Social media remains a dynamic and fascinating landscape, one fraught with constant new players, developments, and challenges. Yet while established players continue to grow -- some still in the double digits year over year -- the mad land grab for sheer user volume has started to subside. Although social networks these days continue to put great emphasis on acquiring and retaining users, many have begun to pour just as much effort into establishing and refining their monetization and advertising strategies.
Not all social media advertising updates are big news or massive reinventions. Many, especially among more-established players like Facebook, represent minor tweaks, tests, or refinements within existing opportunities. Some noteworthy updates fail to make big headlines. And other times, some of the big headlines don't amount to much in the long term. It can be hard to know which way certain new offerings will go. Sometimes the best marketers can do is try to stay abreast of the changes, test those that seem interesting, and hope the ones that prove meaningful stick around.
Keeping track of developments at Facebook could -- and does -- provide enough fodder for dedicated publications. So... an all-inclusive list, this is not. (In fact, those kooks over at Facebook have probably rolled out something new between this writing and its publication.) But here's a rundown of some of the latest and seemingly most meaningful updates marketers should know:
Canvas: Mashable summarizes Facebook's intent with Canvas best: "mobile ads that don't suck." The new format is intended to give brands a way to create slick, mobile-native, interactive ads that load fast. It's already being heralded by some as a game changer in mobile. Will it be? Time will tell if Canvas can succeed where others (cough, cough, iAds) have failed.
Instant Articles: Starting on April 12, Facebook is opening up its Instant Articles program to all publishers. Instant Articles lets publishers host content directly on Facebook instead of posting links to their own sites. For users, content is easier to access. For Facebook, users will be spending more time on the platform. For publishers, they'll get to keep all of the revenue for ads they sell against the article on the site. If Facebook sells the ad, the publisher gets 70 percent.
Video: Facebook recently added video to its lead-generation advertising offerings in an effort to appeal more to the likes of insurance, auto, and financial brands. It has also added video capabilities to its Atlas platform and launched a new tool, Your Business Story, which allows companies to tell the story of their businesses via photos and music.
Speaking of Facebook, its more visually compelling subsidiary, Instagram, has been making advertising refinements of its own. While the platform has been seemingly a bit cautious in the ramp-up of its monetization efforts, re/code recently cited an Instagram spokesperson as saying that it has a few updates in the works that will align its approach more with that of Facebook. Those include:
- Specific profiles for businesses (like Facebook's Brand Pages)
- More data on the performance of a brand account's posts (even if those posts aren't promoted)
- The ability to buy Instagram ads from a mobile device
Not surprisingly, the company has also recently rolled out a Facebook-esque algorithm in an effort to enhance the user experience.
A lot of the headlines around Twitter these days are focused on stock prices and, thus, sound pretty dire. But try to focus. Twitter is big, still warrants marketers' attention, and is continually rolling out new developments. Recent ones worth noting include the following:
- Also taking a page from Facebook, Twitter has introduced a new algorithm for the top of its news feed. Although users can be resistant to such changes (sometimes just for the sake of being resistant, it seems), marketing execs have expressed optimism that this could be the move that's needed to cut through the noise for both users and advertisers.
- Twitter is reportedly deepening its relationship with Google. Currently in beta tests with some advertisers, Twitter is looking to improve its direct response offering. It's leveraging DoubleClick and exploring various ways to demonstrate its impact on sales and other metrics.
- In early February, Twitter unveiled a new video ad unit called First View. Advertisers in that position jump to the front of the queue in Twitter's ad network and get the top ad spot the first time a person opens Twitter for a period of 24 hours. The fact that the new unit is video only (at least at launch) is consistent with Twitter's desire to broaden rich media options.
While LinkedIn tends to score fewer headlines with its updates, it's a vital platform to track particularly in the B2B space. Notably, in February, LinkedIn ceased its year-long test of offering ads outside of its walled garden. After only 12 months, the network decided to shut down its ad network, which accounted for about 20 percent of its Q4 2015 revenues. Despite reported strong interest, the investment just wasn't justifying the associated costs. At LinkedIn, sponsored content seems to be the name of the game going forward.
Snapchat, while young compared to the previously mentioned networks, isn't ignoring the need for a sustainable long-term business model. The company recently announced that it's working with Nielsen for audience measurement and ratings on its ad and sponsored offerings. The move is a clear play by Snapchat to give its ads more legitimacy. Meanwhile, the platform continues to position itself to become -- eventually -- an all-inclusive content and commerce destination.
Pinterest continues to broaden its advertising business as well. Most recently, the company announced that it is extending its self-serve ad platform to all small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S. In tandem, Pinterest has also increased the amount of keywords and interests marketers can use to target ads on the platform.
Yeah, that's right. Foursquare. If there's one social platform out there that needs to be obsessed with bridging the gap between online marketing and offline sales, it's the location-based Foursquare. In February, the company made a big-time move into the offline sales attribution game with the debut of Attribution Powered by Foursquare. The offering relies on a panel of 1.3 million Foursquare users who have agreed to leave their location-sharing feature on at all times. Foursquare, thus, knows every store these individuals visit, regardless of whether they open the Foursquare app. Advertisers can tap into this group's activities to set up test and control groups to see whether campaigns truly have an effect on foot traffic to stores. Only time will tell whether the move is enough to recapture advertisers' attention.