AdNews Investigation: How does social media stack up?

By AdNews | 21 May 2018

This first appeared in the May issue of AdNews Magazine - sign up here to get it first.

A little over four years ago, you or somebody you know probably watched ‘Kony 2012,’ the YouTube video about Ugandan rebel leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. The video suggested Africa’s longest running conflict was still raging in the country’s north. It went viral and was viewed by more than 32 million people in four days.

However, Kony and the child soldiers he kidnapped had actually fled northern Uganda six years earlier. Kony dumbed down a complex international political issue for the sake of generating widespread awareness and the clip was riddled with misinformation and factual inaccuracies, yet was shared millions of times around the world.

Today, the state of social media is a lot more complex than it was in 2012. There are more platforms that are even more sophisticated, including relatively new popular platforms like the youth–skewed Snapchat.

Another major shift is the amount of marketing dollars being invested into social media. This year, investment in social media advertising is predicted to grow by 18.1% due to the rise of news feeds, diversification of social platforms, and increased mobile usage, according to research by Magna Global.

A 2017 Sensis study found 26% of small businesses, 35% of medium–sized businesses and 42% of large businesses paid for advertising on social media. For SMBs this represents growth of six points for smaller firms and 8% for medium–sized entities.

But, chasing audiences on social media platforms has become wrought with risk for some advertisers in the past year. 

Ads have unwittingly run next to undesirable content on YouTube, funded social media stars that have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, and the measurement of success has faced serious scrutiny after several misreporting scandals. More recently, the data security of social media platforms has faced parliamentary pressure in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica affair.

See: AdNews May Edition: Demystifying social media, Glue Society, Digital OOH

Given the huge amount being invested in social media, AdNews wanted to find out how marketers are using social media platforms and measuring its effectiveness.

In a social media survey of 50 marketers, we found that around 26% of media budgets are being spent on social media platforms, with nearly all marketers (98%) using Facebook, 56% on Instagram and 46% on YouTube.

The platform where survey respondents spend the most is Facebook (cited by 74%), followed by YouTube (12%), Instagram (6%) and LinkedIn (6%). Marketers said they use social media to raise brand awareness (cited by 78% of respondents), for engagement (58%), to drive traffic to a website or call to action (52%), and drive sales conversions (42%). This was followed by improving reach and frequency, and targeting (both on 40%).

Marketers also perceived brand awareness, engagement, driving traffic, increasing reach and targeting as the five strongest suits for social. Interestingly, lead generation, driving sales, and store visits were not viewed as strong points for social.

Although audience targeting was regarded as ‘what social media does best’ by 12% of marketers, it was cited as a major benefit of social by 70% of respondents, followed by reach and frequency (48%), and low cost (50%).

This indicated that although marketers appreciated the targeting social provides, they perceive social performs better in raising brand awareness, engagement and driving traffic.

Matt Soulsby, the national social strategy director of Dentsu’s performance marketing agency Columbus, told AdNews social media is a particularly effective tool to help brands “learn, listen and adapt” their understanding of current and prospective consumers.

“This element of social is very under–utilised and removes a heavy reliance on assumptive planning and can allow strategists to reduce the level of extrapolating sample data to represent their desired population,” Soulsby said.

“When we start to look at social, we can remove the conscious level of response that comes from surveys and start looking at a subconscious level through the actions you are taking. “Where social has been criticised in the past for what a view might look like, media agencies are positioning effectiveness through people’s actual intent and their want and willingness to interact with content for a particular reason.”

Soulsby also cited the versatility of social media to perform several roles across the marketing funnel or a full–funnel solution.

In terms of monitoring success, our survey found nearly two–thirds of marketers use social media dashboards, while nearly 28% consult a media agency partner or third–party and 24% rely on digital marketing colleagues.

The most common metrics that marketers use to measure effectiveness are cost of impressions (CPMs) for 60%, cost of click–throughs (54%), impact on sales (50%), and cost of conversions/acquisitions (40%). This was followed by the number of shares/retweets of a post (34%), number of likes to a post/page (30%), cost of completed video views (26%), and cost of leads (24%).

Further down the list was how social media influenced a brand’s market share (20%), followed in last position by an influencer’s fan base as a measure of reach, which was monitored by nearly two out of 10 marketers.

“If a business objective is to achieve growth nationally for its organisation, we’re not going to be immediately jumping into social media and aligning that to ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ or ‘comments’ or ‘shares’,” Soulsby said. “Those would be a micro–outcome, but at a macro level we need to look at the bigger picture and the role social media plays, coupled with other digital and traditional media platforms.”

When asked what marketers like about social media, many responded it was “cost effective”, “easy to use”, “targets the right audience” and allows brands to “engage with consumers”.

