The Evolving Business of Social in 2017 and Beyond
If on any given day you were to skim the industry trades, you’d find at least a handful of news stories about the ever expanding ad capabilities, audience targeting and content plays from Facebook, Snapchat and other key stakeholders in today’s digital scape. And even beyond the pure media aspect, we’ve also seen their expansion into chatbots and AI, eCommerce, mobile messaging, and, the latest, sun-glass lenses that bring an augmented reality view to the wearer.
The conventional idea of a social network has long since evolved into an animal of an entirely different kind – digital media platform, content distributor, publisher, programmatic partner, and now even content creator – all identities passed around to describe what was once just “social” a long time ago. In October of last year, I read an article that suggested Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and other players are trying to shed the social label all together, in the spirit of innovating the space, but of course also in the spirit of competition for marketing dollars.
And as Snap Inc. last week completed the biggest IPO to hit the NYSE since 2014, the shifts in the media landscape are more prevalent than ever, leading advertisers to contemplate the growing range of opportunities and their layers of complexity, and what it all means for their broader strategic initiatives.
What really struck me from that article, however, was this line: “…this type of response is a sign of the times, as digital media grows to the point where almost everything involves a digital element—so in the end, all things are simply becoming known as media.”
Everything is Media – A Deeper Look at Facebook’s Evolution
If we look at the way Facebook has evolved its offerings over the years from a media perspective, its core ingredients reflect those similar to a publisher. The ability to host, curate, distribute and monetize content are all within Facebook’s realm, and until very recently, content creation was the only untapped opportunity.
While Facebook has gone to lengths to preserve its users’ right to their own “social” experiences, it has simultaneously (and cleverly) built out its platform with the idea that consumers no longer see the world through networks or even platforms; they only see their brands, and they only see media. More specifically, they see that media through a connected lens, where stories and experiences flow effortlessly between ad formats and screen sizes. And so for advertisers, Facebook is no longer just a channel for the distribution of content, it’s a much larger and more complex media and audience play. It’s not to say that Facebook, and Instagram for that matter, are no longer social environments, rather it’s that they are so much more.
Media buyers today know that Facebook in itself acts as its own funnel, from a very top of funnel brand play all the way down to conversion. Guiding quality targeted audiences through the phases of inspiration, discovery and product selection is all something that can be done within its immediate realm – because of its reach, cross-device KPIs and measurement capabilities, and more importantly, its audience-first methodology for content, Facebook is bridging the playing fields of both performance and brand marketers. It’s easy to see why “social media” is nowhere near enough to describe what marketers can do on Facebook today.
Where Facebook is Going
So what of Facebook’s future? Where must it go to continue proving its value to all essential parties within its environment? We will see how its expansion into other categories like virtual reality, buying and selling communities like Marketplace, and mobile payments play out from the perspective of consumers, and what value it continues to add to their lives. From an advertiser’s perspective, what we might ask of Facebook is that it continues to evolve the standard ad units we know today, so that they may become intrinsically connected to individual brands’ business objectives. With brand awareness initiatives becoming more measurable, I expect that clients will be asking more for customizable (and more transparent) ad units as more budgets shift towards display and social.
Given that people will most always go where there is interesting content, Facebook will likely build out its content creation chops, or provide more opportunities for brands to continue evolving and innovating their own content within its platform. The greater variety of creative that can be tested with individual, more niche audiences will help advertisers to determine more clearly and efficiently what resonates. And perhaps Facebook will facilitate deeper levels of transparency by continuing to break down its walled garden of audience data, as it has done through third party vendors like Nielsen and Neustar MarketShare. For advertisers that have lingering viewability and measurement concerns, the more Facebook unlocks its siloed environment, the more likely it creates a win-win scenario – increased monetization on their end and the ability for brands to build even more connected experiences for the right people.
As an industry, we continue to move beyond channels and platforms, towards the connected media environments our customers live in. That continued evolution will be key, not just for Facebook’s future, but for the future of advertising.