Free ride’s over for social marketing, so get used to it

There has been a lot of bad press for the major social media platforms over the past 12 months. For Facebook : fallout from a disappointing IPO, privacy fears, a dwindling audience in the teen demographic and more intrusive advertising practices. Twitter is facing its own evolution as it perfects its advertising model, and a slowdown of its user growth over the past year has raised questions about its future. ​

For brands using the social networks the concern has been the sudden end of the free ride. Brands are now faced with the reality that in order to use social media and expect results, they will have to allocate budget to run ads. Like anything that was once free and now paid, there has been a backlash against the networks from brand marketers who are now struggling to justify the expense of communicating with the fanbase they have spent time and money building.

It is easy to understand why there has been a grumbling among brands both large and small. However, Facebook has been building one of the most versatile advertising platforms that marketers have access to.

For advertisers, the opportunity to heavily target advertising for pages, games, apps, websites and events has lead to Facebook advertising being one of the most accessible forms of digital advertising available.

The launch of Facebook Paper this month has also raised the prospect of opening up a new advertising stream to focus on news and trending events. Although it’s only available in the United States and on iOS so far, the prospect of using Facebook’s advertising platform to serve brand messages is a new and exciting opportunity, and it gives the social giant a leg-up on Twitter’s ability to serve ads to trends and events.

GETTING WHAT YOU PAY FOR

What is unavoidable is the need for brands to buy advertising on Facebook to get results. Not only are you advertising to build the number of fans on your page, you need to spend money just for fans to see your content, or at least enough of them to justify operating a page. Facebook is making it harder for brands to reach their audiences organically, but, if managed well, advertising costs can be quite affordable.

If you can work out how to use Facebook, then you can figure out how to use Facebook advertising. This is not to say that everyone will achieve the results they desire as there are a number of decisions that need to be made, depending on the business and its audience.

Twitter advertising, on the other hand, isn’t as accessible in Australia, with minimum spends pricing out most brands. However, the results from ad campaigns abroad are showing that advertising on Twitter, while not crucial, is becoming more targeted and more useful for brands to engage with trending topics and discover new customers.

Twitter struggles to serve highly targeted ads in the same way that Facebook does, but this is an area the company is working hard to fix, and second-screen testing is proving it is a valuable tool for TV networks advertising to Twitter users.

Facebook has admitted that it has seen a drop in usage among teens, and the average user is now in the 25-to 34-year-old age range (29.7 per cent). Social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram have stolen a percentage of users and daily traffic from Facebook over the past 12 months as a result of teens and pre-teens avoiding any network associated with their parents.

These networks are also offering a very simple experience, but as yet do not offer advertising to brands, so building audiences in them requires significant expertise.

AGEING DEMOGRAPHIC

Ignoring this trend, Facebook still has 728 million daily active users, with an average visit of 20 minutes and 4.75 billion pieces of content shared daily. It is still the most viewed and engaged social network available and these key numbers are not falling.

The changes to how brands can use it are only an evolution of the services that we have consistently seen over the past few years including the gradual changes of the algorithm.

Twitter is facing its own battle with slowing growth and a drop in timeline views taking the shine off 2013.

 But with funding from a successful IPO, Twitter is building the support it needs to make the network more accessible to both users and advertisers and expand outside of its traditional market in North America.

For marketers, now more than ever the importance of paid advertising, reviewing analytics and creating engaging content is crucial to having a social media presence.

Brands shouldn’t abandon Facebook or avoid Twitter. Rather they should embrace the changes and adjust their strategies to keep up with an ever-changing social landscape.

Read this article at The Australian Financial Review.

Photo courtesy: AFP

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