Social Media

Mastering Precision: The Art of Social Media Ad Targeting

What is “social media targeting?” It’s not when you send cute dog videos to a cat person, no. It’s the practice of delivering highly relevant content and ads to specific segments of the audience. 

It means using their demographics, interests, and behaviors to tune your ads to be as efficient as possible. 

Paid ads aren’t for reaching the biggest broad audience imaginable: they’re for finding the right audience. One thousand people ignoring your ad isn’t as good as four people clicking on it. 

We spoke with paid media experts to learn and share what makes their strategies for social media targeting so effective, and how to implement them ourselves. If your ads aren’t getting the engagement you want (the engagement you’re paying for), take a look at this guide. 

The 4 Types of Social Media Targeting

There are many, many ways to break down an audience, but these four are the most important: 

  1. Demographics, or, “Who is your audience?” Ads that target certain demographics are aimed at ages, genders, locations, education levels, and income.
  1. Interests, or, “How does your audience spend their time?” This form of targeting focuses on hobbies, interests, music, TV preferences, and likes and dislikes. 
  1. Behavior, or, “What do they do?” We’re talking about how your audience behaves online and/or during their regular purchase process. What websites do they visit, what ads do they tend to click on, when do they abandon or return to a cart, what videos do they watch all the way to the end?
  1. Psychographics, or, “Why do they think the way they do?” This is probably the pillar that gets forgotten or glossed over the most. We need to know how a user or future customer thinks. What are their values, their attitudes, their lifestyle? 

Now that we know what they are, we have to ask: why does it work? Why does ad targeting matter?

Effective Ad Targeting Boosts ROAS


Value is better than volume. A properly targeted ad is going to get more of the right kind of attention, yes, and it’s going to save you money. It’s just a matter of efficiency, of improving your “return on ad spend” (ROAS). 

Good targeting leads to better ad relevance. The more relevant an ad is to the person who sees it, the more likely they are to interact with it. Which, of course, leads to higher clickthrough and conversion rates. 

Targeted ads are worth more, for less. Generally, the better targeted an ad, the better return on ad spend. More people are clicking, and fewer irrelevant audiences are seeing your ad.

Relevant ads create a connection. This is less IQ and more EQ, but consumers actually like targeted ads. In fact, 71% of people surveyed said they prefer ads relevant to their shopping habits and interests. Relevant ads make people feel valued and understood by a brand. 

Best Practices for Social Media Targeting 

We understand the “what” and the “why” of social media ad targeting: it’s time to move onto the “how.”

Audience Research

Audience research involves studying your target audience’s behavior, preferences, and pain points. 

Data Collection. Collect data from sources like social media insights, surveys, and website analytics. 

Create Buyer Personas. Create profiles of your ideal customers, including demographics and characteristics. With this also identify your consumers pain points by determining the challenges and goals your audience faces. 

Segmentation. Group your audience based on shared characteristics or behaviors. A organic skincare company might target people interested in environmentalism, people interested in anti-aging products, luxury shoppers age 40-65 and then test those categories. 

Competitor Analysis. Get very, very familiar with your competitors’ audience and strategies. 

Feedback Loops. Collect regular feedback from your audience through surveys and social media interactions. 


Tailored Content

Targeting isn’t just about who sees the ad while they’re scrolling through Instagram, but what the ad itself is actually saying. The content has to be just as custom-tailored as the audience. 

Customize your content to meet the specific needs and preferences of your diverse audience segments. Employ language, tone, and messaging that resonate with their values and passions. Craft concise, transparent, and compelling ad copy. Clearly illustrate how your product or service can enhance lives and elucidate its value. Choose words that inspire action, urging them to click a link or make a purchase.

Maintain a uniform brand voice and style throughout all your content. This consistency cultivates brand recognition. A steady tone fosters a connection and trust.

Integrate dynamic ads into your campaigns. These ads adjust content based on individual user interactions and preferences, making them potent tools for personalized targeting. Utilize them to display tailored content to your audience, updating the ads as users engage. This ensures your campaigns remain pertinent and impactful.

A/B Testing

A/B testing is when you create two different versions of an ad. So, the ad may run on the same platform (say, Facebook), but it has slight to severe alterations. 

The ad could be the same video or reel in theory, but it may use different editing, different music, or an entirely different tone. Or, the change could be massive. It could be an entirely different campaign gesturing at the same product, event, or brand from an entirely new angle. If the A is serious, the B could be silly and irreverent. If A talks about pain points, B discusses features, etc.

A/B testing helps you find what your audience engages best with, and helps you plan future social media ads. Even something as simple as a change in call to action could reap tremendous rewards.

Data Analysis

Data analysis is the final step of any targeted ad. Basically, what happened to the campaign, and did we achieve our goals?

Looking at the data is super important in social media ads. It helps you figure out what’s working and what’s not, while giving you insights into your audience, showing how well you’re doing, and where you can improve. 

Pay attention to metrics like conversion rate, cost per conversion, and return on ad spend–they tell you if your ads are worth the money you’re spending.

Then synthesize that data to make a more effective ad next time that targets exactly who you want to target.

Ad Targeting is Tricky and Time-Consuming (and Worth It)

social media

Obviously there’s a lot to the art of audience identification and ad targeting. Recent changes in privacy laws and how data is handled are changing all the time, and new social media platforms are popping up all the time.

To learn more about data collection, social media ads, and social marketing, check out our other articles:

If you’re looking for help with ad targeting on social media (or any channel), talk to our team today. We recently took over social media for illycaffè, and we can help you too.

This article has been published in the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Marketing Knowledge Center. Click here to visit their blog.

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