Interestingly, when AdNews asked marketers if they found social media CPMs more cost–effective than other channels, 54% said “yes” and 46% said “no”. 

The aspects of social media that marketers are less content with included a “lack of transparency and accountability”, “terrible viewability”, “brand safety concerns”, “reporting issues” and a “low ROI”. The full survey we conducted can be found on our website.

AdNews approached the major social media platforms to find out more about how brands are using the platforms and where they can add value. With so many different ways for marketers to measure success, we’ve attempted to demystify each platform and see how they compare when it comes to measurement and independent verification.

You can also see all the charts from our suvey here: AdNews investigation: How marketers use social media platforms

 

Facebook and Instagram

Facebook has undergone several challenges in the past 18 months from trying to combat fake news, to a slate of metrics misreporting mistakes it has amended. More recently, the social media platform has faced pressure to tighten its data security policies to prevent app developers from obtaining too much user data after it was revealed that an app developer working for Cambridge Analytica harvested 87 million user profiles to help serve advertising in the 2016 US presidential elections.

On an advertising front, the metrics misreporting revelations, as well as allegations Facebook had been exaggerating its reach by millions when compared to census data — first revealed by AdNews — have done little to dim the appeal of the platform to marketers.

Part of the reason why Facebook remains popular is that it provides businesses of all sizes with a cost–efficient platform to reach targeted audiences, according to Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton.

“By using our platforms, small– to medium–sized businesses are able to use the same tools as some of the biggest brands in world,” he said. “Small companies can now do what only big brands were once capable of doing — video, animation, and multiple formats are now opportunities for all brands.”

Part of Facebook and Instagram’s appeal, Easton added, is that results are “anchored” to business outcomes.

“Of course, not all of those sales happen immediately, some people think about the purchase decision for many months, but that is why our teams build for outcome–based marketing,” he revealed.

“We believe that campaigns should optimise for a real result, like a sale or in–store visit. There are always things that lead up to this, such as awareness or consideration, but we advise our partners to anchor these to the end outcome.”

Looking ahead, Facebook said it will focus on innovations around new ad units in Stories, e–commerce capabilities on Instagram Shoppable, 360–degree video and new sharable formats such as 3D posts.

“We have also recently announced new products such as Watch and Marketplace,” Easton added.

“We’re focused on enabling outcome–based marketing to help businesses large and small achieve their business outcomes across brand, content and direct response marketing themes.”

Who marks the homework?

Facebook provides marketers and agencies with several of its own tools to measure the effectiveness of campaigns on its platforms. It has previously faced criticism, alongside Google, for operating in a walled garden where it essentially marked its own homework rather than allowing an independent verification to measure results at source.

Although it is still the case that Facebook reports its own figures, it allows its data to be scrutinised by third–party verification firms such as Moat, Integral Ad Science, ComScore and DoubleVerify, and is working with the Media Ratings Council (MRC) to become accredited. Last month, Facebook and Instagram revealed first–party served impressions had been accredited by the MRC, which sets US standards on audience measurement that are adopted around the world.

This is an important first step towards greater scrutiny, but still short of allowing independent verification firms to measure Facebook and Instagram data at source through third–party software development kit (SDK) packages.

Facebook also allows partners with measurement firms to provide additional measures beyond its own reporting tool. This includes measuring audience with Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings, brand with Kantar Millward Brown and Nielsen brand lift measurement studies.

In terms of sales lift, Facebook said it works with Datalicious and Neustar MarketShare to determine multi–touch attribution modelling, and Accenture, Analytics Partners, Annalect, Datalicious, Ebiquity, GfK and Nielsen for market mix modelling.

Its mobile measurement partners include Adjust, AppFlyer, Kochava, Localytics and Singular.

YouTube's Singapore HQ

 

YouTube

Few media platforms have had a more challenging year than YouTube. The user–generated video sharing platform has been in the news for a series of brand safety issues, leading to a brand boycott in February 2017.

Major organisations such as Telstra, Tourism Australia, Holden, Bunnings, Nestlé, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Foxtel and the Australian Government, hit the pause button on YouTube advertising after it was revealed their ads were unwittingly placed alongside videos made by terrorist sympathisers, white supremacists and other inappropriate content. Then there was the Logan Paul scandal, PewDiePie and also sexualised videos of minors that plagued the platform.

YouTube has been quick to respond to the concerns of advertisers and significantly beefed up brand safety controls and monitoring of content on the platform. This included setting much tougher benchmarks for videos that are able to be monetised, investing in AI technology and removing up to 150,000 ads from two million videos.

