A monthly look at the world of digital from NORTH’s point of view

Facebook’s Realistic Approach To Ad Blocking

By Caroline Desmond, Director of Media Strategy

Source: Facebook for Business

A week ago Facebook made a move to block ad blocking software on its desktop web experience. This change does not apply to Facebook’s mobile web experience which does still allow ad blocking, though this accounts for a smaller portion of overall traffic to the social platform. Most users actually access Facebook via the mobile app which is already unaffected by ad blocking software to begin with. Some, particularly those behind present ad blocking software companies say Facebook is violating consumer choice by blocking the blockers on their desktop experience. It only took ad blocking company Adblock Plus two days to figure out a way around Facebook’s blocker ban for desktop. On Thursday it announced that a new filter had been added to identify Facebook ads on desktop and block them. Industry experts predict that it will continue to be a game of tag between media companies and ad blocking companies. I say Facebook’s approach is a more constructive, realistic approach to delivering content on the web.

The thing is that without advertising, our favorite news and entertainment sources are at risk. The publishers that deliver that content rely heavily on revenue from advertising to keep the lights on. Take what’s happened to the newspaper industry as a cautionary example of what happens when ad revenue shifts elsewhere. Publications have to close their doors. So what if digital sites and apps all moved toward an ad-free, 100% subscription based model? My guess is we’d see greater consolidation as consumers further prioritize what content sources they can’t live without. If for example, I had to start paying to access each social platform I use, I might just pick my top favorite and leave it at that. The 4–5 digital news sources I consult would be narrowed to the 1–2 that do the best job of covering all topics of interest — business, technology, industry news, entertainment/pop culture. This lays the foundation for a monopoly on content creation which is damaging to the media industry because it discourages a diversity of viewpoints. Furthermore, monopolies have historically led to less competition in a marketplace which in turn leads to less innovation as large companies feel less pressure to develop new technologies to keep ahead of competitors.

Granted, the rise of ad blocking is indicative of a greater problem of ineffective advertising populating our feeds, interrupting our video streams, and slowing the load times on websites we frequent. No surprise; consumers are over it. In fact, this year just over a quarter of internet users in the US are expected to block ads according to eMarketer.

Source: eMarketer

The digital ad industry, led by trade organizations like the Interactive Advertising Bureau (I.A.B.) understand the need for ad supported content, and they are aiming to find a happy medium that allows ad-supported content to continue to flourish while enforcing better ad standards that improve page load times, transparency around targeting and improved ad experiences. Like the I.A.B., Facebook’s recent solution seeks to address the root of the problem, not just the symptom, by creating better user experiences online that negate the need for ad blockers in the first place. One part of this is giving users greater control over the ads they see. Another part is encouraging brands to up the quality of the content they promote on the platform. In another recent development, Facebook announced it would be cracking down on clickbait style posts. Going forward, Facebook will reduce the distribution of posts with headlines that withhold information required to understand what the content of the article is or headlines that exaggerate the article to create misleading expectations for the reader.

Source: Facebook for Business

As more control is placed in the hands of consumers to decide what ads they see, brands are challenged to be more thoughtful about the content they produce and better align it with the interests of their consumer audiences. On Facebook specifically, brands are rewarded for developing content that is informative or entertaining. In fact, these two attributes rank in the top three factors now for Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm that influence what we see in our feeds. Another trend brands can tap into is Facebook’s current move to prioritize Facebook Live video. It won’t be right of course for everyone, but where it makes sense to use, brands stand to benefit from one of the few ways non-human users (brands/publishers) can still achieve organic reach on the platform.

Does Instagram Have A “Clickability” Problem?

By Crystal Stanford, SEM/PPC Manager

Source: MacWorld

Instagram has come a long way since its days as a niche photo-sharing app for the hipsters of the world. Its acquisition by Facebook in September of 2012 only further cemented its future as a mainstream social channel. By October of 2013, Instagram had debuted ads on Instagram, a development that angered many of the platform’s loyals. However, there were high barriers to entry for most advertisers. It was simply too expensive for most, and that kept the number of sponsored posts in people’s feeds rather low.

From the time of its debut in 2010, five years went by before you could click on anything in Instagram other than features native to the app such as likes and comments. The single piece of real estate for clickable links was a line in your profile bio. And for five years, companies and brands got by on these constraints. Remember “click link in bio for more information” at the end of brand posts? It was the only thing anyone could come up with to work around this platform quirk.

