The Expert’s Guide to Social and Display Ads

Four social media and display ads experts explain how they're using ads, what advice they give to new ads users, what makes a good ad, and how they're growing their businesses with ads.


Chapter 1: Why Social and Display Ads?

Oftentimes, marketing teams are tasked with a few vitally important areas of responsibility in their business:

  1. Acquisition – Bringing in new customers
  2. Engagement – Ensuring customers are interested in and using the product
  3. Retention – Making sure customers continue using the product or return for future purchases

Email and ads enable marketers to accomplish these objectives very well. While email marketing is one of the ideal channels for establishing a rapport and deepening your relationship with current and prospective customers, adding new contacts isn’t always achievable through email campaigns.

This is why ads are an excellent tool that can work closely with email: to help marketers grow their business faster.

Social and display ads give email senders the ability to create, manage, and analyze display and social media ad campaigns based on their existing email contact list. With ads, marketers have the ability to focus on acquiring new customers. 

Chapter 2: Ads and Email Marketing

Ads and email marketing work really well together in a few different, and very helpful ways for businesses. Here are a couple examples:

Promote your business to new, potential customers

Using your current customer list, you can use that list to develop a lookalike audience of people on Facebook or Instagram. This is accomplished by taking that contact list, and determining who, out of all the Facebook or Instagram users, shares the most characteristics with your current customers. You can then show your ads to that larger audience of people, encouraging them to come to your website or purchase your products.

Promote discounts or sales to existing users or past customers

Another great example of leveraging ads alongside email marketing is to continue promoting a sale or discount after your email marketing blast has gone out. Let’s say you’re running a sale, and have recently sent out your email announcement about it. Take the list of people who did NOT engage with the email and serve them display ads about the sale so that they’re still aware of it.

To learn more about how display ads can help you grow your business, read our blog post:


Chapter 3: Learn From the Experts

We spoke with four different social media and display ads experts to see how they’re using ads, learn what advice they give to new ads users, understand what makes a good ad, and how they’re growing their businesses with ads.

Sean Cronen is a Senior Account Manager at where he serves a central role in the company’s operations. He offers a human element to their online course offerings by treating every customer request and question with utmost importance and expediency.

As a Licensed Real Estate Agent in Texas, Sean has contributed a heightened level of industry experience that positively impacts our course offerings and customer service.

He understands the daily concerns of real estate agents and enjoys helping them complete their professional education in a timely and affordable manner.

Can you give me a little background on how you came about using display and social ads?

We’re using ads to re-target people on our contact lists, as well as create lookalike audiences based on those lists. We try to engage with our target audience as frequently as possible and ads help us accomplish this goal.

Our markets are regionalized by state because we offer licensing and renewal courses for real estate agents in several states across the country. Ads help us reach all of these customers with a targeted approach.

What’s the general goal of using ads for your company?

In general, we’re trying to get more traffic to our website. Whether we’re retargeting people who have visited in the past, or driving general website visits. 

What we’ve been trying lately is smaller, more targeted campaigns that only run for a few days, based on specific dates and offering specific discounts to customers for visiting the site and signing up. We’re still waiting to see what the final results look like, but anecdotally, engagement wise, it’s had a tremendous positive effect.

What are your future plans with ads?

Based on the initial results of this more rapid-fire campaign program, we’re planning to continue growing this approach in the coming months. I’m also pushing for us to expand into Instagram because that’s a social platform where our real estate agent customers are very active. They have a lot of personal marketing and branding stuff that they do on Instagram. It would be a great place for us to advertise our name. 

Where are your ads running right now?

At the moment, we’re focused primarily on Facebook. We will soon be testing Instagram. We are also using Google Adwords. For our company, Facebook ads are where we’re seeing the most engagement. 

Do you change your ads up a lot, or how do you they evolve over time?

We tailor each ad for the state that they’re running in, and customize our ads for different segments of potential customers.  We use predictive analytics to determine which products we will promote to different types of customers. Then, in each state and segment, our ads change over time to offer different promotions. This way, our customers get highly targeted ads that are meaningful and impactful to them.

What advice do you have for marketers who are just starting to use ads campaigns?

I noticed, and I think this is applicable across many different systems, there are so many options for how you can configure your own marketing plan that I would just go in with a plan. Whether you’re simply trying to increase conversions or increase engagement, there’s certainly a way to obtain it if you have a goal in mind.

With all the different ways you can contact and reach people who are engaging with you online, have a goal and plan. helps thousands of professionals obtain or renew their Real Estate License credentials each year. Based in Austin, Texas, we are committed to offering first class education services for our students across the country. We focus on providing relevant real estate education that is useful and applicable in the daily lives of our students. In addition, we use the latest in self-paced education technology, making our courses easy to navigate and understand.


