2018 social media trends and what they mean for your planning and spending

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An interesting article was just released by warc.com on the likely trends for using social media for advertising in the coming months.

As the article begins:

With algorithm changes, high-profile data breaches and new platforms galore, is the promise of social media coming to an end. No, but marketers must come to terms with adapting to constant change.

And the article goes on to argue:

If you’re a marketer making decisions, what drops in paid reach tell you doesn’t mean you should advertising less on Facebook. It means, on the contrary, that most brands need to still double up on their social media investments.

At MOP, we have recently boosted our investment in social media capacity in response to its growing importance, but we would make the following cautionary comments before you simply chuck more money in Facebook’s bucket – or wherever.


Our MOP media research project released late last year strongly questions the effectiveness of social media as a driver of actual sales. It would be a nonsense, of course, to argue that social media “doesn’t work” – clearly there are many businesses who enjoy success with it.

But it would also be true to argue that social media doesn’t work automatically to drive enquiry and sales.

Ads on Facebook, for example, are limited in their creative content, and therefore their impact, and thus will inevitably require very high rotation to really drive business to your door. And the quality of how your ad agency uses the medium will increase or decrease their impact.

Hugo Gernsback viewing a WRNY television program
Back in 1928, the radio industry was explaining to its loyal listener base how to build new-fangled TVs. We suspect they might have had a different attitude if they could have seen the future.

In this respect, we see them a little like radio ads, for whom the traditional caveat has always been, “Frequency Sells”.

And it does. It gives you ownership of “share of mind”. Even if customers don’t respond there and then, that share of mind can then provoke “buyer preference” (also called “pre-disposition) at the moment when they decide to do something – at point of purchase, for example.

“Frequency sells”. This somewhat dismissive comment simply reflects a widespread understanding that peoples’ attention to a radio ad is often low-ish. They’re struggling along with driving, doing the dishes, or working away at a work-bench, and not paying anything like as much note to the ads they hear as we, the advertisers, are paying to them.

A really great radio ad cuts through, of course. But home many radio ads are truly “great”? A handful. Too often radio ads are a shopping list of features, and forget the first rule of radio advertising – it’s an entertainment medium: radio ads need to entertain as well as inform.

MOP argues that social media advertising probably works the same way as all those bland radio ads out there. After all, customers report not being unduly influenced by social media advertising. What we don’t know in any detail is whether they are influenced at a deeper, even unconscious level.

There’s a lot of it. They probably are.

So if we see social media advertising as another form of, for example, “outdoor’ advertising like billboards and bus shelters, then we get the general idea. (Interestingly the social media sites even originally named long banner ads as “billboards”.)

And here the advice to advertisers really is very simple. The more you buy, the more it works. Theoretically.

Which is good news for social media sites. And less good news for your company accountant.

And, we must be clear, there will come a point of diminishing returns where investment in social media largesse starts to look cost ineffective against other broadacre media.

In coming months, hard decisions will need to be taken on your overall strategic positioning of money. As we have argued many times, social media is not a magic cure all. For now and at least for the forseeable future, consumers are still getting most of the information they need from video advertising, and mostly from TV in all its forms.

And even from unexpected media stars that remain stubbornly successful, like catalogues.

Which is why, as thought leaders like Mark Ritson and others continually point out, you don’t need a “social media strategy”, which is a problem with agencies who claim to be social media specialists, or who only supply social media solutions. You actually need a strategy –  a cool-headed analysis of your strategic goals, which your lead agency helps you prepare – covering all media usage, of which social media is just one component. (Albeit perhaps an increasingly significant one.)


Just like in the good old days of direct mail, you absolutely have to test and track different messages on social media, and isolate those that provide you with the strongest return.

Not just different headline propositions, but entirely different strategic messages, and also different colours, different pictures, different sizes, different supporting copy, video or no video, different audience slices, and then at long last where the social media ads are actually pointing at.

Otherwise you are punting serious dollars on you picking the right ones, when you should be listening to your audience. What drives you might not drive them. It’s a brave – or very rich – marketer who reckons they know in advance how an audience will react. So you need to apply enough money behind you social media advertising to allow you to test different messages.

And then, just as you think you’ve got all your A/B testing down pat, social media ads wear out like any other advertising. When you see a facebook ads a few times you start to ignore them. So social media campaigns need to be freshened regularly. More time and money.

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 12.15.08 pmAnd then, what do you do if one ad performs at 55% response and one at 45%? Dump the lower performer because it’s less effective? Maybe the message in the less well-performing ad works particularly hard against a smaller target market, but also motivates them more powerfully than the ad which looks like it’s performing better, but only on the surface.

Which is why, as we mention above, social media is really just a beginning.

All those eyeballs you’re being sold are hopefully being dragged somewhere of your choosing. If the web-page(s) they’re going to aren’t up to snuff, if they don’t capture your enquirers, hold them, and convert them into sales, then you’re simply, well, throwing your social advertising money away.

In short, this stuff is complicated. Are you really sure your social media buyer has the mental wherewithal to make a genuinely insightful contribution to all that money you’re cheerfully spending? In our experience, some do, but they’re few and far between. For one thing, given the “groovy whackidoo” atmosphere of the social media industry which has sprung up, many of the people working in it are quite young. And try as you might, you can’t necessarily put an old head on young shoulders.

It’s a bit like employing landscape gardeners. You wouldn’t turn over your prized block of land to an 18 year old with muscles and a shovel and say “go for it”. You’ll be looking for a hard-headed experienced landscaper who employs those 18 year olds to do the heavy lifting, but only after he’s decided what to do. You should treat social media advice the same way.

And after all that, and what’s more, you really should not rob Peter to pay Paul and grab your social media money which seems to grow exponentially from elsewhere where it is usefully deployed already. That’s already seen falls in sales for major advertisers. More good news for the company accountant.

MOP logoThe final answer?

Well, the answer is obviously a really good strategy, covering your whole media activity. One that is based on good market intelligence, good knowledge of your business and what you are trying to achieve, and which is reviewed regularly – quarterly as a minimum.

But obviously metrics are going to become more and more important, too.

Our frazzled bean counter is going to start demanding more and more data on what social media (and online activity generally) is actually producing, and also what other main media activity is generating as well.

So for “soft” TV advertising, for example – as opposed to ads that can be directly tracked to making the tills ring – it would be a good idea to build in an allowance in your budget for some judicious tracking research to measure positive (hopefully) changes in things like brand awareness, brand salience, brand perception and consumer relevance.

Marketing managers will be under more and more pressure as time goes on, as Boards demand accountability for ever increasing budgets. And in turn, so will their suppliers.

Happy days.




Author: Stephen Yolland

Director of Creative Strategy and Partner @ Magnum Opus Partners.

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