Then, in March of 2015 — again, five whole years after Instagram’s debut — Instagram rolled out its first clickable links in the form of “Learn More” buttons on carousel ad units. This was still prior to the roll out of Instagram’s self-serve platform, so these clickable links were really only available to large-scale advertisers who could afford the high cost of entry. Which is to say that they weren’t very common. Finally, in October 2015 — less than a year ago — Instagram’s self-serve platform launched, and clickable links on Instagram started to become more commonplace.

Source: TechCrunch

If you think about it, 5.5 years is a really long time in terms of the lifecycle of a social platform. So it’s not surprising that many companies and brands are finding that people are very hesitant to take action or, at the very least, click on their sponsored posts. For most of Instagram’s life as a social platform, nobody clicked on anything other than to tap a heart here or a comment there.

Even with all the robust targeting inherited from its parent company’s Facebook Power Editor, some advertisers are struggling to gain traction when it comes to direct response efforts on Instagram. A recent MarketingLand article highlighted the dilemma:

“‘Facebook is outperforming Instagram to such a degree that it would be difficult to rationalize — if you had $1, you’d put that dollar in Facebook,’ said Jeanne Bright, VP and group director for paid social at DigitasLBi.

Not only do Facebook’s direct-response ads generate 10 times more clicks to brands’ sites than Instagram’s, but each click on Facebook costs one-fifth of the price on Instagram, according to Bright.”

Anecdotally, this is in line with what I myself have noticed from Instagram campaigns. People on Instagram are more than happy to engage (great for brand metrics), just maybe don’t ask them to click. Still, MarketingLand makes sure to add that we shouldn’t rule out Instagram just yet. Instagram ads are still in their infancy, and it wasn’t long ago that many had ruled out Facebook ads for direct response efforts. Look how far Facebook ads have come since then. They’re now an integral part of the media mix for many advertisers from lifestyle brands to software start-ups. MarketingLand also adds that one bright spot for direct response advertisers has been Instagram’s effectiveness in pushing mobile app downloads.

Going forward, it certainly helps if you’re trying to drive sales for pretty “Instagrammable” products or downloads for a mobile app that’s sure to be a hit with a younger audience, but I also would not rule out everything else for Instagram just yet. For many companies and brands, Instagram remains a very appealing platform for maintaining loyalty and garnering engagement. In terms of more direct efforts such as clicks and conversions, I recommend testing what works and investing in what does. Finally, revisit your efforts in a short while. Social platforms are constantly evolving and maturing. What’s true today could very easily change tomorrow. A year from now, clicking through on things in Instagram will seem a lot more natural for users.

Foursquare’s Future

By Stacey Inderabudhi, Senior Media Planner

Source: Fortune

You might have noticed that Foursquare’s name has been popping up in digital industry news a lot in recent months. No you are not imagining things and no, we did not time travel back to 2009. Seven years after launch, the company that introduced virtual check-ins may just be hitting its stride.

Foursquare was the talk of the town in the late aughts, but their success was stunted by social giants like Facebook and Twitter adopting check-in features for their own platforms. Since then, it has been clear that Foursquare has struggled to regain relevance. In 2014, the company attempted to re-position themselves within the market. They angled Foursquare as a recommendation app similar to Yelp, and created a second standalone app called Swarm, which was basically the old Foursquare. The results weren’t exactly fruitful.

The company still has high hopes for the future though. What they have realized is that they need to stop trying to compete with other social networks, and instead highlight the unique value proposition they offer marketers, location data. “Think of it more like comScore than Instagram” notes Fred Wilson, lead investor for Foursquare. So instead of monetizing their audience by placing ads in-app, the company is looking to monetize the paper trail of data that the app users create.

In an attempt to show-off their data “superpower” (as founder Dennis Crowley calls it) and most certainly a move to regain relevance, the company released research on How the Trump Presidential Campaign is Affecting Trump Businesses earlier this month. If you’re curious, their data suggests that since Trump announced his candidacy in mid-2015, Trump properties have seen a decline in foot traffic. Namely the Trump hotels in New York City, Chicago and Atlantic City, which are all within decidedly blue states.

To further spotlight their location data, Foursquare has recently launched a new dashboard within their attribution reporting platform. Now marketers have the ability to view real-time data on how their online campaigns trickle down to offline actions. Metrics available within the dashboard include return on ad spend, daily store visits and incremental revenue. Perhaps most important for marketers however, is the fact that the data is available not only for Foursquare ads, but also any other digital campaigns run across the web or mobile apps.

