Paid social media dominant during COVID-19

With audiences stuck at home and looking for digital entertainment, brand managers are turning to social media channels. Here’s why paying for your exposure could be worth the investment.

Digital channels overnight have become the lifeblood of many organizations as they try to manage through the current crisis.

Social media’s dominance has continued for audiences stuck and home and looking for connection online—and because of the changes many platforms introduced in the last couple of years, paying to play could be a brand manager’s best option to join the conversation.

P.K. Kannan Headshot

We recently caught up with P.K. Kannan, Ph.D., the Dean’s Chair in marketing science in the online MBA program at the University of Maryland, who shared some of his thoughts on the future of paid social against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

PR Daily: What does the future look like for Facebook Ads and other social media?

Kannan: Social media platforms are in the midst of a boom in their total daily users due to the coronavirus lockdowns and social distancing. Facebook (including Instagram) had a 9% increase in daily users, Twitter around 11% increase and Snapchat has experienced an increase of 20% over the last quarter daily user level.

However, the same coronavirus related causes which have led to these increases are responsible for tepid revenues for ads on the platforms.  While these platforms have not experienced a meltdown in advertising spending in the last quarter, the coming quarter is going to be difficult with revenues from ads decreasing significantly as firms tighten their marketing budget.

It is somewhat ironic that as the traffic on their platforms soar, social media firms are not able to capitalize on it with increased ad rates and revenues as firms are also cutting down on their budgets.

Beyond the immediate quarter, the future seems bright for all these companies. Many users have got used to being on social media and interacting more than even with their friends, families and the public.  Even if things go back to normal (which I do not think is going to happen too fast, maybe in 8 to 12 months), there is going to a residual effect of all the changed habits of users to use social media more. This means these platforms are increasingly likely to benefit from social interactions online.

This bodes well for social media paid advertising. As firms start increasing their ad budget, the upside of social media ads will draw in more advertising from firms. They are also likely to be more effective on garnering attention and eyeballs, aided by analytics that the social media sites target appropriate customers.

PR Daily: What opportunities, if any, does this offer brand managers?

Kannan: If brand managers had their way now (which I doubt as firms are in the midst of cost-cutting) this is a great opportunity to increase brand awareness by advertising on social media. There is less competition, lower rates and larger daily user traffic, all of which provide a wonderful opportunity for firms with deeper pockets to benefit from lower competition for attention.

Consumer packaged goods can best make use of such bargains as they are needed, purchased and consumed by customers, [coronavirus] or not.  Travel and hospitality brands cannot take advantage of this now for obvious reasons.

PR Daily: Where should brands focus in future paid social campaigns?

Kannan: In terms of social media platforms, Facebook and Instagram will continue to be a major attraction for paid social media campaigns. Their sophisticated targeting across devices and contexts using high-quality usage data on their users also means brands will get a better ROI for their advertising dollars.

PR Daily: What mistakes should you avoid with paid social?

Kannan: Firms can make similar mistakes across any advertising media and platform—not describing their target market clearly, not determining clearly the impact of various ad formats (image, video, promoted tweets, trends, etc) before allocating their budget, over-investing in social media ads leading to ad saturation, blindly using retargeting ads—all of which lead to an increase in customer acquisition costs.

PR Daily: Some brands have been skeptical—or have avoided paying for social media reach. Is this a mistake? Why should they reconsider now?

Kannan: Social media platforms are likely to be very influential platforms in the coming years and it is a mistake to avoid them.  In some sense, skepticism arises because mistakes like the ones in the above question have been made.  Then again, it is important to understand what segments a firm wants to target. If they are not there on a social media platform in large numbers, you can avoid that platform.

PR Daily: If you were putting together a paid social strategy from scratch, where should you start?

Kannan: Have a clear idea of the customer segment you want to target. Have a clear idea of what your end goal of the ad campaign is: increase brand awareness, increase traffic on website, or increase conversions and sales?  Do your research on the reach of the various social media platforms for targeting your potential customers, set customer acquisition cost goals, start small and increase budget over time as you get comfortable.

Do a lot of experiments with changing budget across formats and platforms to explore and exploit.

PR Daily: Anything else to add?

Kannan: Interesting time for brand managers if they are able to weather the storm.


2 Responses to “Paid social media dominant during COVID-19”

    Bruce Jones says:

    I think some advertisers are going a little strong on advertising during the coronavirus lockdown. It looks a little desperate at a time there are way less people in a buying mood. Looks like Google and other ad platforms are making all the money currently.

    Vivek Tank says:

    For good result, we were using Google Ads in this COVID-19 time. It was working fine for 1week. We can measure the results through Google Analytics. Next week, we saw drop in Paid Traffic, checked our gmail account and saw Google’s email where they mentioned, “We blocked your Google Ads account because of malware attack”.

    Ted, can you please help us to solve this issue.

    Thanks in advance.

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