Social media advertising is what traditional search engine marketing was 5 years ago: constantly in development with major changes coming every other week. That's not to say that SEM has stagnated and development has stopped – it hasn't (enhanced campaigns anyone?).
The point is that 2013 has seen more changes and big leaps forward in social media advertising then any year before. The development boom hasn't slowed down at all this year and is propelling the entire social media space forward into 2014.
Here are five trends in social media advertising to watch out for next year.
More Twitter Ads
Twitter had a big year in 2013. The social media network saw changes across the user interface on desktops and mobile devices. The ad platform grew leaps and bounds. And perhaps most importantly, Twitter filed for and successfully completed their IPO.
Previously I wrote about what that meant for Twitter Ads. In short, using Facebook's IPO and subsequent development boom as an example, it is safe to assume we should expect big things from Twitter. Throughout 2013 and leading up to the IPO Twitter successfully overhauled the advertising interface and targeting functionality, launched TV ad targeting and created the impressive Lead Generation Cards.
Since the IPO in October, the Twitter development train has kept right on chugging. Now we have Tailored Audiences (remarketing), promoted accounts in timelines, and a true "broad match" for keyword targeting.
Now that Twitter is beholden to shareholders, expect this kind of rapid development in the advertising platform to continue. Ad revenue = happy shareholders.
Facebook Video Ads
TV advertising was (and still is) a fundamental piece to the modern advertising puzzle. Video has proven time and again to have significant impact on branding and purchasing decisions.
Now that the world is shifting their television habits online, this means that the video advertising model must shift with it. While the devices are different, the end customer will still be drawn to (good) video advertising.
YouTube is already killing it with their video ad campaign product. The InStream ad unit alone has so much potential. So, how does all of this tie in to Facebook? Videos are prominently featured in Facebook feeds organically. After they tested the "autoplay" video content organically, it was a natural progression to see this come to video ads.
This ad unit is still in testing at Facebook and the video plays on silent – so the impact won't be quite the same as what is seen on YouTube. However, I fully expect this testing to expand and for video to play a bigger role in Facebook ads in 2014. If Facebook is successful with video, who knows what implications that will have across the social media world?
Ads on Google+?
A few years into Google's gamble in social media and Google+ is still completely void of ads. Many people likely are quite pleased by this. Countless others (no doubt advertisers) are chomping at the bit waiting for the day that they can place targeted ads on this coveted real estate.
Will it happen in 2014? Well, just a few weeks ago it came to light that Google will begin testing +Post Ads. While this isn'tan ad unit on Google+, it allows brands to take quality Google+ posts and advertise them across the Google Display Network.
Could this be a baby step toward a larger advertising platform built around Google+? Maybe. In the meantime, all we can do is keep on wishing!
Fragmentation vs. Variety
New social media networks pop up nearly every week it seems. The vast majority of them burn out before they secure mass-appeal and adoption. A few maintain relevance and start to grow. Pinterest, SnapChat, and Instagram are just a few examples of those that have found staying power. (Instagram is owned by Facebook, so that's not exactly a fair comparison)
With mass-appeal and adoption comes the added responsibility of creating revenue. Pinterest and Instagram are both experimenting with fledgling advertising platforms. Reddit, Foursquare, Tumblr and others are already providing self-serve ad campaigns.
Moving into 2014, this race to create new social media networks and advertising platforms to support them will create an interesting dilemma for advertisers. On one hand, you have a variety of channels that cater to unique targets and demographics. On the other hand, you have the issue of fragmentation. For every new social network and ad platform, you're forced to deal with varied ad units (sizes, editorial policies, etc.) and management requirements.
The tools to consolidate management of these channels simply don't exist – that or the channels themselves are not sophisticated enough to have APIs, etc. (looking at you LinkedIN Ads!). As the greater world of social media continues to grow and more networks take root in 2014, expect your role as an advertiser to only become more complicated. Good luck!
Blurred Lines Between Paid and Organic Content
The original Facebook ad unit (appearing on the right) was simple and straightforward. It followed the general format pioneered by the search engines through PPC. Safe. Predictable.
Then came Twitter and the promoted tweets for timelines – an ad that fit seamlessly into the organic construct of the social experience. Since then Facebook and LinkedIn have followed suit with newsfeed ad units that have boosted ad engagement and click-through rates while simultaneously blurring the lines of what is organic or paid social content.
There's a precedent for this. Look at the search engines. Google, Bing and Yahoo all have conducted numerous tests to make the PPC ads look more like organic listings. Why? More people click on them.
Now social networks are up to the same tricks – only in a far more aggressive (nay, effective) manner. Promoted status updates blend in seamlessly save for a simple marker that says "sponsored." From a mobile device the average user may never realize that the status update they just read and clicked on was actually an ad.
This trend is only going to grow in 2014. New ad units at Instagram and Pinterest are designed to blend into the natural landscape of the user's social feed. Facebook is concerned with dwindling usage and has gone so far as to suppress organic content – effectively forcing advertisers to promote their content.
Will the users of these social sites continue to be OK with this? Time will tell.
It has been an incredible year of growth for social media advertising, with new features, targeting options, and channels to explore. But 2013 has merely been a preview of what is to come. Here's to an exciting 2014!
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