We tailor each ad for the state that they’re running in, and customize our ads for different segments of potential customers.

Sean Cronen, License Classroom

Virginia is a Visual Designer on the Twilio SendGrid Brand Team. She builds meaningful brand experiences and specializes in creative storytelling via illustrations. In her spare time, she likes to immerse herself in different cultures through travel and food.

When you start working on an ad, what are some of the things you take into account when you begin the design process?

Well, first I think about the medium and where the ad is going to live. I consider the logistics before I dive into the art, such as the platform it’s going to live on, the type of ad, the message, and the branding.

After that, I try to recognize the limitations and opportunities. For example, Facebook has the text overlay tool to determine that images should have less than 20% text. In that situation, there’s an opportunity for stronger artwork since you’re a bit limited.

What would you say contributes to an ad being good or not good?

A good ad is one that makes sense effortlessly. The message, the brand, and the graphics should be perfect for the target audience. Twilio SendGrid’s message is about trust, allowing someone to send with confidence, so the ads should reflect that. One element of Twilio SendGrid’s brand is illustration to help the user see themselves in the ad.

A bad ad is one that is displeasing to the eye and hard to follow for the reader. If the reader can’t look at it for a few seconds and understand the message, you need a new ad.

Below are a couple examples that I created. The ad on the left looks a little cleaner, it has more whitespace, and the call to action is an obvious button. The ad on the right is more cluttered, and there’s too much text. The ad on the right might confuse the people seeing it, making them less likely to click on it.

Tip: Ensure your template is consistent in terms of message and design! Our brand team uses a collection of standard templates for our ads. They consist of a main header, subheader, and CTA (call to action). CTAs are now optional because it can feel redundant and it also allows more room for art.

Are there any rules or guidelines that you follow when you’re creating a new ad?

The basics of graphic design and/or photography is very useful in ads. For example, the rule of thirds, symmetry, alignment, etc. Keep in mind that the ad is small and someone is only going to look at it for a couple of seconds. Keep it simple and short.

I like to think about an old journalism design rule that I’ve used many times–if you open up a newspaper, place a dollar bill on the page. If the dollar bill covers ONLY text, that’s too much text. Same with ads. Make sure the ad is diverse with words, images, empty space, etc.

Also, anyone who is paying attention will know that an image is weirdly cropped, flipped, or stretched, and it ruins the ad’s reputation. Make sure the image looks good. 

Are there any resources you use to help you design?

The best resource is seeing what’s currently out there. I’d recommend following major brands and your competitors. One website that’s extremely useful is Moat, a live collection of display ads organized by brand.

What else should people keep in mind when creating their display or social ads?

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Cohesive display ads tie everything together. If you look at our new Email and SMS guide, I started with the cover where the two people are holding the planet. From there, I tie those images to the email promotion that we send to customers and prospects, and in the ads we use on social and display. That way there’s a common thread from one thing to the other, like breadcrumbs. You got to give them something, whether it’s color, or a font, or an image. Something that’s like, “OK, based on where I was before, this is the right direction.”

Below are some examples from Using SMS and Email to Engage Your Customers. The first is a long, slender ad commonly seen in the margins on websites, followed by the cover of the guide itself. You can see how they’re cohesive and work together:


Do you have any advice for people who are just starting to create ads and what they should do? 

The steps that I recommend people take when beginning their ad campaigns are:

Step 1. Find inspiration. Whether on Moat, or an ad you saw while you were scrolling on Facebook, or an image you really like – save it! Look for colors, images, phrases, layouts, fonts, illustrations.

Step 2. Build an idea. Sketch out what your ad might look like so you get a feel of how much space there is or how important the text will be. 

Step 3. Make the ad. A lot of designers create ads in Photoshop or Illustrator, but there are free alternatives if you don’t have access or a trial account. Canva is a popular choice.

Step 4. Test it! Show it to people to see if they understood the message. Then edit it based on the common responses.


Try leaving one corner of the ad empty. It makes the display ad feel less cramped. Also pay attention to alignment of words - people notice when it’s off by a few pixels!

Virginia Van Keuren, Twilio SendGrid Visual Designer

Teresa Czornyj is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Twilio SendGrid, focused on driving customer acquisition through display, paid social media, and sponsorship efforts.

Over the past few years she has also worked across various other media channels, building strategic programs for clients through her agency experience.

When she isn’t at the office, you’ll find her being active in the mountains, exploring Denver’s vast selection of breweries, or at home with her cats.