Google director of brand, creative and media agencies, Kevin Ackhurst, told AdNews that most of the advertisers that took a hiatus from YouTube a year ago have come back on board.

“We feel that the platform is in a much better place now than a year ago and that our relationship with advertisers is much stronger and better than it was,” Ackhurst said.

“While we would have loved to be much faster in terms of the stuff that we are doing, I feel we’ve gone a long way forward in being able to commit to third–party verification, integration with third parties and the investment that’s associated with the hiring of people to review the videos.”

Ackhurst pointed out it has taken YouTube a lot of work to better understand the concerns of advertisers and adjust policies and product development accordingly. One challenge is trying to find the right balance between being a freedom of expression platform and having the right checks and balances in place to ensure YouTube remains a brand safe environment.

“What might be very acceptable to one brand is highly unacceptable to another brand, so trying to find that right balance in terms of platform is a really challenging thing to do,” he said.

“So what we’ve tried to do is put in place the tools and mechanisms that allow the advertisers with their agencies to achieve an outcome that is beneficial to them.”

See: AdNews May Edition: Demystifying social media, Glue Society, Digital OOH

Even through the ups and downs, YouTube remained incredibly popular with brands using the platform to publish videos or run advertising to segmented audiences.

How advertisers use YouTube

YouTube claims it reaches more than 15 million monthly users in Australia, including 90% of 18 to 39– year–olds. Advertisers of all sizes use YouTube for different reasons and in different ways and for different marketing goals.

YouTube said this includes driving ad recall, brand awareness, consideration, favourability, purchase intent and brand interest. Ackhurst revealed a recent interesting trend in how brands are starting to realise the benefits of bespoke creative for the platform rather than shortening TVCs.

Google said YouTube’s new six– second bumper ads are providing value despite several industry experts questioning whether such short ads could prove effective.

In the past two years, YouTube has been increasingly used as a search platform and Ackhurst believes this provides an e–commerce opportunity for products and ad units that support it.

“It’s not necessarily online purchases. One of the things we think about is driving people between that online engagement and offline engagement where they might go into a store,” he explained.

“So our product has evolved considerably into thinking about the linkage between what they might be looking at on YouTube, store visits, and the connections between those. It’s an evolving area for us and one to watch over the course of this year.”

Ackhurst said the best results are when YouTube is integrated into a holistic marketing mix and marketers are aware of how the platform can drive different marketing outcomes like awareness, consideration, purchase intent and so on, rather than just focusing on a traditional video campaign.

After riding out a rocky 2017, it probably won’t be the only area advertisers are monitoring.

Who marks the homework?

YouTube provides advertisers, agencies and third–party verification firms with results. It also allows preferred third–party vendors (Moat, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify) and is MRC accredited for third– party viewability reporting.

Google offers marketers use of its own ActiveView measurement tool. Each of the integrations with third–party vendors undergoes an independent MRC audit, which validates the data Google says it is providing is legitimate.

The audit validates data collection, aggregation and reporting for served video impressions, viewable impressions, related viewability statistics, and general invalid traffic (GIVT) across desktop and mobile for each integration.

“Agencies and brands have an interest in a particular third–party measurement scheme or mechanism,” Ackhurst said.

“What we are trying to do is create a little bit of an alignment so they can actually measure using that third party rather than just rely on the measurements we provide them, regardless of which platform they use.

“What I don’t know is if this is going to get more complex with more measurement approaches in the future, but we are committed to third– party measurement integration.”

 

Twitter

Unlike Facebook and YouTube, Twitter has managed to avoid ruffling the feathers of media owners with constant news feed changes and revenue–sharing models that don’t deliver. Instead, it is focused on creating premium partnerships with publishers and TV networks, which has fuelled an advertising model that has attracted long– term deals with brands chasing a higher socioeconomic audience like Optus, Samsung, ANZ and Amazon.

Its sweet spot lies in sponsorship and events, which is evident in its growing relationship with Network Seven that has given Twitter reams of Australian Open content and last year attracted 11 advertisers.

Ironically, Twitter is probably the social media platform that is most like a TV network, with news being a core focus and its advertising running in similar formats alongside video content.

With Twitter’s Australian audience sitting at approximately 6.5 million monthly active users, it is smaller than the big two (Facebook and YouTube), but Twitter sales director Angus Keene said this has given it an advantage.

Twitter attracts advertisers looking to connect with an influential audience that he claims aren’t easily accessible on other platforms, aside from LinkedIn. Keene said Twitter users tend to be more educated and its ad units are considered more premium.

While there are benefits to a small user base — it’s easier to monitor and control dissemination of fake news — it also means that marketers chasing eyeballs haven’t always turned to Twitter.

