When it comes to social media, it pays to stay up-to-date. That’s because all types of social media are changing quickly, and what worked well last year might not perform as well in 2020 and beyond. Lancaster County businesses and organizations need a way to keep track of what’s going on with the top social media platforms; YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

NOTE: If you’re reading this in 2021 or beyond, things may have changed significantly since we first penned this article in September of 2020, so be sure to check in with our LNP Media Group team before making any marketing decisions.

Changes are happening faster than ever in the social media world. Before digital, it could take decades for a new medium to mature. But today’s media giants can emerge in just a few years. For example, it took fifteen years for Facebook to grow into the world-dominating social media platform that it is today. Google-owned YouTube was created in 2005 and moved into the number one social media spot just a few years ago. But TikTok, currently a top social media platform, was launched in 2016, and by 2018 it had already reached over 500 million users.

As each new social media platform is created, the media world holds its breath to see if this new entity will dominate or dissipate. After all, for every big success like TikTok, there is a string of failures. Companies like DailyBooth, FriendFeed, iTunes Ping, Google+, Google Buzz, Meerkat, Friendster, Yik Yak, and Vine all came and went in a matter of years. Other companies were absorbed when larger, more prominent entities purchased them.

While strong competitors continue to enter the marketplace, YouTube and Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram) manage to continue to dominate the social media world. According to a 2019 Report from Pew Research,

“Facebook – which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary – remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the U.S. Roughly seven-in-ten adults (69%) say they ever use the platform. (A separate 2018 Center survey showed Facebook use among U.S. teens had dropped in recent years.) YouTube is the only other online platform measured that matches Facebook’s reach: 73% of adults report using the video sharing site. But certain online platforms, most notably Instagram and Snapchat, have an especially strong following among young adults.”

Yes, YouTube and Facebook are well-established and very profitable. But they don’t rest on their laurels. These giants stay strong because they are constantly innovating in ways that allow them to compete, provide value, and stay relevant. As new apps and innovations tap into new needs, wants, and desires, the existing social media giants innovate quickly to offer similar products. Sometimes these innovations are a big success, like Instagram Stories, and sometimes it simply fails, like Google+.

With so much happening in the world of social media, it can be hard to keep up. Happily, for Lancaster County businesses, LNP Media Group has made it easy for you to stay current with today’s social media offerings. In this article, we offer easy-to-understand guides to the top social media platforms, including what they are, who’s using them, advertising opportunities, new features, and the controversial aspects of each.

YOUTUBE

It’s hard to imagine a world without YouTube, but this video giant has only been around since 2005. It was easy to see its potential early on, which is why, within a year of its founding, Google purchased the wildly popular video publishing platform, and continues ownership today.

YouTube is a social media platform that makes it easy for people to post videos. This user-generated content is combined with relevant ad and commercial information. While leading media companies create top-notch content specifically for YouTube, the bulk of the platform’s appeal still lies in the value of user-generated video. Whether you want to look for 5-year-old math geniuses or 90-year-olds explaining Depression-era cooking, YouTube has something for everyone. In fact, more than 2 billion people use YouTube each month. Hundreds of new videos are uploaded every minute. By YouTube’s own estimate, the social media monolith provides about two-thirds of all the content on the Web. But as big and significant as YouTube already is, it is still seeking to expand and grow. Recently, YouTube launched YouTubeTV to compete with cable and streaming services like Hulu.

YouTube is also in the final phases of testing “Shorts,” a video app reportedly designed to compete with TikTok. According to sources at YouTube,

“We’re testing out a new way for creators to easily record multiple clips directly in the YouTube mobile app and upload as one video. If you’re in this experiment, you’ll see an option to ‘create a video’ in the mobile upload flow. Tap or hold the record button to record your first clip, then tap again or release the button to stop recording that clip. Repeat these steps until you’re done capturing footage up to a maximum length of 15 seconds. Creators will also have the ability to adjust the recording speed and also set a countdown timer for their multi-segment video uploads. If you’d like to upload a longer video, you’ll still be able to do so by uploading from your phone gallery instead of recording through the app. We’re starting these experiments on mobile (both Android and iOS) with a small group of people while we gather feedback.

