A social network is used to connect people with one another, though they have now also become a prime way to connect users with brands.
A driving force in digital advertising, social networks have uniquely diverse and extensive user data, allowing advertisers to carry out highly targeted and cost-efficient ad campaigns. However, their real strength is the element of familiarity they create. In addition to native ads being less invasive, social networks breed reassurance in businesses by allowing users to engage with brands directly. The ability to see how friends are interacting with brands alleviates uncertainty. making users more likely to positively engage with branded content.
Here, we go through the strengths and shortfalls of the top four social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Which social network is the best to advertise on?
Facebook – the user-centric platform with native ads
With 1.23 billion daily active users, Facebook has the largest user base of any social network. As this user base continues to grow, so does the number of people that marketers can target based on personal interests, purchasing behaviours and demographics.
Companies are wise to the potential of this, with 50 million active businesses registered on Facebook and over 4 million of these businesses using ads on the platform. However, besides its large user base, what makes Facebook a strong platform to advertise on?
Facebook advertising has come a long way since the original right column ad format. Though they offer a range of formats, Facebook news feed ads are the most common, presenting a lot of information in a limited amount of space with the option to click through for more if desired.
News feed ads provide the company name, a text description, image or video, the opportunity to like or comment, a CTA button to lead users to the company’s conversion page and social information about whether friends have engaged with the business on Facebook.
This social element is what distinguishes the format from others, joining users with brands by highlighting mutual friends who have liked a brand’s content. In addition to being informative, this creates an element of familiarity which in turn breeds a certain amount of trust, connecting users with brands in a non-invasive way.
However, this native way of advertising could equally be considered Facebook’s downfall. As a social network, Facebook is inevitably for users, not brands. The site is user-centric, and whilst impressions are easier to gain, far fewer users go on to convert on the brand’s website. For the best results, it’s therefore integral for brands to consistently monitor their analytics and use Facebook tools to their advantage to create highly targeted ads.
Instagram – the social network with the Snapchat style Stories feature
A Facebook owned company, Instagram offers similar ad formats to those seen on Facebook including news feed images, video and carousel ads with the option to click through for more branded content. However, as of this year, marketers can also promote their brands through a Snapchat style Stories feature.
Now with more users than Snapchat, Instagram’s Stories platform has been highly successful, amassing 200 million daily users. Nike reported that whilst their best ad on Snapchat accumulated 66,000 views, it reached 800,000 views on Instagram Stories within just 24 hours and on the first day that the feature became available. Given that the platforms are almost identical, this seems largely due to Instagram’s bigger user base, which will only continue to grow as the main app’s 400 million daily active users gradually begin using Stories.
Paired with the fact that Instagram has benefited from Facebook’s ad data and measurement tools, it makes sense for brands to favour the platform over Snapchat. Ads are far more measurable, with Snapchat having had to rush to develop its own tools for marketers.
However, the popularity of Instagram might also render its original news feed ad format ineffective. With over 80 million images and videos published daily, promoted content can get lost between user posts, impacting user engagement and organic reach of branded content. Whilst news feed ads allow users to interact with content and publishers to include CTA buttons, marketers are perhaps best off looking to the new Stories platform to maximise user engagement.
Snapchat – the young platform with the broadest mix of ad formats
Of the four social networks mentioned, Snapchat undoubtedly has the most diverse selection of ad formats. From Stories to branded lenses, geofilters and Discover; Snapchat are masters of fun and non-intrusive advertising. Of their 158 million users, Snapchat claims that 60% make use of their tools like geofilters and lenses every day.
Most of these formats best suit the purpose of increasing brand awareness, with lenses often used by brands to promote new films or products. The benefit of lenses is that they combine user and brand content to create images people actually want to share, fuelling social sharing and in turn brand promotion. Snapchat users tend to be younger, with 71% of users under the age of 25.
Although lesser known, the Discover platform is also useful in that it showcases a portion of a brand’s actual content, be it photos or articles. However, whilst users can subscribe to publishers within Discover, this feature is somewhat separate to the rest of the app and there is no alternative way for brands to host pages within the platform, limiting potential CTAs and conversion buttons.
