Kelly Stone, Senior Director, Global Social Media, CompTIA

#SSU2020 Speaker Spotlight: CompTIA’s Kelly Stone Offers Her Take on Paid Social

By: Sophie Maerowitz

February 6, 2020

As most marketers have come to realize, today’s brands would be hard-pressed to run a successful social media campaign without some kind of budget. But simply throwing dollars at a post isn’t enough to make your brand stand out or achieve business outcomes.

Kelly Stone, global director of social media at CompTIA, an international tech association offering IT certification programs and research, is no stranger to paid social. Stone, who often travels the globe to speak on marketing and communications strategy, has expertly led her organization through social media’s many iterations, from the so-called “death of organic” to an era of hyper-targeted campaigns.

Stone will be co-leading a master class on paid social at The Social Shake-Up 2020. She laid some of her wisdom on the Shake-Up, below (for more insights, you’ll need to attend her session in Atlanta this May).

 What skills do you think communications and marketing folks need in order to be smart and strategic about social media advertising?

You need to understand and be able to articulate what you’re working toward. Whether you’re reaching your audience and goals completely dictates how you’ll be using the tool. I ask people who come to me with advertising concerns, “What does success look like for you? How will you know you got what you needed out of this?” From there, we can extrapolate how and where they’re running the ads, down to the creative and value proposition, and what those will look like.

How has paid social changed since the Great Algorithm Shift of 2016 demoting organic content?

The algorithm change certainly required more investment financially, but also forced brands to think more strategically and come up with genuine strategies for engaging audiences. It forced us to be creative, because we couldn’t ensure that someone who liked our page for a contest six years ago was still interested in our content. We had to be more thoughtful about how we reach out to our audience and the types of messages and actions we want them to take.

Take a deep dive into paid social, measurement, platform strategy and more at The Social Shake-Up 2020, May 12-14 in Atlanta.

What are some ways that you leverage paid social for CompTIA?

On Facebook, we invest in calls to action, as our ads typically revolve around website traffic—our transactions don’t occur on social. We have a long product cycle. We’re not selling an accessory or physical product; we’re selling a lifestyle.

People don’t change their minds overnight. We’re trying to get people to our website to continue their journey, whether they’re reading a blog or listening to a podcast. We do focus on brand awareness and conversions, but at a much lower rate than website traffic.

Can you offer an instance where a small investment in paid social ended up in a big payoff for CompTIA?

Paid social can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want. The power in it is that you’re picking the audience that is going to see it, and only paying for that audience. If I wanted to pay for a billboard on a highway, I would be paying for anyone who happens to see it over a given period of time. But if I want to reach women in the state of Utah interested in a tech career, I can do that with paid social.

We don’t spend that much on paid social in my small department. When we did outreach around Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017, we spent less than $200 on social ads just to get the word to our audience and those who donate to disaster relief. In those ads, we highlighted that we would match funds 2:1 to make peoples’ money go a lot further. On the creative side, we made some internal graphics with Shutterstock, but with very little investment of resources. Ultimately, we were able to donate $180,000 toward disaster relief.

In short, people screamed from the rooftops about the death of organic, but the flipside is that it doesn’t cost much to get the right eyeballs on your content. 

Where are brands missing the mark in terms of paid social?

 Marketers need to revisit some of the sites they may have written off in the past. I didn’t think very highly of LinkedIn ads at first, but I went ahead and tried a LinkedIn InMail campaign—and we were getting clickthrough rates of over 50 percent. And I’m getting Twitter traffic for 22 clicks for one penny.

We have also had success with Pinterest—for a campaign primarily targeting men aged 25-54, I started doing research, looking at their analytics. It turns out that in general, women go to Pinterest to plan; men go to Pinterest to buy. It’s one of our most gender-balanced channels, useful for reaching out to people who have never been interested in our products before. Within six weeks, Pinterest exploded for us: A small ad spend led to 50,000 impressions. Its targeting capabilities are not that different from other platforms (interests, lookalikes, users)—it’s just a different delivery system.

What tips do you have for arguing for budget for paid social?

As a marketer, if you’re not participating actively in analytics, you’re missing out on many useful insights that have an impact beyond marketing. The insights I get on social eclipse a lot of touchpoints, and I communicate that back to leadership and other departments.

So, sure, we could buy a list of potential members, but I can build my own much more compelling list from paid social, reporting on how those people behave. The spend isn’t just about ROI. There is so much more value than just clicks.

If you’re getting pushback, I’m not above taking 50 of my own dollars for a campaign and then saying, “This is what I got for $50. Here’s what I can get for $500.” It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Follow Kelly: @KellyCulinarian

At The Social Shake-Up