Home The Common Traps That Make Social Media Ads Campaigns Fail

The Common Traps That Make Social Media Ads Campaigns Fail

It’s tempting to chase the potential of social media marketing. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are collectively home to billions of individual user profiles, giving businesses practically global reach.

These days, it’s harder than ever to get popular on social media organically – and for a number of reasons, including high levels of competition and decreasing organic reach. So millions of aspiring marketers and business owners turn to the power of social media advertising to get the message out.

Unfortunately, despite the incredible potential ROI of social media, most social media advertising campaigns fall flat.

What are the common traps that preclude digital marketers from getting what they need out of their campaigns? And more importantly, how can you avoid them?

Choosing the Wrong Platform

One of the first and most important decisions you’ll make when planning a social media ad campaign is which platform you want to use – or which combination of platforms you’re going to use.

Some people go with their gut, rather than doing research. They see Facebook as the biggest social media platform, and therefore the most valuable, despite not knowing whether Facebook has a sufficient population of people who fit their target demographics. Or they assume that distributing advertising on multiple platforms is always the right move – despite the fact that each new platform in your portfolio is going to cost more time and money.

Take your time with this decision. Do your research and look at the numbers to make sure your primary platform is heavily used by your target audience – and don’t forget to review pricing, ad campaign tools, and analytics.

Focusing on the Wrong Metrics

Hopefully, you know the importance of measuring and analyzing your work, so you can gradually optimize your ads and see better results. But it’s tempting at the start of your campaign to track metrics that say nothing about your “true” results.

For example:

  •   Followers. An increasing number of followers could be a sign that your online presence and brand reputation are growing and improving; but it could just be a superficial metric that doesn’t mean much of anything. Just because 10,000 people follow your page doesn’t mean they’re going to visit your website – or even that they’re going to engage with your content.
  •   Likes. Similarly, likes aren’t a reliable measure of consumer interest or engagement. This is especially true if you’re getting likes from people outside your target audience.
  •   Traffic. Website traffic is important to measure, but it doesn’t give you the full perspective of how your campaign is working. For example, are people bouncing from your website shortly after arriving? Or are they spending hours reading your content?

If you want to know whether your campaign is working, you need a more “zoomed out” picture. How is your brand awareness improving? How long are people staying on the pages of your blog? How many conversions are you getting and how does that translate to a positive ROI?

Scaling Too Quickly

Digital marketers are willing to sacrifice much in the pursuit of faster growth. Most of the time, this is a favorable strategy; investing heavily in your ad campaign and scaling up your efforts will typically introduce you to more customers and more conversions.

However, scaling too quickly can result in a number of problems that plague your campaign indefinitely. Some platforms, like Instagram, have built-in mechanisms to detect when an account is acting unnaturally. For example, if a brand-new account begins spending tens of thousands of dollars on advertising, it triggers a red flag – and your account may be banned as a result.

Additionally, scaling too quickly can force you to expend resources prematurely, ultimately exhausting your budget before you reach peak effectiveness.

Targeting a General Audience

Who are you speaking to? Instinctively, many people write and publish advertising with the intention of targeting as many people as possible. They speak generically and professionally, using vague language and cliches to appeal to a general audience. While this technically opens the door to a greater number of people, it also limits your effectiveness; your messaging will be seen as too vanilla and too irrelevant to inspire action.

You’re much better off writing and distributing highly targeted advertising, artificially limiting your target audience but greatly increasing your relevance in the process. This can also help you stand out from the competition.

Focusing Exclusively on Selling

Some of your ads should sell your product directly. Some of your social media posts should let your followers know that you have other products and services for sale. But if the overwhelming majority of your ads and posts are hard selling your products, you’re doing something wrong. Most people aren’t on social media just so they can buy things – and if your only purpose is selling, you’re going to turn people off. Make up for this by providing organic content and other valuable pieces of information or entertainment to your followers.

Buying Followers (or Other Superficial Items)

It’s possible to take a shortcut to greater superficial success on social media, such as buying followers or buying likes. But this is a losing strategy. These numbers are “empty,” providing no real value to your brand or to your long-term curation of an interested audience. More than that, if you’re caught engaging in these seedy tactics, you could get your profile banned – or compromise your business’s reputation.


The best social media advertising and marketing strategies benefit from long-term consistency. A single ad campaign to improve brand awareness isn’t going to help you, nor is a week of organic posting followed by a week of silence. You need to commit to ongoing support and development if you want to see better results.


How many brands are currently using social media to promote themselves? How many of them share an industry or an audience with you?

Chances are, you have thousands, or even millions of direct competitors. If you’re copying their strategy, or if you’re not offering anything new, you’re going to suffer for it. There’s definitely value in studying your competition and learning from their tactics, but if you want to break through the clutter, you’ll need to find a way to differentiate your brand and your messaging tactics.

Failure to Experiment

Experimentation is the only reliable way to improve upon your existing marketing strategies. Standard experiments, like AB tests, give you a chance to see how your hypothetical models play out in a live environment. You may think that tweaking your call to action (CTA) or using a different photo will result in a higher conversion rate, but you won’t know that for a fact until you actually test these variations.

Too many social media marketers are unwilling to go through this step. Either they want to stick with a single ad at a time, or they trust their instincts more than hard data. Whatever the case, a non-experimental approach will inevitably weaken your potential long-term results.

Failure to Adapt

In line with this, adaptability is the most important characteristic for any social media advertiser. There’s no surefire strategy for getting results that works for all businesses in all industries. And just because a tactic worked for you in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to continue working in the future. Accordingly, the only path forward is to remain flexible and be willing to change where necessary to improve your results.

There’s one more important point to make here. There are many ways to grow your online business; social media is just one of them. If you find that social media advertising isn’t working for you, don’t be disheartened. It could just be a sign that you need to overhaul your strategy or focus on other channels instead. As long as you keep reviewing and improving your approach, you’ll be on a trajectory toward better results. 


About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Nate Nead
CEO & Managing Member

Nate Nead is the CEO & Managing Member of Nead, LLC, a consulting company that provides strategic advisory services across multiple disciplines including finance, marketing and software development. For over a decade Nate had provided strategic guidance on M&A, capital procurement, technology and marketing solutions for some of the most well-known online brands. He and his team advise Fortune 500 and SMB clients alike. The team is based in Seattle, Washington; El Paso, Texas and West Palm Beach, Florida.

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