Though Foursquare is now focusing on monetizing their data instead of their audience, there is still the foundational need of maintaining a solid user base. That’s where Dennis Crowley, Foursquare Founder, thanks to a little app called Pokemon Go. While some have said the app accomplished what Foursquare never did, push real-life foot traffic at scale; Crowley has a different take on things. He posits that Pokemon Go is ushering a new wave of utility and interest in location-based services/apps. With consumers becoming more used to allowing location tracking in-app, companies like Foursquare will be able to reap the benefit of increased data.

“Location services are going to power everything in the future. They’re going to be involved in everything we touch.” — Dennis Crowley, Foursquare founder

Foursquare’s new MO is probably the most valuable move the company has made since its inception. For marketers at least. Online to offline attribution has been a huge blind spot for the industry and Foursquare is primed to help create visibility. Though the company may be a late-bloomer, their future looks bright given the rise of mobile consumption, increased usage of location-based services, and the need for marketers to prove digital campaign ROI.

Instagram Stories: Stealing Opportunity

By Nathan Johnson, Assistant Media Planner

This past month Instagram released an almost exact replica of the the popular messaging app, Snapchat. So much so that Instagram CEO, Kevin Systrom, went as far to say “They [Snapchat] deserve all the credit,” when speaking of the similarities between two platforms.

Though competitive with each other, the two apps served two completely different purposes. Up until this point, Instagram has largely been marked by beautiful feeds. A place where not just any photo goes, but ones that are carefully planned. On the flipside, Snapchat is more spontaneous, which brings a sense of authenticity to the posts, something which isn’t always the case for Instagram.

Source: BuzzFeed

Neither function is better than the other, but meet different needs of users. That said, Snapchat’s explosive growth certainly indicates that the messaging app tapped into something people wanted more of. According to eMarketer, Snapchat is expected to grow by 27% in 2016, far exceeding that of the mobile messaging category, which is expected to see 16% growth as a whole. This would also put app’s user base ahead of Twitter and Pinterest for the first time.

It’s really no wonder why Facebook tried to buyout Snapchat a few years back. The messaging app quickly grew into Instagram’s biggest threat and at some point needed to be addressed. Instagram’s answer — copy them!

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and make my own prediction as to the future of Snapchat, but let me preface it by saying two things: 1) I’ve been using Snapchat for years and it has grown into one of my favorite apps, so I’m a little biased. 2) Since contributing to NORTH’s Digital Digest I have made a couple predictions similar to this and I tend to guess the losing team…So here it is. Instagram’s move won’t have any immediate impact on Snapchat, however it could stunt future growth. Similar to Twitter, the app will always have a core group that continue to use it, but unless the company can make the proper counters, they might have some struggles ahead.

For this to happen, Instagram doesn’t have to convert current Snapchatters, but instead steal potential growth opportunities. Josh Constine, has a great article in which he coins Instagrams strategy the “Good-Enough Strategy.” It’s worth the read, but in short, Instagram doesn’t have to be better, but instead be adequate. The real target, as Constine puts it, are

“…all the people who’ve been curious about Snapchat’s fun creation tools and format, but either tried and abandoned it, or wrote it off just for teens or too much work to adopt.”

What immediately comes to mind are the slightly older millennials and parents who are currently on Instagram. At this point Snapchat is for a younger generation, but like all maturing social apps, eventually the older crowd wants to see what it’s all about. Instagram will be looking to leverage this opportunity and keep those users in their app.

Another advantage Instagram has is the user discoverability factor. Let’s face it, finding friends on Snapchat is difficult unless you know their username or phone number. Compare that with Instagram who now suggests users to follow and you’ll quickly see why Snapchat will need to make some much needed updates.

To top it all off, Instagram’s pretty popular among brands. According to eMarketer, adoption of Instagram is almost at full penetration across all industry sectors, while brands are seen to be hesitant to adopt Snapchat. Furthermore Snapchat has struggled to monetize their platform, something Instagram continues to make easier for advertisers.

Don’t worry fellow Snapchat lovers, there’s still hope! Beyond simply having cooler filters, Snapchat has done something much more impactful — that is put community back into social. Daily content from top publishers as well Live snaps events such as the Rio Olympics gives users a glimpse into what’s going on around the world.

Let’s also not forget that Snapchat at its core is a messaging app. The biggest advantage it has over Instagram is the ease of communication between users. I love what eMarketer principal analyst, Cathy Boyle said about the app:

“Snapchat has tapped into a key change in consumer behavior: The desire for intimate one-to-one or one-to few communication as opposed to broadcast-style sharing across an entire network.”

Competition is good for brands. It pushes them to be better than they once were. While Instagram has some advantages in key areas, don’t think for a second that Snapchat will cover their eyes and hope for the best. Who will have the better story?