While YouTube offers a wide range of advertising tools and offerings, businesses can benefit from YouTube without placing paid ads. Many companies host YouTube “Channels” and post information and how-to videos. Some firms choose to host their website videos on YouTube to reduce site download time.

While some businesses use YouTube videos as a way to post infomercials or self-promoting videos, YouTube videos from media giants like Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair, Autocar, and even Playboy are now big money makers for the ailing print publishing industry. When these kinds of content providers choose to become part of the YouTube Partner Program, they can keep a percentage of the ad revenue generated by their videos. And since many of these channels get over a hundred thousand views each month, those revenues are substantial.

Some media sources such as comedian Mike Falzone also require channel memberships for premium content, sell merchandise on the platform, use Super Chat & Super Stickers, and generate YouTube Premium Revenue.

EXAMPLE OF CHANNEL MEMBERS

https://www.youtube.com/user/mikefalzone 

But organizations don’t have to utilize a celebrity with more than 100,000 followers to get customers from YouTube. Even if the company is not in the Partner Program, they can place ads on YouTube. There are many advertising options to choose from, and they’re changing all the time. The best-known YouTube advertising options are skippable in-stream ads and non-skippable in-stream ads. But advertisers can also choose from a range of ad options. Discovery ads appear next to related YouTube videos, as part of a YouTube search result, or on the YouTube mobile homepage. Bumper ads usually convey very short messages. These non-skippable ads are scheduled to play before, during, or after another video. (This type of advertising is called a donut ad in broadcast.)

Masthead ads aren’t available to everyone, but they are YouTube powerhouses. Masthead ads allow advertisers to run a featured video without the sound for up to 30 seconds at the top of the YouTube Home feed. However, advertisers must meet specific criteria to qualify for Masthead ad access.

It’s important to remember that different ad options each come with varying production specifications and ad requirements. For example, some types of ads allow clickable links, so those advertisers need to have a hard-working landing page in place. Some ads require a video, while others can be created using text and graphics only.

Some video ads are set up to require the user to see the entire ad; others can be skipped after a few seconds. For marketers who have purchased a skippable ad, it’s smart to make sure that the core message is clearly communicated in the first 3-5 seconds.

The point is, it’s smart to select the YouTube ad tools that are the best choice for the marketing goals and budget before the content is created. Once a marketer chooses an ad format, they’ll know which types of information, images, video, text, or calls-to-action need to be considered as they produce their ads.

When it comes to targeting audiences, YouTube offers a deep set of audience demographics and psychographics, including keyword contextual targeting, topics, video remarketing, affinity audiences, life events, and custom-intent audiences that allow marketers to reach viewers as they’re making purchase decisions using keyword searches as qualifiers. It also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connections, and create audiences based on website traffic. Using the audience targeting tools properly will help a wide range of industries get the best results for any type of YouTube ad.

When placing ads or videos on YouTube, it’s also important to understand that many types of YouTube content allow comments, and those comments can be vulgar or abusive. The video’s creator is responsible for monitoring comments. However, for marketers who want to protect a brand (or a client) from being associated with abusive or offensive language, potential comments may be a concern.

FACEBOOK

More than one billion people are active on Facebook each month. Started in 2004, Facebook is the most popular format for sharing personal news, photos, and personal information. Although Facebook encourages videos, most posts are still using photos or images in personal posts and ads.

Facebook is an attractive format for advertisers looking for clicks because Facebook users have been well-trained to “Like” and click on posts and advertising. It is a reliable and cost-effective way to create awareness and drive. This social media platform is set up to run inexpensive, short-run ads as well as pricier, ongoing campaigns. This means that the ads users see are usually a mix of locally-owned businesses and national advertisers.

