Social Media Ads: Can You Rely On Them Alone?

by Josh Barney

Can your business rely on social media ads alone?

^This question can divide rooms of digital marketers (pretty quickly)^

And I’m sure that some of the readers of this post will already feel strongly about the answer, one way or another.

I’m going to (try to) remain as impartial as possible, as I look at this question from all perspectives, uncover each side’s perspectives and try to find a reasonable resolution.


As more businesses move online, it’s important that their owners are equipped with enough information to make an informed decision about their digital strategy – particularly how they budget their marketing spending.

Some businesses do nothing except run ads, others do everything but, and the rest find their own magic blend between digital strategies.

The Advantages of Social Media Ads:

  • They’re Cheap!

There is no cheaper way to drive paid traffic to your website, show them your offers and build your brand awareness than with social media ads.

Although many will argue that prices are rising (slowly but surely), and they’re right, there is still no cheaper solution.

social media ad price

We’ve spent 8 figures+ on social media ads since the inception of Einstein Marketer (36 months ago) and can speak from experience on this matter.

If you’re in the market for digital advertising, social media ads are the cheapest.

  • A Huge Audience

Social networks are crawling with people – at all hours of the day!

They’re home to a huge potential market for your business and that makes them a great opportunity for any brand.

social network average monthly user size

Facebook has over 2.6 billion users, Instagram 1 billion, TikTok 800 million, Twitter 326 million and Snapchat 400 million.

These are huge audiences and where there are lots of people, you’re sure to find your target market, no matter how small your niche.

  • Targeted Traffic

One of the best things about social media ads on all networks, is how well you’re able to target your specific audience.

You’re able to target by demographics, behaviours, interests and even location – to name just a few targeting features (find out more about doing this in our FB Audiences eBook).

social media ad audience targeting

This means no wasted spend when it comes to advertising impressions.

Media buyers, marketers and advertisers who know more about their audience, are able to achieve much cheaper results than those who blindly target large groups.

Know your target audience to really utilise this strength.

  • Custom Audiences  

Targeting by specific niches, interests and behaviours is one thing, but creating a custom audience is another altogether.

A marketer’s ability to build audiences like this is the primary reason that some argue that social media ads are all a business needs.

A custom audience is able to target ads at people based on their tracked actions and behaviours.

facebook custom audience

This is done by creating rules on platforms like Facebook and installing a tracking code on your website.

When your rule is triggered, that person is entered into a ‘custom audience’, and then ads can be shown specifically to these audiences.

For example, I could create a rule for people who visit the buying page of my latest product, and these people could then be shown that product again (this is known as retargeting).

Audiences like this can convert well and generate a healthy ROI for any business online, but does that mean it’s all you need?

  • Lookalike Audiences

This feature of social media ads (particularly on Facebook) is another massive reason that some businesses never stray from an ‘ad only’ approach to digital marketing.

A lookalike audience is an AI generated audience of people created by a social network.

facebook lookalike audience

It is created by copying and replicating the features of an existing audience as closely as possible.

For example, if I had built a custom audience of people who had purchased from my online business, I could create a lookalike of these people and show ads to them.

Social networks like Facebook allow advertisers to create a lookalike audience on a sliding scale of 1-10% matches with an existing audience – and we can do this as many times as we like!

And in addition to this, lookalike audiences also allow for the next key advantage of social media ads…

  • Scaling

If you build out a social media ad campaign that makes a healthy ROI, you’d probably want to increase your investment, right?

When you have the skill and know-how (and providing that your audience is big enough) your social media ads can be scaled up quickly, allowing you to increase your returns over a short space of time.

social media ad vertical scaling

However, scaling up an ad campaign is fraught with difficulty and results can take a sharp downturn when you make the wrong move.

Find out more about Scaling Up A Facebook Ad Campaign.

  • Versatility

Social media ads can be run under a variety of campaign objectives, and can have success for any business – including the most niche b2b brands.

If you want engagement, to generate leads, drive traffic, conversions (including lead magnet offers) or to reach as many people as possible, you can achieve it all with social media ads.

twitter ad campaign objectives

Versatility is one of their greatest strengths, just ask the marketers who niche their operations down into the tiniest of industries.

The Disadvantages of a Social Media Ad Only Strategy:

  • Ownership

Perhaps the biggest problem with relying on social media ads is that you don’t own the platform, the ad algorithm or the data stored on the platform.

A business who relies solely on Facebook ads could face huge problems if Facebook decide to ban their page, ad account or make major changes to their advertising policies.

Social networks can change their advertising rules at any time, making life instantly much harder for advertisers.

Placing your business’s digital marketing success solely in the hands of another business, who has millions of other customers and is often in the news for data laws, is a risky strategy that could backfire at any time.

  • Variables

The success of a social media ad campaign relies on the strength of the advertiser –this is because there are a lot of variables to control.

The better the advertiser, the more they’re able to control these variables.

This means split-testing, analysing and optimising the results, which can be a time-consuming process.

social media audience variables

These variables can include things as big as relevant world events, or as small as a word in your ad copy.

The secret to understanding the variables is experience – and for a small business or new brand, this can be a costly expense.

  • Trust

If all you’re doing is running ads it can reflect badly on your prospect’s trust in your brand.

Almost anything can be bought, but trust is near impossible to purchase.

Yes, you can show social proof and position yourself perfectly in your ads, but if the rest of your digital presence is empty, it can cause a distrust in your prospect.

  • A Short-Term Strategy

If you’re using ads to buy traffic, clicks or to generate conversions, you get what you pay for.

The thing is, when you turn these ads off, the clicks, traffic and conversions stop.

Social media ads generate results (it’s a fact) but that doesn’t mean long-term digital success.

For every business that scales up a winning ad campaign, there are 5 who fail.

Inbound digital marketing strategies like content marketing, social media marketing and SEO can provide long-term results, without you having to pay a penny for them.

organic growth content marketing

Should Your Business Rely on Social Media Ads Alone?

Ads get results quicker than any other digital marketing tactic and there are a ton of advertising features that make them such an essential part of digital marketing.

I’d advise any business who wants to get to grips with digital marketing to run ads on social media – as a must!

But does that mean they can be relied upon without any other form of digital strategy?

When they’re done well, social media ads can take up the entirety of your marketing strategy, however business owners should know that it comes at their own risk.

Laws can change, networks can shift focus and advertising costs can soar without you putting a foot wrong.

And in addition to all that, it can cost a small fortune to find the right advertising balance to start with!

Use ads for short-term gains and scale wherever and whenever possible – but always keep the long-term in mind.

Think about building your presence, branding and audience online – this is how you’ll win not just today, but tomorrow as well.

Try to build real trust, authority and positioning with the hottest topic in marketing – content, and be consistent with it.

Use content to help build those custom audiences, generate leads and get your business where it should be online.

What do you think, can your business’s digital marketing strategy be composed purely of social media ads?

Leave your opinion in the comments below 👇👇👇

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

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