“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today’s column is written by Vinodini Suresh, senior social media strategist at DWA, a Merkle company.
Social platforms have taken a reputation hit this year. Mounting scandals and revelations, such as widespread bot accounts, discriminatory targeting, hacked accounts and mishandling of first-party data, have forced advertisers to take a hard look at their dealings with social platforms.
The platforms responded with a scorched-earth approach: Facebook wiped out an enormous stable of targeting options, and Twitter rooted out millions of bot accounts with little regard for how this might affect platform scale and engagement.
However, the forest fire will clear the underbrush and ultimately strengthen these platforms, allowing greater transparency, sharper focus on the most effective and ethical targeting capabilities and renewed trust from users and advertisers.
As the companies continue to shift and correct, marketers must judge how to move forward in social based on their own performance and needs in the platforms. There are, however, some silver linings and outright wins to look forward to.
Though it had to be dragged kicking and screaming, Facebook is now by default a more transparent platform in terms of data vs. inventory fees. With the deprecation of key targeting capabilities, the only option for B2B marketers is to use third-party targeting via outlets like Dun & Bradstreet to reach their narrow targets. Previously, Facebook would not reveal costs broken out by media vs. data, making it very difficult for marketers to understand where the real performance efficiencies were driven.
Widespread use of third-party data overlays will clarify the data market and allow marketers to make more informed decisions with their budgets. This is something that could be done before, but these new developments have been a relief to many marketers. It gives them an opportunity to see if a little additional investment in data is a worthy cause, whereas previously it was difficult to break the status quo, given strong performance.
Breaking out of the walled garden
Platforms have been forced to gaze into the abyss of their own making and have stepped back from the edge with a renewed sense of responsibility for what happens on their property. Because they know that it is unwise for them to bear the full load of the data they hold, there is hope that social giants will be willing to allow data use and transparency across other platforms.
Recent news from Facebook illustrates this prediction: In an interesting and positive move, the platform is establishing more options for advertisers to choose between just using first-party pixels for analytics or for both advertising and analytics.This development gives advertisers more control over how they share their data with Facebook, as well as how they use their data on Facebook to optimize campaigns. Facebook is taking a step in the right direction to address increasing wariness over how it capitalizes on user data. My hope is that we’ll continue to see Facebook become more transparent in how it uses its user data and provide more visibility into its walled garden.
Decentralizing the data that social media platforms accrue and combining it with the mature and secure ecosystem of third-party data vendors could dilute the danger of misuse and open an enormous additional revenue stream for very little cost. I can’t say I know for sure whether this will happen, but it is a very real need, and one for which the industry as a whole must continue to push.
Renewed focus and trust
Many marketers don’t trust social platforms enough to justify the typical level of media spend. Ultimately, they will not invest their media dollars in platforms the public does not trust. It makes them look out of touch – or worse, complicit with untrustworthy behavior – and can depress engagement and brand perception.
Social platforms taking steps to win back user trust is long overdue. If they are successful, they will be able to not only zero in on targeting techniques that actually work while cutting out the unnecessary clutter, but also engage users on a more one-to-one and consistent basis. Facebook in particular has been very proactive in addressing potential future concerns, which goes a long way toward building trust. Some marketers have already returned to previous spend levels after a blip, and that is mostly due to Facebook’s handling of the crisis and ability to scale large global programs.
We are a long way from the end of the self-improvement journey for the top social platforms, but B2B marketers must understand the current rocky landscape and adjust accordingly, while keeping their eyes on the future best uses of each platform.