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Kiera Abbamonte on July 9, 2019 (last modified on June 2, 2020) • 12 minute read
Which one is more effective? Is there a cut-and-dry answer to that question? How do marketers use each type of promotion to drive engagement vs. leads vs. brand awareness?
We were curious about those questions, among others, so we asked 41 marketers for their thoughts. From the responses we heard, it’s clear that there’s a place in marketing for both Facebook Ads and boosted posts—with a slight bias toward Facebook Ads.
Editor’s note: Need a better way to view your overall Facebook performance? Download this free Facebook Pages & Facebook Ads: Engagement Summary dashboard to see how your paid and organic efforts combine to drive engagement.
Before we share what those marketers had to say, let’s talk about the actual difference between the two. Facebook’s boosted post option is essentially a pared down version of an ad, and it looks (for the most part) just like a regular Facebook post.
When you publish a post to your business’ Facebook page, you can choose to put some budget behind it—as a “boost.” That boost means Facebook shares your post higher up in the News Feed of your existing audience. Facebook will also show the post to similar users who aren’t yet following your business.
Since boosted posts seem to be the lesser known of the two, we wanted to find out how many marketers actually use them regularly. We asked, How often do you boost your posts on Facebook?
The responses were a bit of a mixed bag. Less than 17% of our respondents said they’ve never boosted a post on Facebook, but only 9.5% use boosted posts weekly or more often.
Facebook Ads are, well, ads. They can appear in the News Feed on mobile and desktop or in the right-hand column on desktop. Facebook Ads are a more robust advertising platform that allows advertisers to customize the content, headline, CTA, and more. Ads users can customize the audience Facebook shows ads to, budgets, and bidding strategies. Plus, Facebook Ads enables marketers to create individual ads as part of broader ad campaigns.
Before diving into the nitty-gritty benefits of each promoted post, we wanted to understand some of the higher level differences between the two. Here’s what our experts had to say about those.
Generally, marketers (and Facebook’s advertising team) seem to view the dichotomy this way: Boosted posts are designed to promote one-off posts, while Facebook Ads are designed to be robust and ongoing ad campaigns.
“I find that Facebook Ads are much more effective when they’re run as part of a dedicated campaign, and not just on an ad-hoc basic. They need to fit into a wider content strategy that has clear objectives with ways to measure success,” Leasefetcher’s Christopher Fear said.
“Facebook Ads are a series of moving cogs when designed correctly, and each ad set is another turning cog in a machine that constantly learns and is dynamic in its delivery,” explained Jess Riches of Enriches Business. “When you understand this about Facebook Ads, the reasoning against relying on boosted posts starts to become more clear.”
James Pollard of The Advisor Coach added, “Facebook Ads more effective when you want better reporting, better targeting, and better analytics—but they’re also better organized. You can log into your Ads Manager and see them all in one place.”
“Facebook Ads are more effective when you’re looking to promote a product or service, and they should be utilized with the goal of driving traffic to your website and increasing revenue and conversions,” advised Audrey Strasenburgh of FreeLogoServices.
“Boosted posts, on the other hand,” Strasenburgh added, “are more effective when you’re looking to boost awareness for your brand or awareness for a particular event.
“It all depends on what you’re trying to do,” G2’s Lauren Pope said. “In my experience, boosting posts drives engagement, but Facebook Ads generate more leads. I think the reason is just that Facebook Ads provide you a more in-depth way to reach the people who are most likely to purchase.”
Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media agreed, adding, “Boosted posts are optimized for likes and shares but that’s not really what’s going to drive revenue. Facebook Ads provide a much higher ROI because you know with confidence that you’re targeting an audience you’ve optimized, rather than running paid content that Facebook is optimizing.”
“For example,” Noelle Del Grippo of Sagefrog Marketing Group explained, “if your objective is lead generation, Facebook Ads allows you to create a form, and lead generation forms on Facebook auto-populate with each users’ Facebook information. The ease of filling out these forms makes it more likely users will hand over their information, making it a very effective tactic for getting leads.”