Although most Facebook ads use still images, the use of videos is an easy way to make Facebook ads more compelling. Authentic and less polished images and videos often outperform stock or slick, high-budget commercials.

Facebook has easy-to-use tools that allow advertisers to create slideshows that play as videos and offers some free stock photography to advertisers.

However, Facebook believes that text or logos in images or videos diminishes the Facebook usage experience, and they often penalize advertisers for this. Advertisers who put text or logos on videos or images may find that Facebook will distribute their ads more slowly, or not distributing them at all.

However, Facebook ads do come with descriptors, headlines, and space for text so that the ad message can be explained.

Facebook ads also allow comments, so it’s essential to carefully monitor the advertisement and hide or block comments and users as needed.

The Facebook Ads Manager tool offers precise targeting, positioning, and analysis. However, some categories are not allowed to advertise on Facebook, including alcohol, tobacco, gambling, firearms, adult content, some types of loan businesses, and many other controversial categories. Additionally, any advertising that is promoting political or issues-based content will need to go through a strict ad authorization process. Any ads that refer to social and political issues, finance, health, or body image will take longer to place, and longer to approve. Facebook will reject many messages that would be acceptable in other advertising platforms.

Facebook allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

An experienced ad professional can help you identify potential issues in advance to ensure your ads run as expected.

INSTAGRAM

More than 1 billion people use Instagram every month. Instagram is owned by Facebook and shares an ads manager, which means you can target ads in the same ways, and the same advertising restrictions hold for Instagram. However, Instagram works very differently than Facebook.

Influencers, people with thousands or even millions of followers, often sell the chance to feature a product or service on their feed. These placements can cost as little as $20 for a low-level Influencer, to $1 million for a mention on a top-tier influencer’s feed.

While Influencers are undoubtedly a significant factor for marketers, Instagram also offers video and image ad opportunities for advertisers that can be placed using the Facebook ads manager tool.

Importantly, for most posts, clicks are not allowed (some exceptions apply for accounts with followings of 10K+.) Advertisers looking for click-throughs from Instagram should invest in ads.

Comments on Instagram tend to be much more favorable than on Facebook, but negative comments can appear. Because most people comment via phones, hearts, and emojis are common.

While videos and Stories have been a part of Instagram for a while, Instagram recently introduced Instagram Reels, which offers the same kind of easy-to-use, sometimes over-the-top video editing tools and effects tools already in place on TikTok and Snapchat.

 

 Image courtesy of Instagram.com

TIKTOK

Estimates report that more than 800 million people use TikTok each month. This easy-to-use app has only been around for a few years, but because it makes it easy to upload, customize, and share videos quickly, it has rapidly grown to one of the most popular online platforms. TikTok fans claim it’s one of the easiest ways to make everyday events fun, funny, and sharable.

According to Maryam Mohsin on the Oberlo blog in July 2020,

“TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world which presents an alternative version of online sharing. It allows users to create short videos with music, filters, and some other features… What helps TikTok stand out among the competition is that it’s more of an entertainment platform, instead of a lifestyle platform. And what makes it so attractive is that practically anyone can become a content provider because of the simplicity of using the app.”

While TikTok is wildly popular among teens and Millennials, older users are not as familiar with the app. The interface shows two feeds side-by-side. The feed on the left is called For You, and is a predictive learning feed, which means it is designed to deliver videos based on your preferences and previous viewing patterns. The right-hand feed offers popular and trending videos, as well as some wild cards, which means the content can be surprising or even unwelcome.

This video from Social Media Marketing is a good tutorial for advertisers and new users.

This platform advises marketers, “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks!” However, once you begin using the ad creation tools, you’ll see similarities with many other social media platforms. As with Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat, you must choose from a set of standard campaign objectives. On TikTok these include reach, traffic, views, app installs, and website conversions.

TikTok started in China, so many of its ad tools and content delivery options are still focused on Asian markets. While international marketers can choose from a variety of placements, U.S. advertisers must stick with the TikTok basics. The ad placement tools are similar to those used for Facebook and will feel familiar to most social media pros. TikTok does not restrict categories, which is significant if you’re selling alcohol, tobacco, guns, gambling, or adult content.

