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Improving targeting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn

Man shooting arrows at target illustration

One of the biggest challenges for PR pros and marketers using social media is how to reach the desired audience, which has become all the more difficult and important as networks continue to grow in size – Facebook now has two billion monthly users – and fake profiles become increasingly prevalent – it is estimated that between 9% and 15% of monthly Twitter users are bots.

When looking at the social targeting tools available to PR pros and marketers on the major social platforms, there’s two questions that need to be answered: How effectively can I target the followers and fans that I currently have on the platform and how effectively can I target new customers and prospects on the platform?

Social targeting on Facebook and Instagram

Facebook is unprecedented by nearly every measure for social platforms, except perhaps for engagement, where its companion network Instagram – and its 700 million users – excels. The reason for considering these two together is that paid content is placed for either platform via the Facebook Ads Manager, Power Editor, or Marketing API.

The likelihood of a brand post reaching an intended audience is low on Facebook. The social network’s post-IPO algorithm has never been favorable to brands, and its update last year to promote friends and family posts over news publishers and brand posts further diminishes the expected reach for any particular post. While there is debate about liberal use of videos’ and images’ ability to increase audience reach, brands cannot consistently reach most of the fans and followers with organic Facebook posts. This is why many brands use social as a way to migrate fans and followers to email lists, which are more reliable ways for organic content.

For Instagram, there is a sorting algorithm that filters and promotes content as Facebook does, though it does not appear to penalize branded content as much as Facebook. The two advantages organic Instagram posts have are that content consumption is much faster relative to Facebook (you can consume and engage with visual content faster than written posts), and that contextual hashtagging can give you additional targeted discovery. Most likely, you cannot consistently reach most of your followers and fans on Instagram, either, but your targeted reach is greater than Facebook because of a less restrictive algorithm and its content and contextual advantages.


Because Facebook is such a huge repository of social data, and Instagram data associates to Facebook data, you can target at a very sophisticated level on either platform. Additionally, with Facebook’s custom audience feature, you can target your current fans with posts and ads that reach them at a much higher rate than organic posts.

The first major targeting option with Facebook and Instagram are basic demographic data options: location, age, gender, and language. Detailed targeting gets into the more granular options, such as education, financial, generation, politics, relationship status, work, behaviors, and so on.

Another nice feature: Facebook’s audience size tool (in the upper right corner of the Power Editor tool) shows the approximate size of the specified targeted audience, how much reach is possible daily, and how many clicks can be expected.

Paid ads and content on Facebook and Instagram allow brands to target their current audience with more reliability than organic posts, as well as to target new or segment existing audiences with a great deal of sophistication.

Social targeting on Twitter

Danny Sullivan, writing for Search Engine Land, detailed the effective engagement of a specific tweet as 0.1%, with an impression rate – the people seeing the tweet relative to all followers – of 1.85%.

Granted, he works at a greater scale on Twitter than most, but neither of these statistics demonstrates effectiveness for organic Twitter posts as a reliable way to reach an intended audience. A few years back, SEO expert Andrew Bruce Smith argued that only 6% of Twitter users are active on the platform. The upshot? Twitter is not a reliable tool for organic reach.

Twitter has developed partnerships to build out robust targeting options that it couldn’t provide with its organic graph. Similar to Facebook, Twitter’s targeting tool begins with geographic options, although its options are somewhat less intuitive.


The hypothetical benefits of targeting on LinkedIn temper how people use the network. Job-hunting is the primary utility for the majority of users. LinkedIn is the least frequented of the major social platforms

Jim Dougherty, Leaderswest


Twitter allows you to target by keywords, create a mirror profile to another Twitter handle (a rival business, perhaps?), and to target by language, device, and so on. Twitter’s biggest granular targeting strengths are its breakdown by interests, such as automotive, beauty, family and parenting, food, and health, as well as by category. The interests targeting tool also leverages the “interactional” aspect of Twitter.

Twitter’s categories aren’t exclusively powered by its own data. Instead, they are data points informed by third-party data providers. Categories include auto, consumer packaged goods, dining, finance, insurance, and dozens more. While its unique segmentation categories do offer an advantage, the challenge is how effectively third-party apps can associate this data to a Twitter profile via phone or email address.

Social targeting on Linkedin

Perhaps one of the most alluring social targeting opportunities may be LinkedIn, the professional social network boasting the largest percentage of high-income wage earners of any social platform. It is also one of the biggest social networks that skews male.

The hypothetical benefits of targeting on LinkedIn temper how people use the network. Job-hunting is the primary utility for the majority of users. LinkedIn is the least frequented of the major social platforms, according to Pew Research Center.

Because Linkedin company pages are the primary means of aggregating followers, and because following a company on LinkedIn is a relatively unusual user action, the ability to leverage organic reach hinders follower acquisition on the platform. Lower activity relative to other networks may be a deterrent to investing a lot of resources to develop organic reach on the network.

LinkedIn offers three ad options. And with unique features such as InMail, there are some interesting options for social targeting on LinkedIn. Because of the professional data points unique to the network, the targeting options also differ slightly from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Geographic targeting is less precise than in the aforementioned platforms, with pre-established geographic areas. LinkedIn also offers the option to target matched audiences to reach a specific list of targets by email address or page followers.

The targeting criteria for LinkedIn is congruent with the data that you expect from a professional network, such as company name, job function and title, and schooling. LinkedIn also has an audience expansion feature that allows you to find similar audiences within your target criteria.

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to Cision and his own blog, leaderswest


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