Identifying the right audiences is one of the key stages of running any campaign and social media platforms have become a mainstream media channel, making paid social a go-to solution.

With Facebook and Twitter offering targeting capabilities that can put the smallest startups on an even keel with big companies, there’s no shortage of opportunity. With PMI: London looming next month, we caught up with Richard Buckton, creator of Rekrmend, to find out where we’re at with paid social in 2016. 

First of all, we use the term ‘paid social’ quite freely, but could you break it down to us in about 50 words?

Richard Buckton: Most of the popular social networks have ad platforms, enabling brands to pay to reach, in a very targeted way, more users than they can naturally. A lot of people start by paying to promote existing content, boosting a post on Facebook for example, but a larger campaign will have posts, tweets or pins specially written for the paid channel and will be set up in a structured way, similar to a Google AdWords campaign.

Is the channel still the same as say, two years ago? What new capabilities have come to the fore?

RB: Firstly new channels are available – Instagram was limited to selected brands in 2014, then opened up to all in 2015 and now considered one of the placements in a Facebook campaign. Pinterest ads were only made available to all in mid 2016. Within the channels new features appear regularly and, as the longest established, Facebook tends to lead the way. These include audience features such as uploading email addresses and creating lookalikes and developments in tracking pixels.

It can be an effort to keep pace with changes made to social platforms. How can advertisers stay effective in a constantly moving marketplace?

RB: The networks themselves are very good at pushing new features by email and it’s worth following any business blogs like, and

Should marketers ever favour a scattergun approach, or should each channel and format be approached with precise objectives?

RB: Each channel and format should certainly be tested. There may be an assumption that B2B won’t work on Facebook, Pinterest is all about fashion, sales on Twitter are too expensive and so on, but you don’t know for your particular product or service until you test it.   

How can marketers ensure the approach to paid social they’re using is the right one and the most effective?

RB: By a mixture of reaction and results. Not everyone likes being advertised to on social networks and even the most successful campaigns will get some negative feedback. If you’re a rare case where the negativity is overwhelming then perhaps it isn’t the channel for you.

Tracking ROI is not easy, especially if you have several other channels working at the same time. Despite the presence of conversion pixels and reporting, quite advanced on Facebook, developing on other networks, it’s still very difficult to get the numbers to match what you see in your analytics platform, however with a bit of modelling and some educated assumptions you can get a good idea of what’s working.

Do you personally have any favourite channels or features, or particularly effective techniques?

RB: Most of the interesting developments are in audiences. In Facebook you can now create audiences of people who’ve watched a certain percentage of your video and retarget them even if they didn’t visit the site. Another good one, just rolling out in the UK, is the ability to build an audience of people based on how long they spent on your site – what’s the point of retargeting someone who bounced straight off and is clearly not interested?

The latest Pinterest audience is an ‘Actalike’ as opposed to a Lookalike, intended to give you the right people based on behaviour rather than just demographics. My favourite thing about Twitter is the ability to target followers of any account, no matter how small. Often you can find a relevant page in Facebook with thousands of followers, you’d like to target people interested in it only to find it doesn’t appear as a choice in the API.

What do you see as the next developments in paid social?

RB: More options to buy products or sign-up to services without visiting the advertiser’s site; of course networks want to prevent people leaving their platform wherever possible. More developments from marketing partners, especially tools to automate some of the processes involved in setting up and maintaining campaigns, such as those offered by Driftrock and Smartly.