Social Media Is Dead … Long Live Social Advertising

Opinion: The final nail in the coffin may have been Snapchat’s redesign

Organic social has been dead for years merrymoonmary/iStock

Social has never been healthier as an advertising channel while more troubled as a media platform. How did this come to be? And what does it mean for brands?

While some may think that the two are one and the same, the paid and organic sides of social are on very different trajectories thanks to ever-evolving consumer behaviors and marketing objectives.

Let’s trace the development of social as we know it today and the implications for brands as we head into 2018.

Who’s down with UGC?

When social first came on the scene, it was called user-generated content, and advertisers avoided it like the plague because so much of the content was objectionable.

Over time, though, the introduction of authentic identity and algorithmic curation helped bring order to the chaos. Then came professional content production and broadcast rights procurement.

Today’s social platforms look nothing like their predecessors (remember MySpace?) and much more like mainstream media.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

The term “walled garden” was once used derogatorily to refer to the likes of Facebook and Twitter because data was not easy to get out or bring in.

Today, though, walled gardens are highly desirable for their perceived safe haven from the rampant fraud and lack of ad viewability that plagues the “open web.” It also helps that today’s major social networks were designed with mobile in mind so that the experience is native to today’s lifestyle.

Up and to the right

For evidence of just how valuable social has become for brands in terms of their marketing strategies, look no further than the $36 billion spent on paid social last year, with that figure climbing to $100 billion in 2021, per Forrester Research.

4C Insights’ most recent State of Social report showed growth across all of the major platforms in the third quarter of 2017 compared with the second quarter, with Facebook gaining 27 percent more advertising spend, Instagram up 55 percent, LinkedIn up 17 percent, Pinterest up 26 percent, Snapchat up 73 percent and Twitter up 26 percent.

What’s in a name?

How have these “social” networks carved out such a large chunk of the marketing pie?

Quite simply, these platforms aggregate massive audiences across everyday utilities like news, entertainment, shopping and communications. And each does so in a very distinct way, delivering value throughout different steps of the consumer buying journey—to the point where they probably should not be lumped together as “social.”

Save for the fact that content is largely organized around connections and they’ve managed to capture lots of people’s time and attention, there’s not much these platforms have in common when it comes to how they operate and how consumers use them.


There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether these platforms should be called media companies and what their responsibilities are when it comes to policing content—a.k.a. fake news. But in truth, content is just the means of attracting eyeballs, and the core engine driving these platforms is advertising.

Organic social has been dead for years, ever since tweaks to algorithmic feeds made it nearly impossible for brands to reach their audiences without paying for the privilege. And, per the data shared earlier, they are paying for it dearly.

Just another case study

Alas, social advertising is not without its challenges—particularly when it comes to advertisers posing under fake accounts and attempting to interfere with political processes. But one thing the Russian scandal from the U.S. election goes to show is that social advertising can be incredibly effective when it comes to driving outcomes.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace each of the “social” platforms for what it truly is—a unique advertising vehicle.

Metrics that matter

Sure, fake news is a problem. So are fake advertisers. But these are political issues, not marketing challenges.

Brands should continue tuning out the noise of social media and focus on the benefits of social advertising. Let’s put the attention back on the real hot-button topics, like unduplicated reach and frequency, or how long a video has to be watched before it counts as a view. Surely, we don’t need congressional committees to solve this stuff.

Snap back to reality

Perhaps the final nail in the social media coffin came at the end of November, when Snapchat unveiled a redesign that separates social from media by putting peer-to-peer interaction in one section of the app and curated/professional content in another.

It remains to be seen what impact this will have on user growth but it’s a win for advertisers if Snap can get current users to spend more time leaning back and watching more brand-safe videos with ads interspersed throughout.

The bottom line is that in today’s multiscreen, multitasking world, brands must maneuver more strategically than ever to engage their target audiences. When it comes to “social” in 2018, the best way to break through is with paid placement.

Social media is dead. Long live social advertising.

Aaron Goldman is chief marketing officer at data science and media technology company 4C Insights.

@4CInsights Aaron Goldman is chief marketing officer at 4C.