(By Creag Munroe, University of Toronto)



In the past few years, social media has seen an exponential rise in popularity. From the platform, first popularized by Generation X, to the present user base of Facebook, social connections through online media have soared. This phenomenon, as many are calling it, has caught the attention of organizations the world over. The advertising industry is no exception, and they are capitalizing on the rising trend. With the expansion of cyber networks, marketers and their advertisements are able to reach consumers on a more personal level, having a greater effect and provoking mass conversation. It is essential to note that this massive, online conversation effectively renders each poster a manufacturer of the ad content and simultaneously a prime consumer. Consequently, the vast amount of digital footprints makes the data easier to record and the results more easily tracked than ever before. This benefits companies such as Google and Facebook who deliver ads based off what consumers do online, because they can more accurately deliver ads the user is interested in. Therefore, in this new age of digital communication, those without an online presence will not only suffer – they will fade into obscurity and irrelevancy.


Social Media Gets Starring Role in Advertising From Big Brand Ads

Since 2005, the social media giant known as YouTube has been growing. YouTube is a platform where users can upload videos of anything and everything for the world to see. The content is incredibly varied and more than 1 billion users visit the site each month. It is no wonder that advertisers are pouring over 5.6 billion dollars yearly into creating custom content for the site- the statistics speak for themselves. Adroit Digital found that 68% of viewers “consume video content” from YouTube while only 51% watch live TV broadcasts, proving social media reaches more people than at least one form of traditional media. In addition, Adroit conducted a separate study finding that social media, as well as TV, were clear winners in a poll to find out the most influential ad medium. More significantly, they note, “traditional media outside of TV fell flat”. Simply put, television trumps all traditional media but YouTube is consumed 25% more. Since YouTube is just one of numerous social media platforms, these results are staggering. With the hundreds of online platforms, content is bounced across them multiple times by multiple users, allowing the reach and frequency of social media content to dwarf that of TV.


You Are Your Own Advertising Platform When You Engage Customers Through Social Media

Traditional media is declining, and advertising has evolved to be centered on social communication. “Free” is the buzzword that captures consumers’ attention. Currently, it is more profitable for a business to give something away for free (for a limited time) than advertise through traditional means. Why? Studies show that newspaper readers are declining at 4% per year, the radio broadcast industry has fallen by 13% over the past two, and television-broadcasting empire is losing the fight for advertising supremacy. Businesses are finding that it “no longer pays to advertise” through traditional means. Advertising expenditure by business experienced a decline in 2008 and 2009, its first two-year drop in spending. Social media has risen as a dominant force, and the ability to generate conversation, or “chatter” across social platforms is absolutely necessary to a company’s performance. This is where the word “free” becomes essential. Brands find that if they run a promotion involving free giveaways, it generates a lot of attention across the digital medium, and recognition of their brands goes up. A great example of this is McDonald’s monopoly sweepstakes. The appeal is irresistible: It is a brand that everyone knows, a game that everyone knows, and the ability to win free prizes. The consumers were all for it. McDonald’s successfully introduced a mobile application and a Facebook application, digitizing their campaign and pulling in over 500,000 new users. They increased their sales by 5.5%, more than making up for the cost of the free giveaways. It is clear that traditional media is fading away, being replaced by advertisements that focus on interactivity and social communication. Not only that, but advertisers are finding ways to blend their advertisements with the content of social media users.


Now that Internet users are both content manufacturers and prime consumers it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between personal opinions and genuine advertisements. This means that a single person with a large online following can make an offhand remark about a brand that has the potential to influence millions. Not only is this extensive network advantageous to the marketing industry, it also gives rise to a whole new job market. Cody Johns is a creative ambassador for a company called Niche. Johns uses a platform called Vine, a space in which users can share short, 6-second videos. Johns was originally just a user of the site, but because his successful videos and large fan base, Niche recruited him to their team. He has now worked with over 25 brands to promote their content. Johns says that his subscribers frequently ask questions such as “Was this a Coke ad?” because the line between advertisements and user content is blurred. There is a reason this approach can be more effective than seeing a commercial on TV. On social media, users have their choice of who to follow and what content to view, and for people like Johns, followers have come to trust him and value his opinion compared to the average 30 second spot during prime time. This reaches consumers on a personal level and has a greater influence on their purchasing behavior than traditional media.


The Future

It is clear that trend of social media being a dominant force in the advertising industry is sure to continue. The influence of social media permeates all of North American society as well, from technology to the environment. Politics, for example, is heavily affected. A recent poll states that 60% of people believe that social media, in particular, blogs, had a greater impression on the 2012 election than any preceding elections. People are being swayed in all aspects of their life by consuming social media, and it is no different in the advertising industry. The industry know that more people watch online videos than they do live broadcasts. Generating “chatter” and transforming consumers into ad manufacturers is happening all the time has become the norm. Consumers are being influenced whether they are aware of it or not. The user base for social media platforms is increasing and the expenditure by businesses trying to capitalize on the new market is escalating as well. Those two factors make it impossible for the trend to reverse in the next few years. The age of connectivity is upon us, and it’s here to stay.


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