This Week in Social is a weekly digest of some of the biggest stories in social media marketing news. These stories are the show notes for the Brave Ad World Podcast. Each story is discussed at a deeper level on the podcast.
Google and Facebook Preview Election Efforts in Canada and Indonesia
This week we got a taste of how Google and Facebook are thinking about how their platforms can and will be used in upcoming elections.
For Google, we found out they actually won’t be running any political ads for Canada’s 2019 election because of a new set of advertising transparency rules put into place by the Elections Act. Google said it would be unable to comply with the law, which requires any company that is used to distribute political ads to keep a written registry of all of those ads. Google’s model, however, works on a self-service platform designed to achieve scale, speed and automated delivery. Keeping a written registry doesn’t fit into that model, at least according to Google.
Facebook, on the other hand, is running ads in Canada as it already has a registry of political ads on its platform that’s searchable by issue or name. It is worth noting Facebook has considered removing political ads in the past, but that’s a lot of revenue for any platform to walk away from.
The U.S. has a bill similar to that of Canada’s in the works that would require a national registry of any ad campaigns of $500 or more. We’ll see how Google responds should that bill pass, which is unlikely.
Canada wasn’t the only country seeing how all of this plays out. Facebook has placed a ban on political ads originating outside of Indonesia ahead of that country's general election on April 17. The goal is to limit any foreign interference on the election using Facebook.
These platforms are testing what the boundaries are when it comes to political advertising, and we can expect to see their efforts ramp up even more as we approach the 2020 national election in the United States.
Instagram Launches Branded Content Ads
The ad units allow brands to extend the reach of an influencer's content beyond that influencer’s followers. It does this by letting advertisers take assets created by influencers for their audiences and promote them like they would any other ad.
This move follows a feature introduced by Instagram in 2017 that allows content creators to tag brands in their posts to disclose their relationships with the advertisers. The challenge with that feature was advertisers couldn’t then take those posts and extend their reach within the Instagram platform.
This feature is part of a shakeout in the influencer marketing space. It does that in a couple of ways. First, it makes it clear there’s a relationship with brands and influencers, something that has not always been the case when it comes to influencer marketing. Second, it lets brands do more with their investments in influencer marketing. They’re able to do more with the assets created by their influencer partners, while also relying on less-than-reliable organic reach.
Mark Zuckerberg Promises Privacy for Future Facebook Users
In a move that that can either be met with applause or eye rolls, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a new vision for Facebook this week that promises a new focus on privacy, an emphasis on encrypted messaging and less data permanence.
Zuckerberg stated, “I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms… Today, we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication.” It’s that last sentence that emphasized where Facebook appears to be focusing.
First, it plans to connect WhatsApp and Messenger messaging services to allow users to engage in private messaging across the Facebook ecosystem more seamlessly and more privately through encryption. Second, it plans to let users set time limits on their content. For example, photos shared on the platform will be able to disappear after a user-set length of time. Lastly, it plans to make privacy-focused communication on the platform more of a priority.
Zuckerberg also addressed the elephant in the room because Facebook isn’t exactly a bastion of privacy online.
“I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform—because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing,” stated Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg’s announcement is big news, but it’s also important to understand the context in which it comes. First, Facebook is currently facing what would be a record FTC fine for its data-handling practices with Cambridge Analytica. Second, over the past year calls for regulation around digital platforms like Facebook have grown, and Facebook has yet to show an ability to regulate itself. Third, Facebook needs a PR win. Every promise Facebook has made as of late to be better has been met with another revelation of practices that run counter to those promises.
It’s also worth noting these this move is Facebook responding to the market. Users are opting more and more for one-to-one messaging and value privacy over openness. This is a company doing what it should do when the climate changes—pivot. That pivot is especially important in the context of a new Edison Research report published this week that cited a decline of 15 million Facebook users in the United States compared to two years ago. Most of those users are, however, heading to Instagram.
The announcement raises big questions outside of Facebook though. It remains to be seen what this means for advertisers who have grown accustomed to Facebook’s hyper-targeted capabilities. A more privacy-focused platform will naturally have degraded targeting capabilities. Undoubtedly, Facebook’s scale will help it overcome this challenge, but there will naturally be trade-offs should Facebook do what Zuckerberg states.
News Quick Hits
A report from The Wall Street Journal revealed plans by Amazon to dramatically expand its brick-and-mortar grocery footprint with stores opening in Los Angeles as early as this year, followed by other cities. It may even acquire regional grocery chains to build scale in a way that its current brick-and-mortar Whole Foods stores are unable to.
Pinterest is allowing online retailers to upload their entire product catalogues to the platform. Products uploaded can be turned into Product Pins, as well as ads, that will be served to users based on current shopping and saving behaviors. Along with this update, Pinterest is adding a new shopping section for certain retailers and, in the process, turning Pinterest into more of a shopping destination.
Verizon announced that its Oath Ad Platform will be shut down effective 2020. The move is part of a refocus for Oath, which was up against stiff competition from Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers ad server. Given Google’s dominance, it’s no surprise the Oath Ad Platform is being shutdown, especially with Verizon focusing more on making 5G a strategic focus.
Google is shifting its programmatic ad buying platform Adx to a first-price auction, which will mean advertisers pay higher prices at least initially. Up until this point, it used a second-price auction model. This worked according to AdAge by, for example, having one bidder come in at $5 per ad and a second bidder come in at $3 per ad. The first bidder wins but only pays $3.01 per ad. With this update, however, that advertiser will pay $5 per ad as they originally bid. Google is joining other supply side platforms in rolling out a first-price auction system.
Facebook announced that it will no longer recommend groups or pages that share misinformation about vaccines. In addition, those pages will no longer be able to advertise content with false information. The move follows YouTube, which recently demonetized channels and content spreading vaccine misinformation, and Pinterest, which is no longer showing vaccine misinformation in search results.