Over the years, you may have used magazine subscription demographics or Nielsen ratings to determine when and where to spend your advertising dollar. Despite enhancements in these techniques, however, they have remained a rather imperfect science. Social media ads, however, provide a powerful means for your brand to reach the right people at the right time.

Still, it's important to balance the perks of granular targeting through social media with the potential downfalls of zeroing in on specific demographics and groupings. Here are some pros and cons of social media ad targeting that your brand should consider before starting campaigns.

The Pros
Targeting options: Perhaps the biggest plus in terms of targeting is the sheer number of options your brand has for drilling down to certain demographics and interest groups. Below is a list of many possible groups you have to target, though it is by no means exhaustive:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Language
  • Gender
  • Education
  • Interest
  • Friends
  • Friends of friends
  • Relationship status
  • Actions taken
  • Occupation
  • Job title
Cost effectiveness: Because of the granular targeting options available, the efficient spending of your ad dollars is a huge benefit. Instead of throwing a bunch of ads -- whether they are text, video, imagery, or other media -- against a wall and seeing what works, you can make sure your money is being spent in ways that make sense for the message you are presenting and the brand you are representing.
Advertising copy and creative: When we say that you can deliver the right messages to the right people at the right time by using social ad targeting, it's important to explain what that means. By targeting specific groups of people, you should remember that you now have the ability to use images and copy that reflect the interests and vernacular of those in your targeted audience. While you don't want to overdo it (more on this in the "cons" section), it is important to create advertising content that suggests a superior knowledge of your audience. You no longer need to create blanket marketing messages that appeal to a wide swath of people. So research your targeted audience, understand their needs, and appeal to that.

The Cons
Limiting potential reach: A potential downside to targeting groups of people with your social media ads is the self-imposed limits put in place by this strategy. When you start choosing different groups to target, you start removing potential groups of people who may be receptive to your advertising message, despite not falling into a particular demographic. You can hope to see a viral spread from your social ads, which would expose new people to your content. If this doesn't happen, however, your ads will only be seen by a certain percentage of people. Because you can combine targeting options, you can reach a very specific group of people. But that also means that your ads will not reach a large group, especially when you start drilling down to particular interests. So it's important to balance targeting with your potential reach to find the sweet spot for your message.

The "intrusion" factor: Remember that you and your audience have a lot in common: just like them, you are human beings who enjoy some privacy, even if it's understood that there is now less of that with social networks. So, imagine seeing the following ad copy when you sign into Facebook: "Hey, 24-30 year old male from Long Island who enjoys fishing, you should buy our fishing poles, and bring your daughter with you!"

While this is an extreme example, it's not inconceivable that you could create ad copy that is hyper-focused on a select group of users. This, however, may not be the best route. While I noted above that you should make sure to research your audience and target copy toward them, you can certainly overdo it. Be cognizant of the fact that most users don't want your brand making it seem like you have everyone's information at your fingertips; instead, softly imply that you know your audience without knowing too much about them.