the necessary qualities of a social media ad to create a seamless experience for the user, and a successful campaign for admissions.

download your free copy: 2020 social media guide for schools

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specialises in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Social Media
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