It seems like almost every company has some sort of display or social ad running online. Is that something you’ve seen in your work?

Yeah, before working at Twilio SendGrid, I worked at an agency and created paid social ads and display ads for a lot of different clients. Everything from hotels, to beauty, to travel, so a wide range of verticals. A little of everything, all from low end to super high end.

Whether it’s a company with a ton of budget, or just a small company trying to have a larger presence, everyone is using ads online. In part, it’s because everyone’s on their phone all the time, or on the computer, so you want to get your ads in front of them.

How do display and social ads work with email marketing? 

Basically, you can use your email list and ads to accomplish a couple different things:

  1. Email Retargeting – Once we’ve sent out an email campaign, we can use that same email list to serve ads to people who have either clicked on the email link and didn’t make a purchase, or show ads to people who ignored the email altogether and didn’t open it at all. 
  2. Create Lookalike Audiences – You can take your email contact list and use Facebook to show your ads to people who share commonalities with your contacts. It basically takes the behaviors of people on your list, and makes a lookalike audience of people who have similar attributes. Google and Facebook do this for you by running the list through their algorithms. You could say that you want ads shown to the top 1% of matches, or top 2%. We usually focus on the top 1%.

For SendGrid’s recent Email and SMS guide, we actually used both of these strategies. For instance, used the ad below to target people that had opened our email announcing the guide, but didn’t click on the link in the email:


Are there any guidelines that you think people should follow when it comes to how ads are shown to different people?

There are a handful of best practices people can follow when it comes to their ad campaigns. First, if a contact has made a purchase, it’s best to remove them so that they don’t continue seeing ads for something they already have (you also don’t want to pay for unnecessary ads). I also recommend that people limit the number of times an ad is shown. Just like email frequency, if someone isn’t engaging after seeing the ad 4 or 5 times, you can drop them. 

Are there any best practices that people should follow when it comes to the ad and product experience? 

I would say people should definitely try to make everything look similar, so that if a person clicks on the ad, they see something similar on the landing page, and it’s an evolving experience, not just totally broken. In terms of your ad copy, too. If you’re just driving people to your website, make sure your company name is prominent in the ad and on the page people go to after. You want it to be cohesive.

What are some A/B tests people can ru  with ads besides seeing what design resonates most?

I think there’s a lot you can do in terms of testing, it just depends on what the ultimate goal is that you’d like to achieve. For instance, you could test whether an ad that drives awareness and traffic to your site performs better than a guide download, or a link to an article. You could test if discounts truly drive more engagement, or if reiterating your value props work better. 

What’s something that people should be cautious about when it comes to starting an ad campaign?

People should be really conscious of their customers and who they’re targeting. For instance, if you work for a B2B company, your contact list is probably made up of business email addresses. People generally don’t connect their business emails to Facebook, so if you take your contact list and try to match it in Facebook, you won’t get a lot of matches.

On the other side, if you run an ecommerce website, you might have a large list of email addresses that match in Facebook, making those ads more effective. 

What are some other benefits of tying your email marketing and ads campaigns together? 

There are a couple huge benefits. First, ads is really easy. For most businesses, even small mom-and-pop shops, they have a list of their customers and associated email addresses. Just with that, you can serve all those people an ad campaign.

Second, you can segment your contacts as much as you like. Whether you’re targeting people who haven’t made a purchase in a few months, or people who opened your last email, but didn’t make a purchase, you can get as targeted as you like.


People should try to make everything look similar. If a person clicks on the ad, they should see something similar on the landing page to make it an evolving experience. If you’re just driving people to your website, make sure your company name is prominent in the ad and on the page people go to after. You want it to be cohesive.

Teresa Czornyj, Twilio SendGrid Digital Marketing Specialist

Richard “Rich” Shea has been producing events for 20 years under HiBall Events. HiBall Events owns and produces: Big Night America New Year’s Eve Galas which are some of the largest New Year’s Eve galas.

He was also one of the founders of the ShamrockFest which he recently re-acquired from Red Frog Events.

Can you give us a little background about HiBall Events, and how you use Twilio SendGrid?

Sure! HiBall Events is a special event producer. We produce scaled, public events, some of the largest in the country. 

Over the years, we’ve collected a contact database of people who have bought tickets to these events in the past. We use Twilio SendGrid’s platform to communicate with those people. More recently, we’ve been using posting social media ads because we noticed we were getting fewer people opening and clicking.

Ads allow us to get our message in front of people who stopped engaging. I like that ads are kind of a softer touch than popping them with emails over and over. The ads and email work together nicely. 

