4 Mega Trends in Paid Social

With any major shift in social technology, there is an adoption curve. This curve is a pattern that describes how new ideas and technologies spread in different cultures (it is called the Diffusion Process) We are seeing this curve pan out in the paid social space, following the recognizable patterns we saw in the organic social media marketing programs before it.

Here are four mega trends of note in paid social we are seeing in the marketplace today:

1. Bright Shiny Objects 

We are seeing Bright Shiny Objects pop up in the paid social space just as they do all over the digital marketing ecosystem.

When Snapchat first launched paid integrations with Brand Stories (already a defunct format) for example, forward thinking brands with an appetite for innovation jumped on the ability to integrate their own content into the feeds of Snapchat users for 24 hours.

Activations like this are often buzzworthy and 100% necessary for the space to continue to evolve. They are great for brand awareness, but less so for direct response initiatives. Engagement around this type of paid social does not yet deliver in the same way when it comes to driving to actual business KPIs. If trying to evaluate against harder business metrics, such as sales or conversions, it is hard to show the same ROI as other more proven paid social offerings.

A common theme with Bright Shiny Objects across the board is that a success story from a brand’s own perspective, or engagement level, could also be seen as a fail from a deliverables perspective.

2. Innovation in the retail space aligned to consumer behavior 

The impending launch of Pinterest’s Buyable Pins is the discovery platform’s latest step towards meeting the needs of retail brands willing to experiment with paid, as well as understanding consumer behaviors when it comes to how social is enhancing the retail experience.

This latest development follows the launch of Rich Pins two years ago. Enhanced with metadata, Rich Pins allow publishers, brands, and retailers to add extra information to images that people pin. This added data provides relevant information to pinning consumers, allows new marketing opportunities for retailers, and creates a direct connection back to the retailer’s site. A win all round for retailers looking to social to drive sales.

In the other corner, Instagram just launched its own ads with "Shop Now" buttons and other messages that link outside the Instagram app so users can quickly purchase items. As the Instagram user is in inspiration and discovery mode, this becomes an opportunity for retailers to move a customer through the journey to sale. Test-and-Learn on this platform will truly reveal how open its users are to the new paid offerings. 

Paid social has opened up a point in the customer journey for retailers to precisely target audiences with relevant offers that align with their use case of the social platform.  Expect to see more here across all platforms.

3. Paid social offerings are in constant evolution 

The social platforms are at different levels of maturity when it comes to their paid social offerings for brands, meaning a different experience when it comes to creating and buying paid on each—and seemingly weekly updates to the offerings available on any given platform.

The market continues to make great leaps forward on all sides, with social platforms adding structure and expertise to allow brands to leverage their new offerings or scale existing programming. Pinterest’s newest team is one to note, an in-house creative agency that creates interactive promoted Pins for large advertisers, which debuted alongside its new offerings. Certainly Pinterest putting a boost behind its paid business is a good thing all round—its new video unit, fresh targeting features, cost-per-engagement measurement tools, and pricing bring it up to speed when it comes to program integration.

We should not expect this trend to wane anytime soon, nor be looking for it to. Rather, constant change is one thing everyone working in this space is 100% used to; working with flexible platform partners and creative teams will allow for the almost certain evolution coming down the pike.

4. Marketers want to know the ROI of paid social

ROI is a term that means very different things to different people. The important thing to note is that the paid supported model in social today does not mean that there is now a set of standardized metrics and ROI benchmarks that marketers can easily reference and use. 

Soft metrics such as followers, retweets, likes, and shares, alongside impressions as a gauge of reach, are still prevalent when it comes to measuring effectiveness and is what many deem ROI. But social marketers need to go one step further.

The same guidelines and focus that are used to measure success in other marketing channels should be applied to paid social. The core to defining ROI is to understanding and aligning business goals and KPIs, then using the right toolset to manage, optimize, and measure success across them.

ROI of paid social for a retailer ties directly into showing the impact that paid social has on sales and so needs attribution modeling.

ROI of paid social to promote a brand marketing program needs to look at metrics such as reach and preference.

ROI of Paid programs focused on lead generation would need to track back to the leads converted.

And the same logic applies to loyalty, so measuring ROI would need focus on how paid social has directly impacted engagement, sharing, sentiment and more.

Understanding what the different ROI metrics are to be tracking (brand awareness, loyalty, lead generation, or conversion) is key. Then data pulled from ad performance can be bucketed out to fit into these categories. There is no silver bullet here. 

Measure what matters. While engagement metrics are helpful in surfacing popular content, paid media success should be measured against specific marketing goals (Hint: "Increase likes and followers" is not a business objective.) To really measure business impact requires a more thorough analytical approach including attribution modeling and experimental design.

What do you think? Let’s continue the conversation. Share your thoughts on trends in paid social with me on Twitter, find me here @gemsie.

If you want even more insight into the trends shaping our industry, download the Smart Social Report—brand new research using 2015 data to uncover trends and patterns across social.

Gemma Craven's picture

Gemma Craven

Gemma is the Executive Director of Strategic Markets at Spredfast where she leads Spredfast's North American team of Market Directors - social business practitioners and key partners to Spredfast's clients and prospects. She is also a WOMMA board member, runner, and owner of a Boston Terrier named Stella.