Mallory Benham, a 23-year-old recent graduate, summed up the problem with social media ads in an interview for a recent Harris poll with a quote that’s likely to frustrate many marketing professionals.

“I go on social media to see and know what my friends are doing. I don’t want to see ads clutter my news feed. If I’m interested in a product or service, I know where to look.”

Traditional communication campaigns certainly don’t rely on letting your audience come to you; rather, you have to know where they are and go find them. Today, no matter what type of company you represent, your audience is probably on social media somewhere, and millennials are probably a portion of your target consumers. If they’re on social media, why not place your brand’s ads there, in addition to having a presence on the platforms?

Well, because your audience hates it. They hate seeing social media ads on Facebook so much that 56% of them are actually motivated to drop Facebook completely.

The Engagement Dilemma

Most organizations, even if they don’t understand all of the reasons why, know they need to be on social media in some capacity. They know their clients are there, and they need to “engage” with them. However, a fundamental misunderstanding of what engagement is defined as is likely contributing to an overemphasis on social media advertising and frustrated social media users. Advertising to your social media followers isn’t engagement, and placing the focus here robs your brand of the true benefits of these platforms. If you’re convinced social media is solely about lead generation, sales, and conversions, you might be missing out on great returns from your audience.

Say no to social media ads

This isn’t to say social media advertising is completely worthless – just that there’s a different way to think about it. Here’s how to get the most out of social media ads without alienating your audience:

Understand that social media rarely has short-term pay off

Despite its reputation for being a fast-moving communication source, social media doesn’t often provide quick results for brands. A social media campaign is a long term investment of time and resources and requires effort in relationship building. Social media ads for your website might be seen for a few seconds by your target audience, and – if you’re lucky – they might click the link. However, they haven’t necessarily clicked “like” on your brand’s page. If you can build a strong social presence that provides value beyond a sales pitch, your consumers will like you and then be engaged with your page on a long term basis. A sale from an ad can certainly create a brand loyalist when the product is great, but a follower on your Facebook page can create fans out of people who haven’t even purchased from you yet. Then, when they do purchase down the road, they probably already love you.

Define engagement for your brand

To a certain extent, engagement is defined by what’s most important to each individual brand. This could be likes, comments, shares, reach. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that your social media accounts are about your customers first and your brand second. In Likeable Social Media, author Dave Kerpen, notes the importance of thinking about what your customers would want to see in their news feeds, and then taking the lead in engaging with them. If you were a customer, would you want to see only links to flash sales and pictures of your products?   To take the lead in engaging, make sure you are responding quickly to comments and feedback you receive on your social media accounts. Keep the voice you respond in conversational and authentic, so that it doesn’t seem like a robot is responding. A likeable brand voice will be helpful when your followers do see an ad from you – they’ll be more inclined to click it.

Get laser-focused with your social media ads

If you’re going to do a Facebook ad, your advertising dollars will likely be best spent on an ad that drives likes to your page, rather than visits to your website. As audiences are often irritated by ads and sales pitches, it can be less jarring to see an ad for something that exists within the Facebook “world” – your company page. The more likes you have on your page, the more people who are connected with you and know where to find you when they’re ready to buy.

If you do place ads that are focused on website clicks, make sure to get very detailed with your targeting. It can be tempting to make your audience for your ads as large as possible in order to get them in front of more people. Occasionally this might be the right action, but not often. It’s much better to have a strong sense of who your consumers are and hyper-target your ads to this group. Your reach may be smaller, but you’ll be reaching the people who are more likely to connect with your brand. Choosing “men and women, 20-65, in the US” probably won’t be as effective as “women, 22-35, in Dallas, TX, interested in health, wellness.” It’s possible to target Facebook ads so detailed that only one person will see them, so it’s a great platform to try out different, specific audiences.

The key to social media is to remember to engage – don’t broadcast. Your audience will be more likely to stick with your brand through the multitude of social media changes still to come.