As of this writing, the TikTok ad placement interface is changing weekly. They are working to make it easy to place ads to smaller audiences in smaller geographies, with the apparent goal of offering all of the ad flexibility of Google and Facebook.

TikTok demands video content for ads, but the platform offers an extensive library of stock video clips to edit and design templates that you can customize using your own videos or product images. This video creation tool is relatively new, and like other parts of the interface, changing weekly. Their goal is to make TikTok the easiest platform for advertisers to create and post video ads.

Recently TikTok has been accused of misusing data, with investigations pending. Want to know more about the August 2020 TikTok Trump Controversy? Click here.

LINKEDIN

LinkedIn is a job-oriented social media platform. While it boasts that more than 670 million people use LinkedIn each month, many of these people use it to increase job connections or look for new employment. As a rule, the audience is not as engaged on LinkedIn as on some other entertainment or socially-driven interfaces.

LinkedIn is trying to change that. It transformed itself over the past few years from a job site to a platform that offers all kinds of professional and industry news and advice.

LinkedIn also offers unparalleled access to users by professional title, place of employment, industry, self-reported salaries, and even educational degree. However, LinkedIn often requires minimum spends and charges a higher cost per thousand or cost-per-click compared with other social media platforms.

LinkedIn has added in-app ad placement to its ad suite, so marketers can send paid messages to LinkedIn users even when they are not on the platform. While advertisers don’t usually obtain high click-through numbers, with the right ad set up, they can expect highly-qualified clicks.

When advertisers want to send social media ads to their databases, they can upload the lists onto the platform, called a custom audience. Platforms like Pinterest and Facebook have a hard time matching work emails to their user databases because people often enter personal emails when creating new accounts. Companies with an extensive list of business emails will find that LinkedIn offers higher match rates. People with LinkedIn accounts often use business emails in their profiles, which allows LinkedIn to match a much higher percentage of business databases.

LinkedIn also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

TWITTER

More than 330 million people use Twitter each month. This social media is a valued source of news, tech, celebrity, and political updates. Posts, called Tweets, are created to be very relevant to the moment it is posted. Old tweets age quickly, and become outdated, sometimes within minutes.

Twitter can be an effective way to promote a celebrity or politician, communicate news and

information, talk about business resources, or launch the latest innovation. But when it comes to other marketing categories, Twitter ad performance can be lackluster.

Experienced Twitter ad pros can help you get the most from this fast-moving platform. The ad placement platform is structured to be similar to Google and Facebook ad managers. Twitter advertisers can use images or videos and can choose from a wide range of precise targeting tools. Like Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms, you can upload databases to create custom audiences, create duplicate audiences, and create audiences based on your followers or website traffic.

PINTEREST

More than 330 million people use Pinterest each month, and about 70% are female. This format has developed strong followings in certain categories, including (but not limited to) home, DIY, crafts, food, cocktails, books, fashion, travel, health and fitness, parenting, photography, mommy blogging, and design. This image-based platform has been compared to an online scrapbook, an idea book, and an aspirational, wish-list platform.

While Pinterest isn’t right for every advertiser, a well-executed campaign on Pinterest can deliver astronomically high impressions and impressive click-through rates. In addition to image ads, Pinterest also offers Shop the Look Pins, Recipe Pins, Product Pins, and other features that make this a smart advertising format for many types of businesses.

All Pinterest ads begin as a post or “Pin.” Unless the advertiser hides or removes the Pin, a Pinterest ad can continue to perform weeks, even months after the campaign is completed. Because the Pin can continue to work after the ad spend is exhausted, many marketers include a set of searchable hashtags in the text to make it easier for an interested buyer to find the information in the future.

SNAPCHAT

 

With more than 200 million people using Snapchat each month, this media platform ranks fifth in the U.S., but it dominates when it comes to young audiences. Snapchat reports that it reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds and 75% of all 13-34 year-olds in the U.S.

