Social Advertising: Focus on Power, Not Parity

It’s time for the marketing industry to deliver power built on social network’s native functionality, not compete with it--and for marketers to ask their vendors if they are truly innovating, or just catching up.

Since Facebook was founded more than 12 years ago, there have been several inflection points that changed social networking and social marketing forever.

I remember the first—the launch of Facebook Platform May 24, 2007–like it was yesterday. Giving application-programming-interface access to application developers helped accelerate Facebook’s growth from 20 million users to more than 1 billion daily users less than 10 years later. At the same time, it led to the creation of companies like Buddy Media, Vitrue, Wildfire and Involver that focused on publishing and tab management. Most of those companies were acquired in 2012 and 2013 in a spending spree by enterprise software vendors, but after a failure to integrate what were effectively agencies, not software platforms, the Facebook partner market shifted drastically.

The second inflection point came when Facebook expanded API access to its ads marketplace, at first via a limited beta in 2009, and later formalized into the ads API program in August 2011. Giving advertisers the ability to target via identity and interest was an incredible opportunity that made personalized marketing at scale possible for the first time.

Over time, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest rolled out new marketing API programs themselves, adding dozens of additional companies to their partner programs. These companies, generally referred to as “buying tools,” focus myopically on the tactical features that help brands create social ads.

These companies are about to see their businesses disrupted, as well, primarily because of a third inflection point that is quickly approaching. Despite what people would have you believe, no one is ever going to provide better social ad buying tools than the social networks themselves.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest employ the some of the world’s best software engineers. No ad tech vendor is going to build a better buying tool than the ones these industry giants are devoting massive amounts of money and talent to.

Consider Power Editor, which is effectively the lifeblood of the Facebook advertising platform. Advertising fuels Facebook’s growth and allows it to invest in areas like artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

It’s silly to believe that Facebook and other social networks wouldn’t ensure that their native buying interface have everything that marketers need to invest ad dollars into their ecosystems. Any innovation that buying tool vendors introduced–from bulk uploading and targeting profile creation to mass ad creation and A/B testing–is now available in every platform’s native buying user interface or coming quickly.

Every time a social network launches a new ad product, it has become common practice that it immediately makes it available in that network’s native buying user interface. That puts any marketer using a third party to create ads on that platform at a substantial disadvantage. It takes at least two months, and usually more, for a third-party buying tool to reach parity with native features, so marketers have to use native tools until their vendors reach parity. This creates fragmentation in both work flow and data management, not to mention unnecessary fees.

It’s time for the marketing industry to stop focusing on parity and start focusing on power.

Just because Facebook and other social platforms have the best buying tools doesn’t mean that marketers don’t need advanced advertising functionality. In fact, given massive growth in social advertising spend and the industry’s accelerating transition from cookie-based advertising to identity-based marketing, marketers need power features more than ever before.

Social media buyers’ real pain isn’t felt when they create ads: It’s felt when they manage campaigns. For example, if creative needs a refresh, Facebook’s Power Editor falls short of marketers that need to act in real-time. Need to check how a campaign is pacing against a macro level business objective? You can do it using exports from the native tools, but it takes much more time than your average buyer has to spend. Need to see how a campaign is performing across channels? Forget about it, as Facebook doesn’t offer what Twitter offers, and neither can show how you are doing on Pinterest. Ensuring that budgets are optimized to the highest performing ad unit for the right user? This can take hours per day and can be flawed, as it is a highly manual process based on human insight, not data science. Monitoring key performance indicators to ensure client success? Another highly manual process using Excel exports.