The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Paid Social Media Ads – Part 1

This week is part of a series designed for people just starting out in paid social media ads so if you’re experienced, you may want to skip over this one or look at this as a refresher course on the basics – or you just might get a different perspective on social than you’re used to!

We all know there are a ton of social platforms out there but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick to the ones you’ll most likely be asked to work on for your business – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Also, please bear in mind that there is NO one-size-fits-all set of hard and fast rules for every business on social. Just like the forever SEO rule of ‘it depends’, the social media rule that I’m just about to make up of ‘try it! it might work, I dunno…’ applies here. You’ll see what I mean as we go.

This week’s entry is going to focus on the platforms themselves according to my personal experience doing paid social media for roughly over four years.

Let’s dive in – man, I hate it when people say that.

The Platforms According to Smokehouse Rules


Ok, let’s get this one out of the way first.

Paid LinkedIn = BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….woo…ok. *wipes tear*, man that’s a good one.

Seriously. Don’t do paid LinkedIn.

Almost NO ONE recommends doing paid LinkedIn ads. They’re still extremely expensive (ridiculously high CPC & CPM), the platform interface and ads manager is basically a dumpster fire and I personally had an experience with LinkedIn ads where it flat out ignored my budget cap and just kept on spending until I pulled the credit card out of the system entirely.

More than all of that though, think about this: When was the last time you were on LinkedIn looking to buy something?

Better question, aside from the obnoxious:

‘Hey, Jim! We saw your profile and thought you’d want to buy this crap we sell! Have a minute to hop on a call this week so we can call you every day for the next three months until you buy something from us?’


‘Hello *name*! I’m Bob from We Clearly Didn’t Read Your Resume Staffing and I’m recruiting for a contract position completely irrelevant to what your profile says! Respond if interested!’

When’s the last time you’ve even SEEN an actual ad on LinkedIn?

LinkedIn is basically the platform you go to when you want to either learn more about your current industry (though most of us are using Twitter more and more for that), are looking for a new job, write random haikus about working in a cubicle or tell everyone how they were ‘fired yesterday’ and today they’re having adventures in the Amazon rainforest or some such life changing experience.

It ain’t for shopping and their ad placements are even worse.

LinkedIn ads are basically spam emails and teeny, tiny little banners at the top of the page or on the right side of the page – and if they’re anywhere else, I’ve literally never noticed.

Also, LinkedIn isn’t very good for brand awareness either. I mean, yeah your company will look legit with a LinkedIn profile but let’s be real, what’s the last actual advertisement for a product or service you remember seeing on LinkedIn? What’s the last brand you interacted with on there?

Don’t remember, do you?

Who the hell wants to pay a ridiculously high CPC or CPM for that?

I mean, I hear some people say they’re trying to turn things around over there and make it a viable platform to sell ad space but I’ll believe that when I see it. Until then, this is a hard pass.

Be active on LinkedIn organically all you want but save your dollars for something that will actually do a thing. People don’t want your spam emails and people definitely don’t go to LinkedIn looking to buy stuff.

Smokehouse Rating of LinkedIn Ads: F

Don’t even bother. Be active on LinkedIn but stick to organic on this platform. No one wants your spam emails or irrelevant job messages and unless you just have money to completely waste, just avoid it.


This will most likely be your bread and butter. B2B, B2C, Human to Martians, I don’t care what your business model is or who your target audience is – unless they’re in mainland China or any other country where it’s blocked, Facebook is usually going to be your staple.

No matter how many times your uncle Jimmy swears he’s gonna ‘cancel Facebook!’ due to ‘mah privacy!’, they still have a higher population of users than some entire countries. Everybody from fry cooks and auto mechanics to engineers and lawyers are on there so guess what – whoever says ‘why advertise on Facebook? Your target audience isn’t on Facebook!’ is a damned liar.

Granted, in 2019 the audience does tend to skew a bit older than those on your Snapchats & Instagrams but still, more often than not, these are people who have more money to buy your stuff anyway.

When you do a paid Facebook ad, you also have access to your ad being shown on Instagram and the Facebook Audience Network (think: ‘Google Display Network but Facebookier’) if your ad meets the proper specifications and criteria. This is great because it gives your ad access to off Facebook properties as well so you can retarget people just ALL OVER THE PLACE. This is especially useful if for some reason your site isn’t set up to use Google’s PPC retargeting.

Also, speaking of targeting, while it’s true Facebook has reined in a lot of their old targeting options, you can still do look-alike audiences, pixel targeting and other viable options.

Smokehouse rating of Facebook Ads: A

Good for targeting everybody (depending on age!), Good for awareness, impressions & Clicks


Ok, so technically this could have been listed with Facebook since they own it but lets be real, they’re two different things even though they’re really not.

Instagram tends to skew younger and has an estimated total of 500 million daily users which is more than Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat so if you’re not on there already, you need to get on there.

Just like with Facebook, this is a platform when sometimes marketers of a ‘certain generation’ might go, ‘Our audience isn’t on the Instawhoozits!’ but once again, that’s completely wrong.

From students to grannies, nearly everybody is on the Instawhoozits.

Your audience is, in fact, on the Instawhoozits, regardless of what Mr. Burns aged doubters might think. Just because the platform skews younger doesn’t mean there’s only younger people on there.

As previously stated, when you do a Facebook ad, you can select an Instagram placement to go with it but this might not be ideal, especially if you use a tool like Adespresso to do your Facebook ads. Now, that being said, tools like Adespresso have Instagram specific ad creation options in them but bear in mind those are NOT the same ads you’d get if you created a Facebook ad in there and just selected Instagram as an additional placement.

