How to get the most from Twitter ads

When to use them, why to use them, and how to get the most bang for your buck.

As a nonprofit, your resources are limited, but the success of your campaign or larger mission depends on attracting other people to your cause—whether that’s donors, volunteers, experts, or activists. Social media is a great place to do that.

In this brief article, we’ll talk about paid ads—when to use them, why to use them, and how to get the most bang for your buck. The advice here will be specific to Twitter, but most of it will also hold for ads on Facebook and other platforms.

Why pay for ads when you can Tweet for free?

Is it possible to build a social media presence or run a campaign organically? Or, in other words, without using any paid ads? Yes, absolutely.

But there are several important downsides to doing it that way. For one thing, running social accounts—let alone active campaigns—takes a lot of time and energy. And even under the best of circumstances, your posts will only reach a fraction of the people who follow your account, and few who don’t.

When you pay for ads, your reach is larger and much more efficient. More of your followers will see your posts, and you can reach other people who are likely to be interested in your cause or campaign.

Finally, if you do it right, you can get really good results on a small budget. Particularly because purpose-driven campaigns get higher engagement than product-driven campaigns. In fact, you may find that putting a little money behind your posts will save you so much time that it saves you money, too.

1. First, get clear on your goals

When you run ads on Twitter, you can pick from seven different objectives. Here are the five you will likely find most useful:

​​Reach: This objective gets as many people to see your ad as possible. This is the right objective if you want to raise broad awareness of your cause or campaign.

​​When to use this objective:​​ If you want to increase people’s awareness of your organization, cause, or campaign. You can also use this objective if you’re organizing a big event and you want as many people to know about it as possible.

​​Followers:​​ This objective will show your ads to people who are likely to follow your account. This is a good way to grow your community and find people who engage with the work you’re doing.

​​When to use this objective:​​ To connect with donors, partners, volunteers, and advocates who want to join your movement.

​​Engagement:​​ This objective will show your ad to people who are likely to like or comment on it.

​​When to use this objective:​​ When you want to start a conversation, spark a debate, or increase the number of interactions on your social profile.

​​Website traffic:​​ This objective will show your ads to people who are likely to visit your website for more information about your cause or campaign.

When to use this objective:​​ When you want people to visit your website to learn more in-depth information about your cause.

​​Video views:​​ This objective will show your video ads to people who are likely to watch them.

When to use this objective:​​ When you’d like people to engage with a piece of entertaining or educational video content.

2. Take note of what’s already working

If you have an established Twitter account, take note of which posts get good organic engagement and either boost those, or create similar posts for your ad campaign.

If you don’t already have an established Twitter account, we wrote an article about establishing a presence on social media. You can also download our free social media quick-start guide.

3. Use hashtags to your advantage

Hashtags serve two main purposes: reach and measurement. Trending hashtags can help your social posts reach a larger audience of people interested in your cause, and original hashtags can help you measure the success of your social campaigns.

You can create a few original hashtags. For example, one for your movement or organization, and another for each specific campaign. Ideally your hashtags are easy to understand, short, and catchy.

Here are a few examples of hashtags from campaigns and movements that you might recognize:

And a few you may not:

Pair your campaign hashtag with trending hashtags relevant to your cause or campaign to get in front of more people who might be interested in it.

In this example, environmental activist Gerald Kutney has paired the campaign hashtag #ClimateBrawl with two popular hashtags that are relevant to it: #ClimateCrisis and #ClimateEmergency.

Now his tweet will surface for people who search for those hashtags.

4. Keep your message short and simple

As you create your ads, keep the message—and especially your calls to action—short and easy to understand.

Yes: Call your local representative or Follow to learn more
No: Indigenous peoples of the Amazon need your support

You can direct people back to your social profile or website for more information and resources they can engage with more deeply.

In this example from the Nature Conservancy, the call to action is prominent and simple: Sign your name.

5. Keep ad messages neutral to avoid bans

Twitter, like other social platforms, has restrictions on advocacy and political content.

So if your cause involves pushing for any kind of political change, make sure you’re either going through the specific process for political ads, or keeping explicit political messages out of your ads.

Instead, use ads with politically neutral messages to bring traffic to the account—where you can publish more overtly political organic tweets and influencer tweets—or back to a campaign microsite with more information. Otherwise your ads may be disabled.

6. Segment your audience

No matter how worthy your cause, some people will be more likely to care about it than other people, so it’s important that your ads reach those people.

Twitter, like most social media platforms, offers a few different ways to find them.

Demographics: Manually choose an audience for your ads based on things like age, location, gender, and other characteristics.

Follower lookalikes: Give Twitter the handles of established orgs in your space so it can use their followers to find people with similar interests. For example, if your organization advocates for human rights in the South Pacific, you might use Amnesty International Australia’s Twitter account as the basis for your lookalike audience.

Interest and keyword segmentation: This option allows you to reach people on Twitter based on keywords in their search queries, recent Tweets, and Tweets they recently engaged with.

7. Test and learn

Segment your campaign audiences, and run different ads in each group.

Try out different audiences, creatives, and ad objectives. Swap out just one variable at a time—for example, keep the text the same, but use a video instead of an image; or use the same image, but change the call to action—and continue to optimize your campaign based on the results.

8. Refresh your content every five days

Monitor and optimize your campaigns every five days. Replace content that’s underperforming with alternate fresh content, or pause ad groups that may be not as effective as others and shift the budget.

9. Take advantage of the momentum to engage

As your ads create traction and greater reach, take advantage of the momentum to engage with your new followers. Share and retweet content, and respond to comments.
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