Further, unlike Instagram’s rather open platform, users must follow public figures before being able to view updates. It’s therefore less beneficial for brands to use influencers on Snapchat, with content disappearing in 24 hours and no opportunities to publicly like, share or comment on content. And whilst Facebook is able to map what its users like and share on the site, Snapchat does not have the same features to track.
However, Snapchat has taken steps to overcome this, having made a deal with Oracle Data Cloud in January to obtain data on users’ offline purchasing habits and therefore allowing marketers to deliver more targeted ads through Snap Audience Match and Lookalikes. The platform also recently introduced a new product called Snap to Store which measures the number of people who visit a shop within a week of seeing one of Snapchat’s mobile ads. Fast food chain Wendy’s use of a sponsored geofilter resulted in over 42,000 people visiting a restaurant within the seven-day period, demonstrating the value for marketers to be able to track short-term sales success.
Equally, Snapchat has always asserted a wish not to annoy its users with ads where possible. Consequently, skippable Stories ads are only shown to users who have watched a series of full-screen videos with audio. In turn, this serves to increase the effectiveness of an ad - whilst 85% of Facebook video ads are watched on mute, 60% are watched with audio on Snapchat. This in itself unlocks potential for more engaging ads, with users expecting sound instead of reacting negatively to auto-play videos. These ads can also be targeted by age, gender, location and device type.
Twitter – the social network pushing towards video
With 100 million users, Twitter has the smallest audience of the four social networks. Typical ads include promoted tweets, accounts and trends in addition to the recently added in-stream video ads. The character limit of promoted tweets means ads are concise and to the point, however also somewhat inhibiting, with marketers often using images to embed further explanatory text.
As with Facebook, users can share, like and respond to a tweet. Whilst this in theory makes it easier for users to connect with brands, tweets which gain social traction organically tend to perform better than paid promoted tweets. The use of hashtags has also proved popular amongst brands, with Twitter being the first platform to popularise this to promote products and events.
Twitter allows marketers to target based on location, gender, keywords and interests, followers and more. Whilst this makes its targeting capabilities almost on par with Facebook’s, it vitally lacks the option of targeting users based on age. With 88% of twitter ads being promoted tweets, this does perhaps mean more opportunity to stand out, with the platform offering a choice of ad campaigns that focus on gaining followers or engagements specifically.
This year, the social network has begun focusing on making video a larger portion of its ad revenue, even stating that “videos on Twitter drive the highest recall and emotional connection on any digital platform”.
"videos on Twitter drive the highest recall and emotional connection on any digital platform" Its latest in-stream video ads will appear in livestream and clip content created by Twitter partners.
AOL are the latest of these partners and will be distributing original video content on Twitter which marketers will now be able to place their ads on. The move is part of Twitter’s efforts to make its video ad business “as big as TV”. The new format will undoubtedly attract marketers who favour the traditional television commercial format, with eMarketer estimating Twitter will attract $77.17bn in ad spend by 2020 in the US.
With 80% of the internet set to be video by 2019, it’s likely that video ads will become the primary method of advertising across all social networks. Instagram and Twitter’s recent moves towards video ads are telling of this. As the success of Instagram Stories has shown, a combination of a solid user base and video advertising integrated between user content is one of the best ways to advertise. Not only is video instantly more engaging, Stories ads are also skippable and therefore less intrusive, alleviating the feeling of being advertised at to an extent.
So which social network is the best to advertise on? The honest answer is that this depends on your individual needs and goals - every platform has its use. Whilst Snapchat is better for boosting awareness of products amongst younger consumers, Facebook’s unrivalled tools and user base make targeted advertising highly specific and straightforward. Likewise, Twitter’s move towards more video ad formats will perhaps make it the first choice for video advertisers.
The success of social network advertising lies in the fusion of consumer content with advertiser content in non-intrusive ways. Though most social networks now feature native ads, it seems that the future of advertising on social networks will focus on finding more ways to use video to create engaging and targeted ads.