Paid social: a brief history in time!
Updated: Apr 30
Hi, it’s been a while – sorry about that! I promised you all a blog on paid social, so better late than never!
The social media landscape has changed so much over the years. Friends Reunited was the first social media platform to really take off in the UK, launching in June 2000. Five years later, founders Julie and Steve Pankhurst, and Jason Porter did pretty well in selling the site to ITV for a cool £120m, plus further instalments of £55m based on performance up until 2009. By that point, Facebook was taking over the world, but even so, Brightsolid Limited still somehow saw enough potential to part with £25m to buy Friends Reunited and it finally closed its virtual doors just five years ago.
After Friends Reunited came Myspace – I spent way too many hours customising my page and trying to make it look good (I seem to remember it being very purple - it surely didn’t look good). In 2005 it was flying and MySpace was sold to Microsoft for US$580m. Things were great initially – they sealed an advertising deal with Google, and by October 2006 were bringing in $30m a month in ad revenue.
At about this time, Facebook opened its membership to anyone over the age of 13. Up until this point, only high-school and university students were able to join. Two years later, Facebook overtook Myspace as the world’s most popular social media network.
About a year previously, Facebook launched its advertising platform. Its huge range of targeting options was a big draw to advertisers - never before had they had the opportunity to be so highly targeted with their advertising approach and putting wastage to almost zero. You could now show ads to 18-35 year old females, living in or near say Crouch End in London, with an interest in baking or cooking. Or perhaps a male living in Manchester who is in a relationship or recently engaged. Some of Facebook’s data is declared at the time of signing up e.g. date of birth, gender, or through profile updates e.g. relationship status, whilst other data is inferred through a user’s behaviour. This could be through pages they like, other ads they’ve clicked on, things they’ve talked about in open forums on Facebook, and their behaviour elsewhere across the web (though with a recent Apple iOS update, that’s becoming more difficult - more on that in a future blog).
The other thing that appealed, and still does appeal, so much to advertisers is the ability to set objectives that match the customer purchase journey. For example, video ads can be used to raise brand awareness, or build product consideration. That may be a film company releasing a trailer, or an automotive brand educating people about their new car. Here, an advertiser may set “Video Views” as an objective. Facebook’s very clever algorithm, together with the targeting outlined by the advertiser, would show the ad to the people most likely to take the desired action - in this case, to watch the video. An advertiser however can choose from a huge range of objectives, including Website Traffic, Lead Generation, Messages (engaging with people on Messenger or WhatsApp), and App Installs and Conversions/online sales (both of which have become more challenging after aforementioned iOS update).
But why is it so important to advertise on social media? In its infancy, brands went crazy about the opportunities that it brought. It was an unprecedented opportunity to communicate at scale, and engage with people who loved the brand, and reach a brand new audience. All that for free! Back in 2012, organic reach on Facebook was 16%. In other words, 16% of a pages followers would have seen its content in his/her newsfeed. Now, that figure is approximately just 1%. So ultimately, it's now pay to play on Facebook and other social media channels. Why go to the effort of creating all that beautiful content only for noone to see it? To engage with your fans and reach a new audience, a paid advertising campaign is crucial.
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social media network worthy of our attention. In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram, and a few months later was introduced to the Facebook ads platform. Now, any ad campaign run on Facebook, can automatically run across Instagram newsfeed and stories. No conversation around social media can ignore TikTok (watch its meteoric rise from 2018 onward on the video below). It’s no longer limited to teenagers (I admit to losing hours getting lost in my feed), with an audience profile getting progressively older. However, it remains of course hugely popular with Millennials and Gen-Z, and as 40% of TikTok users are not on Facebook or Instagram, any ad campaign on the platform can offer significant incremental reach than running on Facebook/Instagram alone. All the social media networks’ ad platforms are very similar in terms of targeting options and objectives. How you choose which platform to advertise on though is really dependent on your target audience in terms of where and how they interact with each platform. If you’re a jewellery brand targeting a young audience, it’s likely you’d want to be on Instagram and TikTok, but if you’re selling classic football shirts, then you might consider advertising on Twitter where football fans are slightly older, and highly engaged with the content.
If you have any questions about advertising on any of the social media platforms, do get in touch. Perhaps you have no idea where to begin, or you’ve tried unsuccessfully in the past. Either way, it’d be great to hear from you.