Now that we’re on the same page, here are the insights we heard from our Facebook marketing experts.
Several of the responses we heard all came back to one common theme: Facebook Ads offer more control. Control over the content of the ads, over the audience, over the goal, and more.
“Facebook Ads offer granular control over all aspects of your creative, targeting, bidding, and budgeting,” said Zach Greenberger of adMixt.
“A Facebook Ad,” Michael Goldstein of VRG Web Design added, “allows you to incorporate much more targeted demographics and utilize more graphic and video options than a simple boosted post.
As Daisy Campbell of Canz Marketing noted, “Despite many updates and changes, the boosted post is still a limited option. You have a restricted audience to run ads to, and there’s no concept of lookalikes or retargeting to increase sales.”
“One of the biggest reasons to opt for a Facebook Ad over a boosted post is that you get more options for how your ads appear (carousels, lead generation, catalogs, etc.),” said Allison Schmidt of Get Online NOLA. “Facebook ads are more effective when you want to build a specific ad experience for a specific audience to meet your goal.”
One of the most important aspects of the control factor has to do with the audience Facebook shows your ads or posts to.
“Facebook Ads work best when you know your audience,” said Chris Ellis of Digital 22 Limited. “When you know who you want to get your product in front of.”
Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat put it simply, saying, “Ads just provide a whole bunch of functionality that you can’t access in standard boosted posts. So, whether you need advanced targeting or some specific functionality, Ads give you the tools.”
“An engagement campaign in Facebook Ads Manager is similar to a boosted post, but it gives you an incredible amount of control over everything from audience to placements,” noted Jeromy Sonne of Moonshine Marketing.
Meara McNitt of Online Optimism echoed that, saying, “Facebook Ads are effective when you have a very specific campaign in mind. They allow you to select a custom audience, choose where the ads are posted (Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger), choose the exact layout and format you need, perform A/B tests, control your budget, target languages, and the list goes on. With Ads, you generally have more control to carry out the plans outlined in your detailed campaign.”
Much of what marketers told us came down to this: the best Facebook promotion hinges heavily on your overall goals—and for ROI, Facebook Ads are just the ticket.
Echoing that, when we asked marketers if boosted posts provide a similar ROI to Facebook Ads, an overwhelming 76.2% said no.
“Ads are built for ROI,” explained Stephanie Edwards of Flawless Inbound. “Even though you can include things like a ‘shop now’ button in a boosted post, it just doesn’t work the same way. Facebook’s algorithm has been explicitly crafted to entice people to click on the call to action.”
Brian Pfeiffer of Surreal LLC echoed Edwards, noting, “From my experience, conversion campaigns from Facebook Ads Manager are always the top producing ROI campaigns. I wouldn’t even attempt to get a large ROI from a boosted post—they’re more for awareness.”
Another key distinction between the two types of Facebook promotion came down to whether your goals are to keep the audience on Facebook’s platform or drive them to your own website. If your goal is the former, Hung Nguyen of Smallpdf recommends boosted posts.
“Boosted posts are effective when you want to raise brand awareness or attract attention to that one particular post. In this case, the KPI is engagement around that post (clicks, comments, shares) rather than driving traffic to another platform.”
Casey Hill of Hill Gaming Company said, “Boosted posts should be utilized when you have a certain type of post that gets high engagement and you’re, in turn, leveraging that engagement in the boost.”
“Boosted posts that already have existing engagement,” Hill explained, “are likely to get more engagement than the Ad that starts, by default, from scratch.”
In addition, Michael Anderson of Passport Explored pointed out that boosted posts can pay dividends for much longer than Facebook Ads: “I’ve found that boosted posts drive more engagement and provide a higher ROI—because that content is visible on your timeline and will remain there once the promotion has ended. Facebook Ads, on the other hand, disappear entirely once the promotion has ended.”