In January 2020, Maryam Mohsin reported in the Oberlo Blog,

“When it comes to communication style, Snapchat mirrors how people interact with each other face-to-face. The interactions are temporary, and not stored anywhere, much like real life. This enables users to share photos and videos that last a short time before they disappear forever- leaving no history that can come back to embarrass them later… it wasn’t long before Snapchat caught the attention of brands and marketers. With the potential to reach out to younger audiences, Snapchat is a great platform if your target market consists of millennials and Gen Z’ers.”

Like most social media ad platforms, Snapchat offers advertisers ways to drive website traffic and app installs. It also offers ad formats that promote calls and texts directly to a business. Instead of clicking, users swipe up to get to a site, download an app, make a call, or send a text to a company. Videos are the preferred ad medium on Snapchat, but advertisers can also use images.

Snapchat also allows users and businesses to create filters and lenses for posts (also called Snaps) that make it easy to create interesting effects.

For anyone not yet familiar with lenses, this video from Lens Studio explains,

Social Media Controversies Abound

Whenever companies grow very large in size, profits, or influence, governments take notice. And social media is no exception. In recent years, a long list of social media executives have been called to speak in front of committees about processes, technology, business ethics, monopolies, and even interference with elections.

Most recently, TikTok was targeted for sharing databases with the Chinese government. In response, President Trump has demanded that TikTok be banned from the U.S. Although the enforceability of such a presidential order is in debate, controversies around social media platforms continue. 

President Trump also offered to allow TikTok to continue in the U.S. if an American-owned company agrees to become the majority owner of TikTok. Microsoft has been in negotiations with TikTok, but the viability of such an acquisition, especially on an accelerated timeline, is in question.

On August 14, Eric J. Savitz reported in Barrons,

“The Trump administration threatened to shut down TikTok in the U.S. in an expanding war on China’s tech sector. TikTok parent ByteDance, a China-based company, has been seeking a buyer for the unit. Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) confirmed holding talks on a potential deal and said it expects to conclude negotiations by Sept. 15. Other megacap tech companies would likely face antitrust scrutiny from a TikTok deal; it would be hard to imagine regulators approving bids from Alphabet (GOOGL) or Facebook (FB) given Congressional and regulatory scrutiny on the power of the social networks. There have been reports that Twitter (TWTR) has explored a combination, but the math would get difficult given Twitter’s relatively modest market cap at under $30 billion. TikTok is expected to fetch as much as $35 to $40 billion.”

TikTok is not the only social media platform that has run into controversy. As social media platforms grow in prominence, power brokers at every level are taking note.

Instagram has no major government investigations in place, but parents across the United States continue to be concerned about the platforms ability to accelerate mean behavior among tween and teen peers, which may include posting inappropriate photos or videos, online bullying, posting nudes and attributing them to another person, and of course, the privacy and safety of minors.

Instagram struggles to provide safer ways for young users to interact with the platform and has experimented with hiding Likes and Shares in some countries as a way to reduce the social pressures associated with posting.

Twitter has recently come under investigation. As of this writing, the FBI is looking into Twitter hacks that took over the accounts of several prominent U.S. politicians, that point to more significant security concerns. Although the recent Twitter hacks seem to have a monetary motivation, the investigations are also part of a larger effort by the U.S. government to remove foreign influence in the American political process.

According to a story released by Reuters on August 14, 2020,

“The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading a federal inquiry into the Twitter hacking, two sources familiar with the situation said, after hackers seized control of accounts belonging to Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, and others in what appeared to be a bitcoin scam. Earlier the FBI had said: ‘We are aware of today’s security incident involving several Twitter accounts belonging to high profile individuals. The accounts appear to have been compromised in order to perpetuate cryptocurrency fraud.’

YouTube continues to struggle with content creator transparency issues that affect ad revenue sources. Content protection issues have also resulted in battles with the FTC over content parameters.

