2017 has been quite a year.
I think I’m starting to see the “breaking news” banner in my sleep. All year, I’ve watched changes in social media—from the way users interact with each other to the fundamental mechanics of the platforms—completely reshape the way my favorite platforms feel and operate.
Following an election that came to be defined on social media, 2017 brought ongoing investigations, the specter of impending social media regulation, and updates large and small to our favorite platforms. The effect has been dramatic. Trust has become the audience currency of the day, and social media platforms are scrambling to find ways to earn that trust.
The coming year promises to be a big one for transparency and updates in the social space, hopefully stemming the flow of future political incursion and audience misdirection. But what will this social media regulation and change mean for marketers?
Ads as the Adversary
Advertising took center stage this past year, as investigations continue into the effect Russian-backed ads had on American social media conversations. Facebook and Twitter have taken center stage in both of these conversations, largely due to their position in the social media pantheon as primary sources for news. In fact, nearly 70 percent of people now include social media as part of their regular news mix according to a recent Nieman Lab study, with Twitter specifically seeing a staggering 74 percent of audience searching for news.
It’s no wonder then that Twitter has moved to take some of the strongest steps against untrustworthy advertising. In October, Twitter announced it would be launching a “transparency center” that will provide a publicly available database of currently running ads, targeting, and spend that any user can review. Furthermore, political ads will now be specifically labeled, with transparency data one click away for anyone viewing the ad.
Facebook has taken action as well, removing exploitative demographic targeting, instituting stricter ad review processes, and also promising to label political ads in the same way that traditional television and print ads already do.
It’s interesting to watch these two approaches develop, and it will also be interesting to see how audiences react to them. Twitter’s solution puts much of the impetus on the user: The ads are there and available to see, but users have to put the work in to search the database for information. The general public more than likely won’t use this resource regularly, but it will serve as an invaluable source for journalists as they research stories. It’s a smart move for a social platform that excels in the news space to keep journalists happy.
The Implications for Marketers
For brands, however, this full transparency is going to require consideration. For brands that rely on some advertising to promote content and push leads, marketers will have to think critically about how their targeting criteria might come off to a non-marketing audience. Targeting that might be misconstrued as exclusionary or preferential might balloon into controversy if not handled correctly.
But for content marketers, I like to think about the opportunity from the content strategy side. How might your brand conceptualize, produce, and distribute content differently if you knew exactly who your competitors’ target audience was? How might your keyword research and audience personas shift if you had industry-wide insight into the advertising practices of your peers?
Brands that utilize ad transparency as a tool for competitive insights while also leaning into Twitter’s news bent by thinking like brand journalists will position themselves for growth and a more trusting relationship with their audience.
Facebook continues to be a developing space for brands trying to address issues of trust. While they have made their ads somewhat more transparent and removed problematic targeting, there still remain concerns about recent tests to split brand content and user content into separate newsfeeds. It’s a likely signal that Facebook’s primary concern is keeping their ad environment lively, which may continue to pressure content marketers who are interested in using the platform as a space for organic growth.
Authority in Search
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, search engine giant Google has also announced a number of changes to combat fake news and exploitative content.
Like both Facebook and Twitter, Google has come under governmental scrutiny and possible regulation requiring labeling and transparency for politically funded advertising. This likely won’t have as great an impact on content marketers, the majority of whom aren’t running political ads and whose ad buying markets (if they participate in any) aren’t likely to see large spending shifts from these new rules.
More importantly, however, Google has continued to make adjustments to their search algorithms to prefer “authoritative” and “quality” content in a bid to keep fake news out of first-page search results. For content marketers, these changes can prove to be a boon as the search engine moves towards encouraging high-quality content.
But this also puts renewed impetus on brands to carefully construct and curate their work. Timeliness and relevance have never been at more of a premium in the digital world, so brands should continue to consider how to balance an active publication schedule with informative, actionable material.
Likewise, link authority—especially for large content hubs that are constantly adding links to new sites on a daily basis—should be a primary concern for editors. How your page relates to other sites—and in turn, their authority or lack of authority—can have ramifications for search visibility that can compound over time if not kept in check at the time of publication. Performing regular audits as a part of your workflow is crucial to keeping content up to date and your linking strategy strong and authoritative over time.
The Golden Rule: Be Trustworthy
There’s a silver lining to the backlash against untrustworthy advertising on social platforms. Audiences don’t want manipulation; they want good content, and many key distribution platforms are listening. While in the short-term, there may be opportunities to take advantage of weaknesses in new algorithm changes or gaps in advertising functionality, the long-term return for brands will continue to lie in content marketing teams that put trustworthiness and usefulness of content before anything else.
This should always (and already) be your brand’s first and last line of defense for remaining relevant and visible in the digital space.
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Featured image attribution: Bence Boros
About the AuthorMore Content by Kyle Harper