Tools like that sometimes are designed with a ‘Facebook first’ approach so you won’t always get your image sizes optimized, you can’t do an Instagram stories ad in certain tools and ad formats that look great for Facebook don’t always translate well or even get shown at all on Instagram.

If you have something you really want to get shown on Instagram specifically, more than just a Facebook ‘additional placement’ then you’ll want to do specific ads for that platform. We’ll get into ideal ad types in a later post but for right now, just realize that you’ll want to go into Facebook business manager to do a specific ad on Instagram if that’s your main goal.

Smokehouse Rating of Instagram: B+

Great for awareness. Good for clicks if you’re doing paid ads. If you have something you really want advertised specifically there, keep your Facebook and your Instagram ads separate – and do paid Instagram stories.


Ah, Pinterest.

The online scrapbook/how-to guide/fashion lookbook/meme collection.

The demographic here skews more towards women, 81% are women according to a recent study. The median age is about 40 years old but they also state that millennials use Pinterest as much as they use Instagram. Also, before you start thinking in caveman gender roles, you might want to know that 40% of new Pinterest sign ups are men.

I personally have a love & hate relationship with Pinterest ads.

We’ll start with the obvious first. If you have a home design or decor business, you need to be doing Pinterest ads, full stop. If you’re not on Pinterest and you run that kind of business, as soon as you finish reading this sentence, you need to get over there and sign up. Thank me later.

Now that the obvious is out of the way, let me tell you why I love and hate Pinterest at the same time.

First of all, the Pinterest ads manager is absolutely counter intuitive. I haven’t seen a business manager platform that I hate like this since the Twitter ads platform. Maybe that’s not 100% fair because at least the Pinterest platform makes it easy to create ads and Twitter doesn’t but also, at least in the Twitter ads platform, I didn’t literally have to spend about twenty minutes yesterday trying to find when a promoted pin’s end date was. Things that should be right at a glance are buried SO DEEP in the stats tables, it’s like they’re trying to make people mad.

Technical issues aside, let’s talk about who should be using Pinterest aside from the obvious and in this case, I say it’s a strong ‘it depends’.

I’ll give you an example.

Remember how earlier we said over 80% of Pinterest users are women and the majority of businesses that do well on there are for home decor, fashion and things like that? Well, buddy, have I got news for you.

My day job is an industrial & automation engineering non-profit. Currently, the industry skews mostly older and mostly men. A lot of organizations like mine are doing outreach to get more women involved in engineering but so far they’re the minority in the field. Given the Pinterest demographic, that’s not something you’d think would do well on there, would you?

Well, I thought so too but I wanted to do an experiment – and also I thought, ‘well, we’d be the only game in town on there! There might not be much of an audience but why not lock down what’s there?’

Guess what.

Pinterest is now our second highest source of social media traffic to the site. Our pins for automation books are being saved to people’s boards left and right and we’re actually seeing traffic and Pinterest is showing up in our attribution models for conversions. Oh, we also have over 390k monthly users with over 26k monthly engaged at the time of this writing – not bad for a ‘hard hat’ type of industry on Pinterest, no?

Granted, the numbers we’re we’re getting on Pinterest are in no way even close to our Facebook numbers but still, this is why I say test everything.

Smokehouse Rating of Pinterest: C+

Test this platform with small budgets & organic posts before going all in. The platform’s ads manager for reporting takes some getting used to but making the actual ad is easy. Even if you’re not in a ‘traditional’ industry for Pinterest, you’ll want to try this out and see what happens.


Twitter, to me, is ‘meh’ incarnate with the exception for awareness campaigns.

If you have something you just want to get in front of a bunch of people so people know it exists, Twitter is probably a good choice for you. If you’re trying to get people to click through to your site, this may not be the way to go for most people.

The audience on there is pretty balanced between men and women and about 79% of Twitter users are outside of the US so if you serve an international market, this might be somewhere you’ll want to be.

Another thing to know about Twitter is that even if you don’t end up running ads on there – which we’ll get to in a second – you’ll still want to be there for customer service purposes. Do not ignore this platform altogether or you’ll regret it. Most people expect reputable companies to be doing customer service on Twitter and if you’re not, your competitors probably are.

In terms of the ads platform, it’s what I like to call a flat out cluster****.

Not since 1994 and the Angelfire platform have I seen something that looks like this or has a user experience like this.

Everything takes far too many steps to complete, you need to sit there with a calculator if you’re bad at math and trying to convert a large lifetime budget into a daily budget, when you get past the awful targeting options, it makes you create and send a brand new tweet on another tab so you can go back to the platform and select that from a list in another tab to complete your ad – and that sounds confusing because it IS confusing!

It’s just so BAD.

Also, in terms of reporting, that’s not that much better. Twitter ads reporting defaults to the past 7 days – which helps no one – and the data you actually get from there is in no way as in depth as what you can get on a Facebook ads manager. I mean, its adequate if you sort and filter and all that but its not as detailed. Of course, you’ll want to UTM code tag all of your social posts before you launch so you can track in Google analytics but still, its nice to see what your actual ads do.

Smokehouse Rating of Twitter: C

It’s great for awareness & getting eyes on your ad but not that great for driving a click. Regardless of whether or not your business will do advertising here, you need to be on this platform for customer service reasons.

The Bottom Line

So that was the Smokehouse overview of the different social platforms that most people will choose to advertise on. Hopefully this helped beginners get a better idea of where they want to be and how each platform works.

In our next installment in two weeks, we’ll cover ad types and creation in depth so stay tuned!

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