Many of the marketers we spoke to agreed that Facebook Ads is often the better choice for established advertisers and larger budgets. However, Pedro Campos of Pedro Converts pointed out that boosted posts can be a good option for getting your feet wet and testing out a strategy—before you put together an entire campaign.
“If you’re on a tight budget or your Facebook Ads account is new, I recommend starting out with boosted posts,” Campos counseled. “You need to ‘warm up’ a new account, and leveraging boosted posts is a great way to accomplish that.”
If there’s one thing missing from the boosted post’s arsenal, it’s retargeting. When you add the ability to target ads to custom retargeted audiences, you’re automatically going to see more impressive results on the conversion side.
“I love Facebook ads for the retargeting,” said Tracy Iseminger of Crimson Vine Marketing. “Our best ROI typically comes from serving up ads with special messaging for people who’ve visited certain pages of our website or to people who’ve abandoned their cart.”
Steven Macdonald of AutoClipping echoed Iseminger’s sentiment, adding that they see the best results by combining ads and boosted posts: “We’ve set up retargeting funnels so that when someone engages with ad A, they’re shown ad B and ad C—each message warming the lead up to the point where they become sales ready.”
By combining both types of Facebook promotion and using retargeted audiences, AutoClipping has been able to “generate sales-ready leads, with a value of $5,000, at a CPA of $2.”
“Facebook Ads are more effective when targeting and testing are important to you. With Ads, you can drill down into what makes someone interact with your brand,” said Dan Christensen of Pest Rank.
Alexis Irias of Spire Digital echoed that sentiment, naming testing as one of the chief benefits of using Ads over boosted posts: “The benefit of running Facebooks Ads is that you can get more strategic with your campaigns, by A/B testing ads with different content and creative approaches.”
“Creating ultra-specific targeted campaigns with a clear objective allows you to streamline your sales funnel and gather significant data at each stage of the sales funnel,” added Lewis Kemp of Lightbulb Media.
Another benefit to using Facebook Ads? Keeping all of your data and campaigns in one, central location—making it easier to track and compare over time.
“All the analytics are stored in one place, and you’re able to better optimize ads, so Facebook Ads are better for long-term goals and strategy,” said Matej Kukucka of LiveAgent.
Editor’s note: Looking for a way to compare campaigns, spend, and results driven? Download this free Facebook Ads (Campaign performance) dashboard to find your most effective campaigns—so you can double-down on them.
“Facebook Ads can be a great mechanism to use when you want to deliver more nuanced messaging to specific audiences,” said Andrew Becks of 301 Digital Media.
“Facebook Ads are more effective when you’re looking to target multiple, specific audiences,” echoed Natalie Davison of Marrow Marketing.
“For example,” Becks added, “let’s say your goal is to deliver regionally specific messages to users in the United States andCanada. With an ad, you can target and limit delivery of the content to a specific audience, and you can also test multiple message variants and run A/B testing to ensure that you’re maximizing the overall campaign return on ad spend.”
In addition to driving engagement, several marketers also told us that boosted posts are particularly well-suited to the top of the funnel—helping to build brand awareness and industry authority.
“Boosted posts are the answer when your objective is awareness. If you’re promoting a new product, have an announcement, or want to develop brand recognition in a target market, boost the post,” recommended Samantha Edwardes of & Co.
Drew Beechler of High Alpha echoed Edwardes, saying, “I believe that boosted posts are most effective when a company is using them to promote specific thought leadership and content for broader brand awareness and eyeballs, rather than driving to a clear call-to-action. Boosted posts tend to drive more engagement, eyeballs, and brand awareness.”
The marketers we spoke with had a lot of opinions about promoted Facebook content. Regardless of their own strategies, the majority of responses we heard shared a couple familiar threads:
So the only question is how will each type of post fit into your Facebook strategy?
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