Your Guide to Social Media Targeting


When it comes to ad campaigns on social media platforms, there are two awesome ways to stand out in the crowded arena of peoples’ feeds: creativity and relevance. Once you’ve got some kickass content creators on board to help you with the first, we’re here to help you with the second. And the best way to do that is with targeted ads on social media. 

What is targeting in social media marketing?

In digital marketing, “targeting” refers to the ability to choose the people who are shown your ads. Targeting is based on demographic and behavioral data, like age ranges or life events. You can also target customized lists you’ve built yourself.

How ever you go about it, the key to a good targeting strategy is data. Even with changes to privacy laws, social media platforms store a lot of data and make it available to you to use for paid ad campaigns. You can also incorporate your own data sources. 

Most social media ads these days are delivered alongside the option to click on the ad and block it because ‘this isn’t relevant to me’. In order to ensure that this never happens to your ads on any social network, you need to make the most of the targeting options available to you when you’re ready to publish your wonderfully creative ads.

Facebook Ads and Instagram targeting options

It’s easier than ever to ensure an ad is seen by people most likely to convert. With Meta for Business (formerly Facebook Ad Manager), for example, you can target people based on the below criteria:

  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Relationship Status
  • Educational Status
  • Age
  • Location, including if someone lives in an area or just visiting
  • Language
  • Occupation, as well as job title targeting

And more factors available from data contained within a user’s personal profile. You can even target ideal customers based on:

  • life events like upcoming birthdays or anniversaries 
  • event attendance like conference (for Facebook events you have access to, that are associated with a Facebook page)

Facebook’s advertising apparatus also incorporates Instagram’s advertising infrastructure, as well as Facebook “audience network” across thousands of apps, meaning you can target the same person across many different ad placements. With the growth of ecommerce, the introduction of direct selling and competition from newcomers like TikTok, Instagram has introduced better targeting options and business support.

Ad targeting on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram

Targeting options on the different platforms naturally reflect the intent and use of that platform. In the case of ‘young’ platforms, like TikTok, targeting tends to evolve as the platform matures. The potential market is huge – TikTok was the most downloaded app on iOS in 2021. The options reflect both the young-skewing demographic of the user base and the app-based format of the platform. TikTok allows you to create custom and look-alike audiences based on:

  •  Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Language
  • Interests and behaviors, and
  • Device type, model, connection and carrier

Twitter break their targeting options out into three categories, some of which reflect the live and immediate nature of the platform:

  • Demographics: location, language, device, age and gender 
  • Audience types: conversations, events, tweet engagers, keywords, movies & tv, interests and lookalikes
  • Your audiences: this distinguishes between targeting your followers and building a custom audience 

LinkedIn, naturally, puts the focus on targeting that uses professional demographics to build your ideal audience. Unlike most social media, the B2B nature of LinkedIn means they offer company targeting as well as individuals, or ‘contact targeting’ in their words.

LinkedIn also allows you to create custom audiences by uploading your own contact data, or lookalike audiences based on matching your ideal customer with their data. The options for lookalike audience targeting include:

  • Job title
  • Company name
  • Industry
  • Interests – professional and personal

What types of paid social targeting methods are there?

Social media networks give you a range of methods to customize who sees your ads. You can use demographics, interests, or online behaviors to show your ads to specific social media users who display those characteristics.

There are also more advanced options that involve predictive analytics, machine learning and retargeting tools to improve your paid social media marketing campaigns in a variety of ways.

This might seem like one big blanket “targeting method”, but it can be broken down into different parts that you might take advantage of at different times, or in different campaigns, or in different marketing mixes.

Here’s the breakdown!

Demographic targeting

A method of targeting customers based on available personal data. 

Interest/Behavioral targeting

A method of targeting customers who display certain interests and behaviors in web and mobile browsing (pages visited, searches performed, links clicked, products purchased) and physical behaviors (like location, event attendance, and in-store purchases). 

Predictive targeting

A method of targeting that applies machine learning/AI to predict the best products to show certain customers, which customers are most likely to convert, and build lookalike audiences (potential leads who exhibit similar behavior to existing customers and may be good candidates to serve ads to).

Retargeting or remarketing

A method of targeting that uses tools like cookies, tracking pixels, email lists and CRM data to serve ads to users who have already displayed interest in a product or service, visited your website, looked up certain search terms, or otherwise engaged with your business. 

Custom targeting

A method of targeting where you input your own CRM (customer relationship management software) data, email lists, past purchase data or other proprietary first-party data to build your own custom audience.

Contextual targeting

A method of targeting based on the surrounding content, such as advertising running shoes on a fitness blog article. This is more search or display advertising than social media advertising, but you should be aware of the differences. 

How do you reach the right target market?

The answer to reaching the right target audience is both simple and complex: you have to aim your ads at real people. Some audience segments may reach the hundreds of thousands, especially on popular social media platforms. But many of these people may not be interested in your product. 

In order to reach the right person on the right device at the right time with the right ad, your desired social media advertising target audience should be highly specific and detailed, and based on real customers.

Here’s how you reach the right target audience. Firstly, identify your existing customers and talk to them via feedback, surveys or research meetings. 

“Find out where your existing customers are active on social media, what they’re looking for – information, news or entertainment – and what they need from your business.”

Then, create buyer personas centered on these existing customers to help inform:

  • your best social media platform/s to advertise on (based on where your customers are)
  • your initial targeting (based on customer demographics & interests)
  • your content and your messaging (based on what your customers need and are looking for)

Your existing customer base will help you identify your starting target market.

As you earn new customers, you can adjust and optimize your personas and targeting methods to draw in more new customers, or even develop new personas who may need new strategies. 

We hope you found this article on social media targeting useful.

Your audience is out there waiting for you; go get ‘em!

Bookmark this article for later or share with your colleagues for an easy reference to the many methods of targeting the right audience on social media. 

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