Social media has never been hotter, and legions of marketers and web designers now swear by Facebook advertising. To hear them tell it, using the social network to reach new customers is faster, cheaper, and easier than tried-and-true methods like search engine optimization and email marketing.

But, is social advertising really a revolution? Do Facebook ads actually deliver a bigger return than you could get from other marketing channels?

The difficulty in finding the answer is that sweeping assumptions rarely ever hold up. There are some businesses doing very well with Facebook ads, while others find them to be largely wasteful. Let’s look at a few key details that shed light on both sides of the issue…

Facebook Ads Generally Offer a Lower Cost-per-Click

Marketers discovered long ago they could bring targeted pockets of traffic to their websites by using ads on Google and the other search engines, leading to lots of competition. And LinkedIn lets you target executives and business owners with laser precision, but the bid prices you’ll pay tend to be very high. With Facebook ads, you can reach thousands of people in a tightly-defined audience very inexpensively, simply because most of your competitors haven’t gotten onboard yet.

Facebook Advertising Requires an Image-Based Approach

On Google, you have a lot of different options for reaching buyers through pay-per-click ads. With Facebook, you have to sell mostly through images with small bits of text laid over top. That takes the focus away from your offer and puts it on a picture that needs to both grab attention and convince a prospect to click through to your business page or website. It’s an approach that works really well in some businesses, but if your offer can’t be boiled down to an eye-catching image and a headline, you’re going to struggle to turn your ads and visits.

Targeting Demographics is Different Than Focusing on Keywords

The biggest thing to remember about advertising on Facebook is that you aren’t getting searchers at a moment when they’re thinking about your products or services. Instead, you’re picking a slice of the market you think will be interested in what you have to offer. That takes some of the urgency out of the equation, and makes it even more important that you catch a buyer’s attention with your image, since their mind was likely on something altogether different before they saw your ad.

The bottom line is that there are huge opportunities in social advertising, but they aren’t a great fit for every business, and reaching customers on Facebook takes an entirely different approach than the one you would follow on Google or one of the other search engines.

If you’re looking for a new, low-cost way to target groups of buyers who might be persuaded with an image and a headline, Facebook ads could offer you a high-ROI outlet for reaching them. But, we wouldn’t recommend giving up your other marketing channels just yet.