As your marketing plans begin to turn to the holidays, you may be wanting to add digital and social media into the mix. Certainly, the audience is there. But so, sadly, are increased prices.

Here’s everything you need to know about advertising online — without breaking your bank.

What?! It's more expensive now?!

Sure is. Almost all social media advertising, like Facebook ads or Google ads, operate on an auction system. The more other brands jump in with their own ads (as they do, during the holidays), the higher everyone’s prices will be. The same ads you were getting in the summer for $1 per click might cost you $4 or $5. Or more.

So, how do you make it cheaper? Here are some tips.

Engage Heavily, Then Go Organic

This might be the time to rely more on organic (i.e., regular, unpaid social media) posts. While organic reach is quite low — sometimes as low as 1% of your fan base — there are things you can do to increase this.

Reach (the number of people who see your messaging) on Facebook and Instagram is controlled by hundreds of factors, but one of the most important is engagement. In other words, the more you engage with people — asking them questions, thanking them, and so on — the better unpaid reach you’ll get with that person.

All year long, you should be actively engaging with prospects, fans, and customers on social media. Posts should ask questions or create other opportunities for people to comment on or share your posts.

Avoid the News Feed

The most competitive space on Facebook is the News Feed — there is limited inventory, and everyone wants to be there. But Facebook has been quietly adding new places to advertise, such as on the Messenger home screen, on videos, and inside “Instant Articles.” Since fewer advertisers are using these placements, the bid rates tends to be lower.

Tap Into Your Existing Audiences

As a general rule, audiences which are “warm” to your message perform better. This is where Facebook’s “custom audiences” can work in your favour this holiday season. You can upload a list of your email newsletter subscribers, or your past customers, and advertise to them. While bid rates won’t necessarily be cheaper, the results will probably be stronger.

Experiment with New Ad Channels

Social media platforms are always rolling out new ways to amplify your messaging — and some of them aren’t tied to the competitive auction system.

Twitter’s partnership with Sprout Social is a good example. For a flat monthly fee, Sprout Social's “Lift” service will promote the reach of your brand’s tweets. There are four levels of pricing, all flat-fee based, and you simply turn it on to have it start working on your tweets.

For younger audiences, Snapchat might be a strong performer. You can now create photo overlays that are active in a particular geographic region and for a specific time. For now, these are relatively inexpensive.

Test, Test, Test

All that said, if you still want to use regular social ads (and compete in the auction market for that space), run a small-budget test first of a few hundred dollars, so that you know roughly the price you’ll be paying when you roll the full campaign out. And, if your budget supports it, test a variety of images and messaging to get the most bang for your buck.

In short, while holidays may indeed be a critical time for you to advertise, but by testing with small budgets, avoiding the busy placements, and leveraging engagement to grow your organic reach, you can still market smart — and cheap.


Tod Maffin is president of engageQ digital, a social engagement agency which builds revenue for businesses using digital and social media. Information on his free workshops are at