On February 27, 2020, Julie Alexander reported in The Verge,

Concerns over transparency and a lack of communication between the company and an increasingly frustrated creator base grew over the last year. In an April 2019 letter to creators, (YouTube CEO), Wojcicki said the company will “be making a big push to meet creators where they want to communicate — through social, video, and one-on-one sessions.” In Wojcicki’s November letter to creators, the CEO acknowledged that the company heard “creators say it feels like an inconvenience when we run experiments or make changes,” adding that creators “ask why we’re trying to fix something that doesn’t seem broken, and they want more of a heads up.”

Facebook continues to struggle with regulations surrounding inappropriate content, bad actors, and data management. And many digital businesses, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, are facing anti-trust suits and charges of monopolizing the market.

On July 29, 2020, Andrew Hutchinson reported in Social Media Today,

“As noted by House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) in his closing remarks: ‘This hearing has made one fact clear to me: these companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age.’

“That, really, is what’s at the core of this investigation, whether the existing laws are as applicable as they could be in the current, digital age. That also applies to copyright regulations and content ownership provisions. Many of these laws were written in a time of physical media, or publisher-controlled broadcasting. The digital landscape has changed everything in this respect, and is still changing every day – and as such, it’s important that the laws reflect the current state of the market, and elements like anti-competitive activity.”

So, What’s Next?

Marketing leaders today have more media choices than ever. In addition to print, outdoor, and broadcast, digital innovations have made hundreds of new marketing options a reality for even the most frugal mom and pop operation. Whether you have an ad budget of $100 or $100 million, you can create effective campaigns using digital tools.

If you choose traditional or digital media, some of the same rules apply. Start by knowing your audience. Understand who is your best market, where do they live, what do they do, and what’s important to them. Without this information, any marketer will struggle to succeed.

Secondly, set realistic, attainable goals for your business and your ad campaign. Create ROI measurements and goals. What is a new customer worth to you? What will they spend with you during the first visit? Over a lifetime? Once you establish the value of a new customer, you can create a reasonable acquisition cost to acquire them.

For example, if you’re selling sandwiches, and a new customer is worth $150 of profit to your business over the course of a year, it won’t make sense to spend $150 to get one new customer. If you spend $1,500 on an ad campaign to get ten new customers, your ROI measurement might show that you have just broken even. Conversely, if you spend the same money and get 20 new customers, it may not feel like a big win until you realize you’ve doubled your marketing investment.

Using the same logic, if you’re making $10,000 in profit on every new car that you sell, it may make sense to spend up to $5,000 to get a new customer.

The next consideration is context. When you place an ad, make sure your ad will be surrounded by content that is compatible with your brand and your customer’s expectations. A butcher shop may not want to appear next to posts about the virtues of veganism. Lawn care services don’t want to appear next to videos touting high-rise living.

And the next factor is production costs. In addition to placing an ad, you’ll also need to create content. That may be a cost-effective solution, like using existing photography, or it may require an investment in high-quality video. Factor the time and expense needed to create materials in your marketing plan.

Timing is also part of the mix. With digital media, you’re able to choose the day or times of day your ad will run. If you’re a shop open Monday-Friday 9-5, you may decide to run ads when you’re open. If you’re a late-night club, you may want to run ads when your late-night clientele is out and about. You have more flexibility and control with digital media, so research your options.

Finally, make sure you understand the ever-changing nature of social media. They continually improve their ad delivery algorithms. Additionally, the people that use social media come and go; being very active one month and almost absent the next. Regulatory factors come into play. And as competitors fight for market share, innovations, new tools, and features are continually introduced, tested, integrated, or discontinued.

Things are always changing on social media, and it’s tough to keep up. That’s why you need a smart digital marketing partner like LNP Media Group to help you take advantage of new developments and avoid mistakes. Our team stays on top of social media platforms, ad choices, innovations, and discontinuations. Contact us to discuss your business and advertising goals and let us help you make social media a part of your marketing mix.

 

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