By Lucy Hinton, Head of Client Operations at Flashtalking by Mediaocean
Here’s a statistic which is both astonishing and completely unsurprising: according to forecasts from the media agency Zenith, global advertising spend on social media will rise to $177bn in 2022 — putting it, for the first time, ahead of TV spend, which will sit at $174bn.
The astonishment comes from the fact that social media’s ascent has been so rapid, when TV was the undisputed heavyweight champion of advertising less than a decade ago. The lack of surprise comes from the fact that, deep down, most of us already know all too well that social media holds more of people’s attention, time and emotional investment than traditional media.
At the same time, however, there is perhaps a risk in seeing social media as single, monolithic channel which we might select from a menu alongside TV, print, OOH and so on.
To see why, we only need to consider our own experiences as consumers. Billboards, even when they are digital, offer a similar experience no matter where we see them and have offered broadly the same experience for as long as they have been around.
TV, while it has been diversified by various streaming options, tends to fit into relatively few social roles for solitary or communal entertainment.
The way we use social media, however, is quite different: beyond deciding whether to only consume or to also create content through our accounts and beyond deciding how much of ourselves to put out there on the internet, platforms simply behave in very different ways and so fulfil very different needs.
In fact, even those of us who are relatively light social media users are likely to craft notably different personalities on different platforms. Are you, for instance, the same person on Instagram as you are on LinkedIn?
The Growing Social Strategy Problem
This has significant consequences for marketing. It’s a good general rule that marketers need to market the way consumers consume: our role is to capture attention and funnel it towards a particular outcome but precious few are the instances where marketing can do that alone, without relying on the popularity of other media.
As a result, there has always been a need to tailor a campaign’s message to its medium but the diversity of experiences which social media offers makes this task quite different. Simply mapping creative onto the profusion of different formatting expectations which platforms have can itself put significant strain on a marketing team’s creative resources, and many businesses now are facing a real struggle to make sure that those assets are also responsive to the kinds of interactions and attitudes which users expect from different platforms.
At the heart of this problem is the fact that working across many platforms has a multiplicative effect on the number of decisions which need to be made and the amount of work which needs to be created. For each additional platform, a set of possible formats needs to be considered, multiple creative treatments need to be designed, A/B testing options need to be created and any late-stage change needs to cascade across all of this work.
The impact is exponential.
The experience I’m describing here might, in fact, be familiar if you use multiple social media accounts on a regular basis: If you have a photo you want to share, where is it most appropriate? Who’s going to see it? Should you syndicate it across multiple accounts? Does it need a different caption each time? For each additional account, this decision space grows yet larger.
A Smarter Future for Social Strategy
As individual users, this might make us reconsider how many social networks we actually need in our lives. As marketers, we have no such luxury: with recent research from GWI suggesting that over a quarter of Millennial and Gen Z consumers actively go to social media for branded content and purchasing suggestions, the revenue opportunity cannot be ignored.
Rather than narrowing down social strategies to match creative production capacity, then, we need ways of reducing the workload of taking campaigns out in a truly omnichannel way.
The irreplaceable talent of creatives in our industry, after all, lies in their powers of ideation and creation and the growing burden of generating endless additional assets can only distract and detract from that.
The answer to this bind, I think, is automation. We need to recognise that much of the process of customisation and personalisation does not require the professional eye of a designer; it is methodical remix and replace work and where repetitive operations are at hand, computers will always do it faster and more accurately than humans.
This will, of course, require some rethinking of the digital advertising workflow, in terms of both the tools we use and the approach we take to creative. Building out libraries of digital assets and creating templates tailored to different platforms, however, is route towards enabling technology to deliver, in seconds, the right content in the right place at the right time.
And, just as significantly, it means that creatives can focus their energies on the truly valuable work of producing the new ideas and strategies that drive deeply effective campaigns.