The Year of Social, Dangerously
By: Tania Yuki, Shareablee Founder & CEO
October 8, 2018
It’s been a weird year for social media to say the least. After the hangover of scandal after scandal, it might be tempting – and candidly easier – to keep hiding under a rock waiting for things to ‘get back to normal’, or to ‘wait and see how it all pans out’. The top question I hear these days at very senior levels is, ‘what do you think will happen next?!?’ But while many are focused on trying to become soothsayers in order to avoid making a mistake, some are throwing their creativity back into the muck of it all, because they understand that now is a time to be bold, not cautious.
Instagram has had its biggest year yet in terms of consumer engagement, also rolling out so much new innovation around IGTV, Instagram Stories, social commerce and much more. Meanwhile Facebook has doubled back down on its core promise of being a place for community rather than funny videos and the news agenda -while also ramping up Facebook Watch, one of the most exciting new places for shorter format programming centered around socially driven diasporas and community. Musical.ly, an app that most people hadn’t even heard of, was acquired with over a billion users, (and then promptly shut down shortly thereafter, which is another story). If you want to laugh about the pace of change, know that not too long ago, I was still sitting with my product team wondering how best to measure Vine, Meerkat, Periscope and believing that Snapchat may actually roll out a real measurement program to shed light on its audiences. After almost twenty fruitless meetings with a new fresh-faced MBA who has been on the job for three months or less, I am still refreshing my inbox for news that they are finally ready to play ball on the measurement front. Meanwhile, I literally have to give the advice to some of our biggest clients, that the best measurement practice I have for their organic content is to log in to Snapchat each day on their phone, take a screenshot, email it to themselves, and then transcribe it into an excel sheet. And to set a proper alarm for it because if you miss a day, you’re going to have to impute what happened. It’s ludicrous, and we all know it.
Having built a company on the promise of the intelligence and humanity of the world’s social interactions, 2018 has also been a challenging time. If trust was already low among marketers when it came to data and measurement, we are now at an all-time low. Bad actors like Cambridge Analytica, and countless others who have been living ‘on the edge of OK’ for years, finally got taken down, investigated, or shut off completely from data supply – as well they should be. It’s hard for our industry to know which way is up, and that becomes even harder if those entrusted with keeping everyone informed, are not being honest about their own business practices. I’m in it, it’s ninety percent of what I think about – and I get how confusing it all is, and how everything just gets inevitably smushed together in the mind of the buyer.
I’ve had to re-examine what I personally believe about how measurement, attribution and even segmentation should work (and what I believe the future of advertising looks like), while looking long and hard at what kinds of outcomes we should be comfortable enabling with data. Thankfully, we’ve always been – sometimes prudishly so – on the very upper end of conservative, and it finally means something to more than the research wonks who have always cared about doing things right. Laughingly, my one hundred page methodology deck that no one has EVER wanted to be sent, let alone read (although perhaps took some comfort in the fact that it existed at all), has now been rolled out more times this year than in the history of our company. Hopefully, this means we all pay slightly more attention, although I wonder how long this focus on quality will last. Maybe forever, but I doubt it. Eventually we forget how sick we felt after devouring the tub of ice cream, and we eat ice cream again.
Social media -sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, has incurred the wrath and ire of so many who have simply lived here without thinking, picking the fruit from the tree without consideration for so many years. Yet despite the controversy, I believe that now more than ever the social media ecosystem is a critical place for anyone with a message to connect meaningfully with the world, and intersect culture in an important way. While the rules of engagement may keep changing, this much stays the same. And data underlies the very best creative ideas, because without true understanding there is no hope of connection.
Becoming a story brand is harder than ever, and most companies simply don’t know how to do it. It’s tough to think about advertising as connection-moments on a consistent basis, day after day – not as something to ram down people’s throats while jockeying for pod positions, but rather as a constant stream of never-ending, wonderful/helpful/entertaining content. It’s the only reason I can think of that an iconic brand like Coca Cola, known for crafting wonderful commercials and epic videos for decades, has only posted publicly to Facebook and Instagram fifty times this year (combined) and generated less than ten thousand comments. It’s heartbreaking, disappointing and sobering. But traditional Superbowl thinking, where all you need to do is come up with a few great pieces of creative that achieve mass reach, no longer sustains for the long term. It’s a drop in the ocean, the attention of consumers is way too fragmented, their demands on never-ending streams of quality content too unreasonable. It’s hard to specialize in soda, and videos. As one media company owner put it to me several years ago, “If I announced one day that I was getting into the cheese business, they’d say I was having a nervous breakdown. But when the cheese company decides to start cranking out videos, everyone claps and says they’re being innovative. What am I missing here? Isn’t content a business?”
This battle is no longer just for who can pay the most to reach people, but who can achieve that reach in a meaningful way that also commands attention. Reach is easy and money can solve all your problems. Money can interrupt basically anyone, through advertising. But it doesn’t solve the bigger, realer problem – that no one cares about what you reached them with. They barely even clocked it, barely internalized anything at all beyond a simple momentary glance-over. Who hasn’t had the maddening experience of clicking accidentally on a mobile ad, having wanted to x out of it, only to have it takeover your entire screen and you, silently, hating that brand just a little more than a few minutes ago?
Converting paid reach into meaningful attention and engagement is key, and increasingly brands are turning to Influencers and publishers to move beyond a basic impression. While we’re still at the early stages of branded content on social media, with many publishers still thinking of it as ‘value-add’ rather than standalone revenue, the truth is far more interesting- it may be one of the biggest value drivers that creators have to offer advertisers in the future.
Even content-first advertisers, such as theatrical films, are taking advantage of this format. Consider how Deadpool 2 partnered with social creators such as Turner Broadcasting System’s Adult Swim, and Manchester United in order to generate millions of quality views that resulted in high consumer engagement.
In both cases, fewer than twenty five views were delivered before a consumer engaged (reacted, liked, commented or shared) with the branded video. Adult Swim’s video required only twenty two views before a viewer engaged; Manchester United was twenty four views per engagement. Considering that the average advertiser video in the US this year generated one consumer engagement for every 335 views, and Deadpool itself generated one consumer engagement for every thirty five views on their own – high performing, but still far less efficient than their publisher partners, even before you consider the high persuasive value of videos delivered to consumers via the engagement of their friends, family and peers.
It doesn’t just stop with considering the ratio of video views to consumer engagements. Given many videos are optimized for impressions, huge mistakes in perceived efficiency can occur if, when measuring, you don’t consider the conversion from impressions or reach, to video. In this Deadpool campaign, that conversion from reach to view was roughly 2:1, meaning for every two people, one stayed on to view past three seconds. In many paid video campaigns, that ratio can be in the thousands:1. Reach, without interest, is meaningless.
The ability to cut through the meaningless clutter of impressions to get to the core of what makes someone stop for a moment and step into a content experience, is what we’re all fighting for in the future. Properly considering social data is one of the first steps here, and putting the right data, good quality data, to work is key.