Are you doing any segmentation based on email engagement? Are you targeting people with ads who haven’t open your emails, or just taking your full email list and showing them all ads for your events?

Honestly, I’ve done both. Maybe I’m overthinking it or something, but I definitely want my ads going to people who aren’t opening my emails. However, if people are opening, I want to remind them to buy tickets or that the event is coming up. I do both. I just let it rip!

What are good metrics or good engagement stats that you’re looking for to determine if an ad campaign is working, or if it’s not working?

I feel like when it’s on a per-click basis, it sort of doesn’t matter. If I’m getting clicks and people are engaging with the ads, I feel like that’s usually a good result. If I can get them to my website, I think I can do a good job of selling them because I think our event sells itself. That’s basically what I’m trying to do.

Do you set your campaigns up to run for a specific amount of time, let’s say the New Year’s Eve event? Would you start running that November or something after Thanksgiving? What’s the time period there?

I’ll create an ad for the launch, when tickets go on sale, that’s usually around July or August. Then as we have announcements about the upcoming events, I might run new ads for those. Beyond that though, I’ll usually just keep ads running almost all the time at a lower budget, and if tickets still need to be sold as the event gets closer, I’ll add budget to the campaign.

Do you use lookalike audiences as well? 

I do. I incorporate lookalike audiences for specific situations. For instance, if we’re expanding into a new city, and we’re looking for new people to buy tickets to the new event, we can specify that we want to target a lookalike audience in that area. Those people are more likely to buy. That’s also why it’s important to have a good database of people, so that you can expand your reach through social networks.

How many different ads do you create for an event? 

Honestly, I don’t run too many. I feel like the ads I have, a lot of them are pretty good, so they’re already selling. The only time I’ll add more or run different ads is if there’s a price increase coming, so I may have a special ad for that. 

If you were to envision a hypothetical user who was just getting into creating their own ad campaigns, what advice would you give them?

I think you can keep it really simple. If you have your database and you want to create another line of communication with those people, just create a simple ad with it and run it. I like to make sure I’m hitting people with my message in a lot of different ways. Ads is a nice way to get to people without being too in their face.

What else should people keep in mind when running an ad campaign? 

I think it’s harder to hit people with advertising and marketing messages these days. In the past, you could rely on a billboard, radio spot, or TV commercial, but today, people need to see an ad a lot of times before it cuts through the rest of the noise.

I think ads are great because people are using social media a lot, and you’re able to target specific people and get your message in front of them a few times.

HiBall Events is one of America’s leading event production and promotion companies. With over twenty years of experience, founder Rich Shea and the rest of the management team at HiBall Events have produced hundreds of events from coast-to-coast, including Big Night New Years in DC, Nashville, San Diego and New Orleans; One of the nation’s largest Irish festivals: ShamrockFest; and large events in cities across the US.


I incorporate lookalike audiences for specific situations. For instance, if we’re expanding into a new city, and we’re looking for new people to buy tickets to the new event, we can specify that we want to target a lookalike audience in that area.

Rich Shea, HiBall Events

Chapter 8: Main Takeaways

Social media and display ads may not seem like the obvious marketing channel for a lot of email senders, but they can complement and grow your email program in some really great ways. Now that you’ve heard from some of the people who know most about ads, you can start implementing their advice:

  • Use the right ads for your customers or users – If your users are primarily on Facebook and Instagram, focus your efforts more on those channels than on Google. Be aware of the type of email addresses you’re collecting, too. Are they personal or business addresses?
  • Customize your ads for your targeted audiences – Customization and segmentation don’t have to be super complicated. If you know the locations of your contacts, think about customizing your ads and including locations in them targeted at specific people.
  • Make sure your ads are consistent – Your ads should reflect the website or webpage they’re directing people to. There should be a common thread from one thing to the other, like breadcrumbs.
  • Remove contacts after they make a purchase – If a contact has made a purchase, it’s best to remove them so that they don’t continue seeing ads for something they already have (you also don’t want to pay for unnecessary ads).
  • Coordinate the timing of your ads – When you’re developing your next seasonal email campaign, take the time to create some ads that you can run in conjunction with the email. After your email has been sent, target the people who didn’t open the email with the ads.

If you’re running a business and collecting email addresses from your customers, you can start running effective social and display ad campaigns.

Get Started with SendGrid

SendGrid helps you focus on your business without the cost and complexity of owning and maintaining an email infrastructure. And with a full-featured marketing email service that offers a flexible workflow, powerful list segmentation, and actionable analytics, all of your email needs are met in one simple platform.