Social media scrutiny

Social media has been in the spotlight for years; in 2017 it went under the microscope.

Scrutiny surrounding Facebook’s and Twitter’s roles in Russian entities’ efforts to use their ad platforms to subvert the 2016 US presidential election followed them into 2017. So did Facebook’s series of measurement errors and ad-targeting controversies, as well as Twitter’s revenue struggles. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission signaled it is taking a harder look at influencer marketing as Facebook and Instagram try to clean up the landscape and brands try to manage it. And Snapchat owner Snap went from the next Facebook to the new Twitter as Instagram, which emerged as Snapchat’s foremost rival in 2016, eclipsed Snapchat in 2017.

What is social media now?

Given the aforementioned baggage, perhaps it’s no surprise that several social networks made moves in 2017 that blurred the lines of what a social media platform even is. Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter premiered TV-like original shows to lure TV audiences and advertisers. Pinterest set its sights on visual search. Twitter lengthened tweets into more like mini-blogs. And in a major redesign, Snapchat decided that social should be separated from media.

However, as much as the definition of social media is being stretched, the social media market in 2017 was still defined by Facebook — and its rivalries. The preeminent social network spent 2017 protecting its corner and extending its territory, making moves and triggering others that may set the stage for an even more volatile 2018.

Facebook’s fight with Snapchat enters round 2,017

There’s the larger Facebook-Snapchat standoff, in which Facebook tries to copy Snapchat’s product features and Snapchat tries to replicate Facebook’s advertising offerings. This year, that back-and-forth spurred Facebook to twice more copy Snapchat’s Stories on Facebook and Messenger — attempts that have been largely spurned by their respective users — and to duplicate Snapchat’s augmented-reality Lenses, which Facebook calls “camera effects” on Facebook and “face filters” on Instagram. Snapchat returned fire by rolling out an advertising API and a self-serve tool for any and all brands to buy its ads as easily as they do Facebook’s; it also stepped up its ad measurement capabilities at a time when Facebook’s have been called into question.

Social ad sellers step up

Snapchat isn’t the only company trying to make a run at Facebook’s advertising business. Reddit made several moves to make its platform more attractive, or at least less alarming, to advertisers, including an updated self-serve tool, video ads and Page-like profiles. LinkedIn fortified its platform for B2B advertisers by adding autoplay video ads, improving its CRM targeting and finally adopting retargeting. Pinterest also queued up autoplay video ads and multiplied its interest-based ad-targeting options.

The future of social takes shape

But Facebook isn’t only contending with more traditional social networks. This year, it also stepped up its fight for the future of social. In addition to entering the race with Snapchat to bring augmented reality into the mainstream, Facebook redoubled its efforts in messaging and virtual reality.

In rolling out a Discover tab for bots on Messenger and adding verified profiles for businesses on WhatsApp, Facebook is trying to take on WeChat before the Chinese messaging goliath can take over Western markets. And in rolling out a virtual-reality version of its social network and adding VR to people’s traditional News Feeds, it is staking its claim on the next screen in hopes of dominating it the way it has the smallest screen.

Twitter settles down

Even though it seems that Facebook is at war with everyone, one of its oldest rivals may no longer be considered among the ranks of Facebook’s adversaries. After suffering four consecutive quarters of ad revenue declines and experiencing encouraging but not explosive audience growth, Twitter has settled down into a tier below Facebook, according to ad buyers.

[Originally published on MarTech Today.]

About The Author

Tim Peterson, Third Door Media’s Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles.

He has broken stories on Snapchat’s ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar’s attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon’s ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube’s programming strategy, Facebook’s ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking’s rise; and documented digital video’s biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed’s branded video production process and Snapchat Discover’s ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands’ early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo’s and Google’s search designs and examine the NFL’s YouTube and Facebook video strategies.