Who’s Leading the Way for Marketers Among the Biggest Social Networks?

Statistics and think pieces aside, one fact becomes clearer by the hour: The world’s largest social media platforms will play an increasingly larger role in the digital marketing equation moving forward. As Joe McCaffrey, head of social media at Brooklyn-based agency Huge, put it, “Not a day goes by that I’m not writing or seeing something new” in the social space.

The question remains: Which platforms will lead the pack, and how can agencies navigate a landscape that threatens their core business model?

Some see a silver lining in the growing influence of social networks. McCaffrey said, “There’s lots of mutual respect between agency and platform partner. We’re all trying to bring good ideas to the table.”

Tony Effik, vp of media and communications at digital-first agency R/GA, told Adweek that Facebook in particular has demonstrated “continuous improvement” in serving its advertising partners. He said, “If you spend enough, they will give you privileged information” drawn from endless pools of user data, adding, “There’s still a whole world of creativity in social media that we haven’t yet tapped into. … We’re just playing along the edges.”

Others aren't as optimistic. BlitzMetrics chief technology officer Dennis Yu told Adweek, “Agencies can’t keep up. Facebook plays nice with them, but they still for the most part have a Mad Men-style, interrupt-your-experience mentality.” Yu believes this approach will continue to grow less relevant as consumers’ expectations change and social platforms demand a higher percentage of each client’s marketing spend.

Here are snapshots of the four leading networks and their newest ad offerings:

1

Snapchat

Users: 100 million
Ad revenue: $50 million
New features: One feature of the newly announced Snapchat Lenses will allow brands to promote themselves via users’ “sponsored” selfies—for a mere $750,000 per day—and add features such as heart-shaped eyes and fake cracked phone screens.

Benefits: Mike Dossett, supervisor of digital content strategy at RPA, said, “If you want to dominate one-day reach, there is no more effective platform.” Big Spaceship’s vp of social media Victor Pineiro told Adweek that Snapchat is very open about its lack of reliable metrics but sells its product as “appointment advertising” akin to broadcast TV.

Challenges: The prohibitive cost of Snapchat ad buys—the company charges for microseconds of exposure—and a dearth of metrics have proven troubling for some brands. Yet, the platform’s reach is undeniable, and the scarcity of brands using it makes the products even more appealing. Pineiro said, “[Clients] see it as a shiny object, and they are salivating to work with the platform.” But Snapchat will have to improve its metrics in the future to justify its prices.

2

Twitter

Users: 316 million
Ad revenue: $2.1 billion
New features: Video makers learned last week that Twitter expanded its Amplify video program, which will in effect automate the placement of preroll ads. Twitter also unveiled a Moments tab, which seeks to organize users’ often schizophrenic feeds by curating tweets related to recent events and providing an overview of reactions. 

Benefits: Twitter remains a crucial source of information and breaking news for millions around the world. Effik of R/GA said, “Facebook is where my real friends are, while Twitter is a place for people who I wish were my friends.” High-profile accounts therefore make for reliable ways to distribute thought leadership pieces and/or raise general awareness—especially among media influencers.

Challenges: While the platform has a solid and devoted user base, its growth is slowing. Nearly six in 10 users say ads are irrelevant to their interests, according to eMarketer. And, as Effik offered, “There’s not as much innovation in [its] product as I’d like there to be.” Twitter also frequently leads users to links outside the platform, which is not good for brands paying to get users to focus on their content in one location. Pineiro of Big Spaceship said, “Social networks are becoming walled gardens, and Twitter is the only one that’s still completely open.”

3

Instagram

Users: 400 million
Ad revenue: $595 million
New features: The platform now offers placements and seamless back-end Facebook integration for all customers. The buy button, introduced in June, also ties Instagram more closely to its parent company six months after the launch of the Carousel multi-image tool.

Benefits: Passion. Pineiro said, “It’s the network that users have the most heart for, day to day.” Meanwhile, agency planners praise Instagram’s decision to move carefully in rolling out its advertising product. For example, the company only recently introduced self-service ad buying. Instagram’s new buy button also means more brands will be able to draw a direct line between placements and sales.

Challenges: Advertisers risk a backlash from those same passionate users. Pineiro said, “People take ads on Instagram very personally. There’s a lot of engagement but also lots of ‘How dare you bring McDonald’s into our social network?’ comments.” Still, Yu of BlitzMetrics predicted, “People will complain, but six months from now they’ll say, ‘Whatever—those are ads.’ Instagram knows that marketers are not yet sophisticated enough to use their product effectively.”

4

Facebook

Users: 1.44 billion
Ad revenue: $14.3 billion
New features: At the recent Advertising Week in New York, Facebook announced several new products for marketers, including a new ad-buying tool designed to fit into shops’ TV budgets; a video-carousel product similar to that of Instagram, which it owns; and brand awareness optimization, which bases targeting on watch data rather than likes and clicks. 

Benefits: Because it is still the largest social network by far, Facebook remains the default choice for advertisers. Nichola Perrigo, vp, associate director of digital marketing at RPA, said, “We see two types of value in Facebook: It’s good for achieving larger awareness goals, but there’s also incredible value in Facebook as a click driver.” There’s no question that Facebook has begun to invest more time and money in educating agency partners on effective marketing strategies. Perrigo said, “Facebook is changing to focus on KPIs first—you have to choose what your goal is, upfront.”

Challenges: Yu predicted Facebook will play an even bigger role in shaping campaigns, and as it assumes a greater share of the risk on a given campaign, the work of each agency will grow less important in the overall process. Said Yu, “There’s no real convenience in going with your agency of record” versus dealing with Facebook directly. He added, “This doesn’t mean that you don’t need agencies, but their role will be reduced to the top of the funnel. How can you compete with Facebook on marketing when Facebook is the provider?”

This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.