There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether social platforms should be called media companies and what their responsibilities are when it comes to policing content. But these discussions miss the point for marketers. Organic content is not relevant for brands.
To achieve meaningful reach on these platforms, you have to buy ads. And, for advertisers, the only thing that matters is performance. So the big question going forward is: can these platforms keep their audiences engaged? Before we answer that, though, let’s look more closely at the issues that currently have the industry up in arms.
Putting the "media" in social media
Speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrel stated Facebook and Google are now making moves that contradict their long-established stance that they are not media companies such as hiring people to monitor editorial content.
Similarly, Rupert Murdoch, the media billionaire who controls the Wall Street Journal, called on Facebook to begin paying publishers fees to carry the news that its users post and share online in a sign of the print industry’s growing frustration with (and disruption by) social media.
Despite what these moguls might argue, for brands, the truth is organic social has been dead for years, ever since tweaks to algorithmic feeds made it nearly impossible for them to reach their audiences without paying for it.
Rifts in the news feed
The first wave of social media was simply called user-generated content (UGC). Advertisers largely avoided it because so much of the content was objectionable. Over time though, the introduction of authentic identity and algorithmic curation mixed UGC with professional content and turned social media properties into something more akin to news publishers.
Recently, Facebook and Snap have made decisions to unbundle their content streams and adjust the placement and priority of news and other content. Evan Spiegel of Snap called it separating social from media. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook said it’s about bringing people closer together.
Clearly, some of this is a direct response to fake news and the influence it’s had over recent elections. But it’s also an attempt to create safe havens for advertisers who have become reliant on social media to drive key business outcomes.
Pay to play
In truth, content (UGC and professional alike) is just the means of attracting initial eyeballs. As consumer engagement with brands becomes part of the platform, the shift to advertising accelerates rapidly.
For evidence of just how important social advertising now is for marketers, look no further than the £25bn in advertising spent on social last year – a figure that will climb to £70 billion in 2021 per Forrester.
4C’s Q4 State of Media report revealed spend across social platforms in the final quarter of 2017 was up 28% over the third quarter. LinkedIn saw the most growth with an 85% increase. Pinterest was next with 76%. Facebook was up 38%. Snapchat was up 29%. Instagram was up 27%. And Twitter was up 25%.
Sunny outlook for walled gardens
So are these all media companies? Who cares? It truly doesn’t matter what you call them. For marketers, what’s more important is the value they deliver in reaching key audiences with great experiences.
Indeed, each of these "walled gardens" provides the benefit of scaled audiences with precision targeting. They are also safe from the rampant fraud and lack of ad viewability that plagues the "open web."
With the updates to the Facebook news feed, redesign of Snap to silo UGC, re-emergence of Twitter as an always-on channel, pivot of Pinterest to visual search, relentless innovation (and, yes sometimes cloning) by Instagram, and video adoption on LinkedIn, the traditional "social media" platforms have emerged as unique advertising vehicles with highly-engaged audiences.
Against this backdrop, the imperative for marketers is to adopt all the tools available to manage advertising at scale across these channels whilst also connecting the chasm to the original "walled garden" of television and the true media companies therein.
With 85% of consumers second-screening, the battle for attention has never been harder and, with £134 billion going to TV ad budgets, the stakes have never been higher. To win, brands must put audiences at the centre of their strategies rather than focusing on the debate over what to call the platforms delivering the experiences.
Aaron Goldman is chief marketing officer of 4C Insights