How eBay Crafts Its Social Ads to Target Both Geeky Guys and Fashionistas

It involves 16 different social platforms

Over the past few years, it's become increasingly hard for social marketers to pick which sites and platforms are worth their time and investment and which ones are passing fads (R.I.P. Peach and Yo).

For eBay, its social strategy spans 16 social networks and includes the usual mix of big platforms including Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest. But the brand is also putting big money and resources behind smaller, niche sites such as Imgur, We Heart It, Tango and Reddit that target specific audiences.

"The ecosystem is fragmented," said Llibert Argerich, global director of social and content at eBay. "There are more and more platforms that cater to more and more specific audiences. Those platforms are fragmented, but they're still very big."

Photo-based Imgur, for instance, is geared towards geeky millennial guys and pulls in more than 150 million monthly active users. Meanwhile, female-focused social platform We Heart It hones in on women interested in fashion and lifestyle content, and has more than 40 million users.

"I didn't know Imgur 18 months ago," Argerich said.

Then in July 2015, eBay ran one of the first promoted posts on Imgur, an online community notoriously averse to advertising. The ad promoted drones and explained the differences between the different types. It generated more than 800 comments.

Surprisingly, users weren't turned off from the ads. "We started getting people saying, 'Wow. It's amazing. I want to work at the marketing department for eBay, doing posts for Imgur,'" Argerich said.

So, the brand created a follow-up campaign to show users what it's like to be a marketer at eBay. The brand dressed up content creators in costumes that Imgur users could buy.

The e-commerce company is now one of Imgur's biggest advertisers and works with the site to create weekly promos.

"We're having one post a week for the whole year—we moved from initial tests, [saw] that it works and we kept growing," Argerich said.

Similarly, eBay is one of the first advertisers to test audience and keyword-based ads on We Heart It, a site where users upload photos into a stream that's a "mix of Pinterest and Facebook."

Compared to Imgur, We Heart It is, "not so much about storytelling like a promoted post," Argerich said. "It's more about showing items that are interesting, relevant and trending."

For example, eBay posted an image of a pink mermaid tail that ended up generating 100,000 users to click back to look at the item on eBay.

Over the past six months, Argerich said eBay's built a following of more than 710,000 followers on We Heart It. To compare, eBay has 207,000 followers on Instagram.

Then there's Reddit, which has slowly but steadily been building out an ad business that eBay is part of. The brand has run more than a dozen ad campaigns on Reddit in the past year, with some efforts that target specific chatter increasing click-through rates by 35 percent.

One of the challenges with such an approach is that so-called native content can only work on that platform, meaning that it can't be re-used by eBay's social team for other platforms and doesn't have a huge reach.

"When we create a piece of content, we always try to see if that would work in other platforms," Argerich explained. "In specific cases like Imgur, it's difficult because not only is the content catered to what they care about, but the format as well."

That's where bigger platforms—namely Facebook and Pinterest—come in.

Pinterest's spin on commerce is particularly intriguing for eBay. The brand has created more than 50,000 pins, particularly targeted towards relationships, home and garden and fashion content.

"What's interesting about Pinterest is it's more of a visual search engine than an actual social network," Argerich said. "People go to Pinterest with a passion or project in mind—it's very commerce-oriented. We're tapping into an existent mindset of having to carry out a project."

In terms of size, Facebook is eBay's biggest social platform, and the brand regularly uses ads to push time-sensitive deals and retarget items that people have previously seen on eBay.com.

In April, eBay was among a handful of brands to get first dibs on Facebook Messenger and its bot, which lets people monitor items that they've placed a bid for on eBay.com and pushes out alerts when an item is sold.

"The next six months is very much going to be about, 'How do we increase our presence in the different messaging platforms?" Argerich said. "We have big plans for AI and bot integration."