It’s been a busy year for the major social media platforms as they develop new tools and tactics for marketers. Branded3’s Communications Director Laura Crimmons helps us round up some of 2015’s most significant roll-outs
“It felt like 2014 was the year people started taking social seriously – to a point,” Branded3’s Communications Director Laura Crimmons told delegates at Figaro Digital’s Social Media Seminar in September this year. “CMOs started to realise it can drive a lot of traffic and revenue. People know they should be doing something there. But they’re not always sure what, or how to incorporate it into their broader business goals.”
Last year, says Crimmons, was the year image-based marketing took off. Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram all saw a significant rise in the number of active users, with Pinterest racking up a whopping 67 per cent increase. Facebook continues to dominate in terms of the amount of traffic it drives, but both it and Twitter saw a decline in their active users in 2014. “Which is kind of scary for us as marketers,” says Crimmons, “as they’re the ones where we feel we’ve got our feet under the table.”
So where have the big developments been this year? Crimmons highlights the following updates.
Facebook Conversion Lift
Launched in January, Facebook’s tool helps marketers set up control groups. One group can be shown ads on the platform while another group, with similar interests, is not. That enables marketers to see the overall lift generated by Facebook advertising. “Measurement and ROI are on everyone’s radar, including Facebook’s,” says Crimmons. “This helps advertisers to work out how Facebook ads are impacting on the bottom line.”
Twitter Video and Periscope
Also launched in January was Twitter Video. Rather than having to rely on YouTube urls, it enables users to record and share video within Twitter. This was followed in March by the launch (or more accurately the relaunch) of Twitter’s newly acquired livestreaming video app Periscope.
Probably the biggest social media development of the year, Periscope’s CEO Kayvon Beykpour has described the experience as akin to “teleportation”. Ten days after launch the app had a million users. Four months later it had 10 million. The point, says Crimmons, is that “video is king on nearly all channels. Unless you’ve got a strong video angle to your campaign you’re not going to see the same returns.” But, she notes, to really see the benefits of video marketers need to make use of native upload facilities. Sharing a YouTube link across the rest of your platforms is no longer enough.
Vine Kids & YouTube Kids
From fitness freaks to world travellers, new platforms for niche content are emerging all the time. In fact, suggests Crimmons, our desire for content and communities that share our interests may account for the drop in active users on Facebook and Twitter. No prizes for guessing who Vine and YouTube are targeting with these two launches, but the lesson is universal: select the right channel for the right audience.
Facebook expat targeting
In March came a further focus on niche groups with the news that Facebook would help businesses target the 92 million expats who use the platform. “It didn’t get talked about much but I think it’s one of the exciting things Facebook have done in terms of their targeting. It’s a great solution for a range of businesses. Travel is the obvious sector, but also international payments and money transfers, students and parents. It’s a useful development from Facebook.”
Google indexes Tweets
In May this year Google started indexing Tweets, first on mobile, then on desktop. “The main thing for us is there’s more real estate to go after on the search engine results pages,” says Crimmons. “Rather than our competitors’ ads showing up, it can be our Twitter feeds and Tweets.”
By July, according to Search Engine Land, Google was indexing nearly five times more Tweets, though it still favours higher authority users. In the same month Stone Temple Consulting published a study indicating that Google has indexed 3.4 per cent of Tweets. Not bad, but it still means 96 per cent of Tweets are not currently indexed. Why the shortfall? Possibly, as several commenters have suggested, because taking account of the 500 million Tweets posted every day is just too much of a task, even for Google.
Pinterest introduces buyable Pins
Pinterest has been one of the highest referrers this year and in June it was announced that a ‘buy’ button would be included, meaning purchases can be made directly. “Pinterest is used as a real discovery platform,” says Crimmons. “People make mood-boards there, they’re looking at fashion, weddings and so on. Now there’s the opportunity to generate revenue straight from the channel.”
Google, too, have been talking about introducing a buy button but, as Crimmons points out, the curatorial aspect of Pinterest makes this a very natural development. It’s not, however, available to everyone yet. Potential users need to register through Shopify or join a waiting list.
Snapchat introduces native video ads
Snapchat’s great distinction lies in the immersive nature of the experience it provides. “Think about how you view a video on Facebook,” says Crimmons. “Even if it’s auto-play you’re scrolling through the page and it only takes up a little part of your screen. The benefit with Snapchat is that it’s full-screen. It’s not surrounded by text. You’re fully immersed in it.”
That move towards more immersive experiences is part of a broader trend. Facebook recently trialled its Instant Articles initiative, which sought to deliver faster, more immersive content. The format aims to load stories on mobile devices ten times faster than when users follow a link to a publisher’s site. (The platform hopes to attract publishers by offering them 100 per cent of the ad revenue sold around articles and 70 per cent of the advertising that Facebook sells.) According to re/code in September, Google and Twitter are also developing a similar service.
Instagram expands its ad offering
Strong though it’s been for engagement, Instagram has proved tricky for marketers seeking clear, demonstrable results. In June this year the platform enabled brands to embed a button that would allow users to take action directly – from signing up to a website, making a purchase or downloading an app. A partners’ programme is also designed to open up the platform to smaller businesses. “Instagram is the king of engagement,” says Crimmons. “It beats Facebook and Twitter. Now brands can finally use it to drive traffic to their sites. You have to pay for it, but I see it as quite an exciting development.”
Facebook tests immersive ads
Taking a leaf from Snapchat, in September Facebook started testing their own immersive, full-screen ads. Mr Porter and Gatorade have been among a small number of brands trialling the format. It may be a marketer’s dream, says Crimmons, but she also asks how users will feel about full-page takeovers interrupting our highly personal experience of Facebook.
State of e-mergence
So what have we learned from this year’s updates? “Social is merging with all the other marketing functions,” says Crimmons. “The developments here are tapping into the commerce teams, they’re tapping into ad campaigns. You can bring your ad campaigns to life on social rather than having your social ad campaign, your above-the-line campaign and so on. The key thing for 2015 and beyond is working together because we don’t – or shouldn’t – now have campaigns in isolation.”
Feature by Jon Fortgang
This feature appears in Figaro Digital Issue 26: November 2015.