The short answer: Probably.

The long answer: It depends on what channels you are using, where your audience is, how much engagement you are currently getting, and what it is you want to achieve.

Though you don’t have to pay to be on the channels, social media has never been “free.” Social media takes time, creativity and talent: all of which costs money on some level. But that is no longer enough of an investment to make the connections with your customers on social media. The channels have become so crowded, it is easy to get lost or overlooked. Add that to the fact that Facebook (the company that seems to set the trends when it comes advertising on social) continually tweaks the algorithm that determines what gets seen in a person’s feed, and businesses are all but cut out of their followers’ streams.

Enter advertising options. In order to keep the channels free for consumers and to keep them using the channels, social media platforms have had to resort to advertising models that integrate the “ads” into the natural environment of the channel. This means ads look a lot like posts. It means ads are very targeted based on the information that users provided. It means that the channel managers approve all ads before they get displayed to users.

So far, social media advertising is delivering good results. Most of the channels offer self-service, targeted advertising programs. The targeting options that allow advertisers to get very granular to the interests of those that see the ads mean that ads are more effective and less expensive. The ease with which a business can turn on, turn off, and edit ads allows unprecedented immediate control of money and message. And the dashboards that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest provide give marketers instant insight into their ads performance.

Which channels offer advertising you can use now?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube

Which channels offer advertising, but only with a large investment for now?

  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr

How do you decide which channels to advertise on and which to focus organic efforts?

  • Are you achieving the goals you have set for social media? That might be awareness, it might be follows, it might be comments and shares, it might be “click to buy” actions, etc. Knowing what you want to achieve and then looking to see if social is impacting those goals will be an important factor in the decision to invest in advertising. Most of these social channels that offer advertising provided recommended solutions based on the type of goal you are trying to achieve.
  • How much are you willing to spend to test social advertising? Set a budget and test some of the advertising solutions for a few weeks to get see if you get the kind of response you are seeking.
  • What channels are you currently using? If you are not using a channel for your brand’s social media, it is probably not wise to advertise on it yet.