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Five reasons why you may have to advertise on Facebook (like the Tories)

When UK Prime Minister David Cameron's Facebook page jumped from around 60,000 likes to 130,000 in a month, there was a mini media uproar. News sources like the GuardianIndependent and Daily Mail decried it, with headlines yelling from the top of the rafters that he was guilty of 'buying' more friends.

But this showed a distinct misunderstanding of how in particular, paid social media advertising works. The Tories did not buy these likes in the way many disreputable businesses do it, promising to provide a large number of likes through scams or deceptive practices (which Facebook frowns on).

What it did was pay for ads to promote the David Cameron page so more people would see it, leading to the page getting more likes. This isn't very different from the Tories running a print advertisement around the qualities of Cameron as a leader, but without metrics to see how effective it was.

The Tories paid around £7,500 for the campaign, which is a drop in the ocean when it comes to political advertising spend. And whether doing it by cost per click, impression or action, it's a perfectly valid way to market – most brands now go for a paid, owned and earned model for social media engagement.

If you're not interested in marketing or advertising, it’s easy to get sniffy about paying ads to get people to look at your content.  But it's becoming accepted practice, even in publishing – recently the New York Times paid for news articles links with UK interest to come up as a 'sponsored story' on Facebook timelines, convincing Brits to read and like a publisher they might not usually encounter ahead of the usual suspects like Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post.

Still not convinced? Here are five reasons your business might want to spend some money on Facebook advertising (just like the politicians and the New York Times).

1. Organic reach is declining

This is a big reason why you need to consider putting some money into your social media strategy. Facebook says this is due to the increasing amount of content being posted from family, friends and businesses. There is a lot of competition, and it's hard for a story to gain exposure, especially as members like more and more pages.

Another factor is the way the news feed works – it’s designed to show content that is most relevant to them, decided by thousands of factors related to each person. Facebook denies that organic reach is declining because it wants to make more money from ads – like Google, it always states that it simply wants to provide the best experience for its users.

2. Accelerates growth

Thanks to the changes in a page's organic reach, if you're a business that has only started using Facebook as a marketing tool, then it's going to be very hard to gain any traction on the news feed in terms of people seeing your content. In the past Facebook provided free exposure businesses could use to get messages out, build followings and reach customers. Not anymore.

Facebook is now a marketing sales channel, and like other sales channels, you're going to have to put some time and investment in it. An example: for a newspaper in the past, you wouldn't have thought it strange to spend money if you wanted an advertisement placed to reach an audience. That's the way business owners have to think about Facebook.

3. Targets the right audience

In the past, advertising could be quite an imprecise science. For example, if you were putting up an ad in a magazine, how could you be really sure that it was reaching the right audience? It could be that the ad is simply ignored, or that the people reading it were of the wrong age demographic to make some kind of impact.

Whatever your view on the rights and wrongs of it, Facebook has an awful lot of information on users. It can use this information to target ads at certain demographics and interest groups – such as location, gender, age, likes and interest. A business that really understands this can drive the right sort of traffic with a well-crafted ad.

4. Drives promotions

If your business has spent some working on a video, you've probably uploaded it on YouTube to get some wider exposure.  However, it can be difficult to get people watching, and that’s where social media advertising can help. By creating a suitable ad on Facebook promoting the video and linking to the video, you can increase the amount of eyeballs on the video (and with targeting, the right sort of eyeballs).

It's important to note though, that if you wanted to drive something like a competition or event, you really should be getting paid social media to work with other types of marketing, such as email and search. Social media should be integrated with your entire marketing strategy – you’ll get better results. 

5. Cost-effective

We're all used to social media being free, so businesses are entitled to worry about spending money on a another marketing platform. However, it's not simply a case of throwing money until something sticks, like it can be with print, radio or television advertising. With Facebook Ads you have a lot of control on what you spend and where it goes. Like PPC, the daily budget will never be more than what you state should be the maximum every day.

And crucially, Facebook Ads lets you look deeply at the analytics of the campaign, so you can really drill down on what is and what's not working. You can change the campaign depending on these insights, easily seeing what kind of ad worked and what didn't. These insights will also be of interest to other people in your business.