Social Media Advertising

Social media is a term for different online websites that may offer space for a wide variety of social actions allows users to create a personal profile and connect with others to share posts, images, and videos (Mercadal 2013). When companies utilize social media websites to advertise products they are implementing the use of social media advertising. With consumers publicly displaying information about their of likes, dislikes, locations, and other personal information (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017) it allows organizations to narrow their approach for higher effectiveness, to increase brand awareness, develop user communities, build relationships with community members, and improve customer service (Mercadal 2013). With increasingly efficient programming technologies that can be scaled for niche audiences or for an audience numbering in the hundreds of thousands (Mercadal 2013) companies are able to directly advertise to their target consumers through social media. These advertisements can take many forms such as display ads, sponsored stories, and reach generators such as personal company pages or accounts (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). Popular executional styles social media advertising involve interactivity, message appeals, and virtual direct experience (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016).

evan 1Like all advertising, social media advertising is to present and sell products as well as sales promotions, direct marketing, advertising, publicity, and create brand awareness (Mercadal 2013). Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram gather a huge amount of information from their users everyday, allowing advertisers to reach specific user by displaying ads for products related to those users’ unique preferences and behaviors (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017). Online marketing analytics systems allow organizations to view and assess, in real time, the impact of their social media messages. It also allows organizations to personalize and narrow messages for specific demographic segments in ways that mass media cannot (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). Social media is cost effect because it is completely free for companies to create profiles to gather followers and fans which they can share information or media pertaining for no cost at all. The ultimate success for a company advertising over social media is to go “viral”, meaning their content is continuously shared and disseminated over the internet (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017).

Display ads are defined as graphical advertising on the websites that appear next to content on web pages while users scroll through their feed (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). These display ads are often banners what come in standardized ad sizes, and can include text, logos, pictures, or more recently, multimedia (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). Evidence has shown that entertainment values affect or strongly affect consumers’ attitude toward online ads (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). Companies will often pay bloggers or celebrities post on social media about their “favorite” products to influence their followers to purchase or at the least be exposed to certain products (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017). On websites like Facebook, sponsors and product companies will pay for generated posts which references the participating brand sponsor in some way, these posts are called sponsored stories (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos,B. 2017).

Each of these advertising strategies mentioned beforehand are examples of paid media, but an important goal of social media advertising is creating earned media. Earned media is created when a user “likes” or shares a post about a product or company, broadcasting the information into their friends and followers feed (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017). As the Nielsen Media rating service says about online earned media, “Study after study has shown that consumers trust their friends and peers more than anyone else when it comes to purchase decisions” (Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. 2017). The spread positive word of mouth allows for the consumers to become personal endorsements for products (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016).

There is an economic importance in social media advertising in that social media, has reported significant gains; its usage among adults in the United States increased by about 800 percent over the past decade (Mercadal 2013). As of 2017, 69 percent of American adults were using social media. Internet ad spending has reached $121 billion in 2014, and is expected to experience the fastest growth in 2015 compared to other media platforms, which draws value from traditional forms advertising (Zhang, J., & Mao, E. 2016). Although there is great marketing value in social media marketing, advertising on social media could become more intrusive or annoying to consumers because it interrupts their browsing activities and/or social conversations with friends (Mercadal 2013). The cultural perception of social media advertising may be negative but its economic importance and influence on how marketing is conducted on the internet must be noted.


Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2017). Advertising and Commercial Culture. H. Chester (Ed.), Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age (351-383). Boston: Bedford / St. Martin’s.

Mercadal, T. (2013). Social media marketing. Salem Press Encyclopedia.

Zhang, J., & Mao, E. (2016). From online motivations to ad clicks and to behavioral intentions: An empirical study of consumer response to social media advertising. Psychology & Marketing, 33(3), 155-164.

Image Attribution: “A Brief History Of Social Advertising” by Social Press is licensed under ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Written by Evan Gaines, 2017