Hello from the other side – a view on what is going on in social media

“Erm… Why do I keep seeing this odd ad on Facebook?”

Chances are you have asked yourself this question a number of times since you joined social media websites. The ad of your concern might be a very weird advert, promoting cat food or some fancy cat facilities. And you haven’t even seen any feline in years, as your neighbourhood resembles a desert devoid of any furry creatures. So why would you need a can of tuna dedicated specifically to kittens? You won’t eat it yourself, will you?

Oh, perhaps you remember that fan page you liked a year ago? The one with funny animal videos, where you saw a dog’s attempt at riding a bike? And that funny video posted by some other fan page? Gotcha!

Social media are a pretty recent phenomenon, though, contrary to popular opinion, they did not start with Facebook. Born in the late 1990’s, social media pose platforms for communities to share ideas, information and personal messages. Some of the first such platforms were MySpace, LinkedIn and Photobucket. Youtube as well as Facebook came into existence only a few years later, in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Some of the social media platforms are very popular among various ages and social groups (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), some are more popular only amongst very specific groups of people such as teenagers and young adults (Snapchat) or professionals (LinkedIn). Facebook is currently the most popular social media service worldwide; it has a startling 1.9 billion active users monthly.  It will not be a surprise to learn that advertising occurs in all of the social media, just as in the rest of the Internet. However, in social media it dwells on different principles tailored specially for a chosen medium and the new technologies available.

The history of online advertising reaches as far back as the late 1970’s when an e-mail advertising a new computer model was sent, which later gave rise to a phenomenon known as spam, i.e. abusive and constant sending of advertising e-mails to a large base of potential customers without their consent. Excluding e-mail marketing, other early examples of Internet advertising appeared in the early 1990’s, after the ban on the commercial use of the web had been abolished. At first, there were clickable banners featured on some websites, and only in the 2000’s did other forms of ads start to appear, e.g. search ads such as Google AdWords. Now, social media portals are also not devoid of companies’ marketing actions, which started only two years after Mark Zuckerberg had launched his service in February 2004. Of course, firstly, because the platform was dedicated only to students at Ivy League universities, the adverts that appeared on the site regarded items and services for students at these universities.

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Early Facebook ad

The first Facebook ads were available in the form of banners in two sizes as well as so called Facebook Flyers, ads that could be targeted to reach students of a certain university on the basis of their specific university e-mail address. All of these, however, were just simple, clickable display banners. Unattractive though it may sound, Facebook had one asset that none of the then available websites had – a huge base of students using and interacting via the platform, which made it possible to reach younger demographics with the ads. With time, ads on student-only Facebook changed. There no longer were only ads about student events, but also adverts of larger brands such as Master Card or Victoria’s Secret started to show up. Nonetheless, a real mile-stone was opening Facebook to a larger community of people not confined to Ivy League students which happened in 2006.

Nowadays, social media marketing, especially on Facebook, has gained wide popularity which can be exemplified by the emergence of jobs devoted specifically to dealing with social media. With c.a. 2 billion people there, Facebook comprises the biggest channel of communication capable of reaching a wide audience, so no wonder the companies see their opportunity in using it for marketing purposes. And they do use it. From the biggest brands such as Coca Cola to the smallest local restaurants – almost every business tries to reach their customers on Facebook. But now companies do it in some more refined ways than back in the 2000’s.

Now, ads on Facebook appear in a variety of possible forms from photos to animations and short films, or photo carousels linking to other websites.

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Polish Coca Cola Facebook ad

But the form of an ad, albeit very important as this is what a customer sees and gets, is only one side of social media marketing. Far more important for marketing in social media are the aim of the campaign and its targeting. There are a number of campaign aims that a business may want to achieve on Facebook: from creating a community, engaging its potential customers in an interaction with the company, clicking on a link provided in the post or buying an item or service advertised. Targeting pertains to people at whom the ad is aimed. So if an example of a small Asian restaurant in the centre of Poznan were considered, their potential customers could include people living or working in the neighbourhood, aged c.a. 20-65, with a fondness for more exotic cuisine or interested in Asian countries. And all of these variables, and even more, may be made use of while targeting an advert on Facebook, because all the necessary data is already there. The only thing a company’s marketer has to do is to pay Facebook to show their ad to these specially chosen people.

The way Facebook establishes age is simple – many people have put this information in their profiles, the same goes for sex and location. If one has not entered one’s  location, Facebook also does not perceive it as a problem – it assumes a location on the basis of the chosen language, last places visited or the last location a person’s mobile phone connected to the Internet with the Facebook application running on the device. The affection towards Asia or Asian cuisine can be judged by a person’s liking Asia-related pages about travelling or culture, as well as other similar restaurants serving more exotic dishes. Of course, targeting does not end here, as a marketer may turn to more demographic information such as people who have just got engaged, or are expecting a baby, or use the newest model of iPhones only, if that is the audience they are looking for.

On the basis of these two, the campaign’s aim and specific targeting, Facebook creates an ad which is shown to people who meet the requirements as well as those with the potential of fulfilling the aim at the same time. Facebook establishes this probability on the basis of a user’s previous engagement in the platform, that is, one’s eagerness to like photos of appetising food, commenting on travel-related posts or watching films with funny animals. So if one wants their ad of an Asian restaurant in Poznan to be commented on only by people in the neighbourhood who like Asian cuisine, the ad will be shown only to such people who fulfil these requirements and are more likely to fulfil the advertiser’s aim of commenting on the ad, judging on their previous similar engagements. An example of such targeting can be seen in the photo below.

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So next time you see an advert which seems completely out of place, like a cat food commercial when you have never considered owning any pet, think of yourself as a chosen one; as one that has been considered by Facebook to be able to fulfil the advertiser’s aims and meet their requirements. Or just assume that a marketer had very peculiar ways of broadly targeting each and every possible person, which just did not work too well. Unless, of course, you reconsider getting some cats to be able to feed them tuna, which is also possible.

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