Keene told AdNews he believes the tide is turning and marketers are beginning to realise the full potential of Twitter to deliver real– time news and reveal the full side of a story, from news organisation coverage to users on the scene.

“Advertisers have changed how they are using Twitter and that’s because we better defined our platform for consumers,” Keene said. “We’ve made our platform about what’s happening in the world and that has moved advertisers from not having a full understanding of how to use the platform, to leveraging Twitter in a number of ways, from launching products to aligning with events.”

Keene’s prediction of the tables turning for Twitter is so far on the money. In February this year, almost 12 years after it launched, Twitter finally became profitable for the first time.

Who marks the homework?

Twitter partners with major measurement partners IAS and Moat for video viewability and attention metrics. It partners with Nielsen DAR for audience verification, DoubleClick Campaign Manager and Innovid for ad serving, and Nielsen for brand lift studies. Nielsen also provides independent audience verification metrics for Twitter’s mobile app.

Twitter has agreed to an MRC audit, which is due to conclude in the first half of this year. The audit includes gross and net tweet impression counts (including earned impressions), as well as Twitter’s measurements of viewable video impressions, tweet sessions and video sessions, as well as related duration metrics.

Snapchat

It’s no secret that Snapchat has had a rough time. In 2016, it was heralded as the next social media darling, the next battleground for the lucrative millennial dollar — and big brands flocked to its ephemeral format.

Its momentum first took a hit when Instagram announced it was launching its own Stories feature. This marked the beginning of a series of unfortunate events, including a failed venture into wearables, an IPO that Fortune called a “huge flop”, and most recently, the introduction of a confusing redesign that led to celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Chrissy Teigen declaring the platform “dead”. It has also come under fire for brand safety issues, with a game promoting domestic violence featured on the platform.

So, is Snapchat dead? Should marketers move on and drop it from their social strategies?

The platform may have copped some negative attention of late, but its metrics show it is growing. Every day, Snapchat said more than 4.5 million people in Australia access the platform, and it’s an audience that analytics company App Annie found isn’t on other platforms. It identified 31% of Snapchat users aren’t on Instagram and 69% can’t be reached on YouTube.

In its first Australian case study, Snapchat drove a 6% lift in purchase intent for Maxibon, a 9% lift in brand awareness, and reached two million Australians. 

Snapchat boasts reach as one of its core campaign objectives, alongside installs and time spent.

Snapchat has been working hard on building out its ad offering over the last 12 months, moving into self–serve, carving out augmented reality ad units, breaking into gaming ad integration, and adding pixels to allow advertisers to better track their campaigns, among a slate of other updates.

Snapchat GM Kathryn Carter said by taking on board agency and ad partner feedback, the platform has developed its solutions to service the full marketing funnel.

“We now can say Snapchat is an excellent place, not only for pure reach and awareness, but also to use new targeting to drive app installs, and track e–commerce sales with the new Snap Pixel,” she said.

Carter revealed that advertisers like Suncorp Australia, Woolworths, David Jones, Holden and Telstra, are seeing the value of the platform and moving towards an always–on approach to Snapchat.

And the platform is still at the beginning of its journey. It’s only six years–old and while it’s still operating at a loss (Twitter took 12 years to become profitable), it still has a few years and more tricks up its sleeve. On the controversial redesign, Carter added “it’s not over”, hinting that the platform is taking on board user feedback.

Who marks the homework?

Snapchat works with major measurement partners across viewability (Moat, Innovid, Sizmek), mobile measurement (Appsflyer, Tune, Kochava) and reach/resonance (Nielsen, Millward Brown).

It opened its ads API to 26 partners and in February 2018 opened its marketing API to allow agencies and advertisers to create tools that both pull reporting and allow them to create campaigns. But, Snapchat has not agreed to an MRC audit.

 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn has avoided the brand safety issues, data breaches and fake news fiascos of the other social media platforms, largely as its platform is designed for professional content, rather than user–generated content of cats.

Its sweet spot is sponsored content that it revealed has lured advertisers like NAB, St George Bank and Telstra, which aim to get in front of the nine million Australians using the platform, of which a significant amount are high earners.

LinkedIn director of marketing, Prue Cox, said the pivot to content came from the influencer program the platform introduced, which encouraged top execs to produce their own content. This in turn has led to greater investment in content marketing and thought leadership from brands that wish to have their content run alongside articles from CEOs and CMOs.

“We are starting to see B2B marketers embrace video and understand the thought leadership and brand awareness it can drive,” Cox said. “We are seeing the trend of funnelling the majority of spend into lead generation and understanding they need a 60/40 split in the upper funnel and brand awareness to lead conversions.

Who marks the homework?

LinkedIn would not respond to our questions about measurement and third–party verification.

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