How Social Media Revolutionised the Advertising Industry

Social Media is continuously changing the way advertisers target consumers.


With over 2.7 billion social media users worldwide, there is no doubt social media impacts the advertising industry and the advertisers’ role more than ever. Despite existing for nearly three decades, social media’s correlation on advertising is now so profound, that advertisers are needing to adapt faster to this continually changing medium. Social media is defined as websites and applications that enable users to create and share content, or to participate in social networking. This definition is important, as it highlights an issue that advertisers must overcome to shape a professional identity. That is, overcoming changes facilitated by the convergence of computing, communication, and content.


Computing will be referred to as the rapid growth of technology and how it introduced engaging websites and applications to mainstream society. (Gitelman, 2006) explains this period as a time when media and their publics co-evolved, which is an accurate assessment. The internet had existed primarily as a tool for businesses; however, it was the late 1990s to early 2000s which saw the public truly embracing it around the world. In a time when traditional media such as television, radio and print were king for advertisers; a new, unfamiliar media channel appeared. Advertisers frantically clamoured to use this technology amidst this mass popularisation of social media platforms within society. Companies appeared less interested in communities of users than in their data. This resulted in a high-frequency, high-reach advertising approach; bombarding their audience with pop-up advertising. At the same time, control was lost. Technology now allowed a consumer to close an advertisement – rather than needing to sit through a television commercial to continue with one’s show. An advertisement was now easily rejected. This activated a new attitude towards advertising which is still in effect today. Whilst advertising is not completely avoidable, the consumer has developed a tolerance limit, and will often pay for the privilege in the form of ad-blockers. That is not to say that advertisers will stop using this method of advertising; however, successful advertisers can no longer afford to not get to know their target market. Impersonal pop-ups which held little interest to the consumer, now risked alienating and tarnishing the brand, inadvertently benefiting competitors. Furthermore, with the introduction of social media networks such as MySpace in 2003, consumers were now able to be identified and targeted easier – with data provided by the consumer themselves. Computing had converged with communication to introduce a two-way model of advertising – which began with the creation of an online profile.


Firstly, it is important to note that profiles are not unique to social network sites, but they are central to them. Profiles both represent the individual and serve as the root of interaction. Due to the inherent social – and often public nature of profiles, participants (both consumers and advertisers) actively and consciously design their profiles to be seen. This results in participants determining how they want to present themselves, but also how they can represent others. Profiles are a place participants can gather to converse and share, and as a result, participants do not have complete control over their representation. Up until the integration of social media and society, advertisers used a one-way model of communication. That is, consumers were a mass audience to be talked to and individuals rarely talked back. The major change in communication that has shaped the advertising industry is the move to a conversational structure. This two-way model allowed a consumer to publicly voice dissatisfaction on an online forum, Facebook wall or their own website, which has a significant impact to the industry, their practices and their clients. Previously, companies controlled channels such as a designated customer service phone number or email. This is no longer enough. Boyd best explains that while spoken conversations are ephemeral – countless technologies and techniques have been developed to capture moments and make them persistent. Multiple social media platforms connecting billions worldwide, allow company mistakes to go viral and it is impossible to hide online. Strategised advertising and public relations, increased transparency, and real-time, one-on-one communication between advertiser and consumer is paramount to success. The increased expenditure by the client is traded for a higher brand value, customer-retention rate and repeat-purchase outcome. Consequently, roles are developed to counter this expenditure, with expanding definitions and qualifications needed. An example of this is the increasing use of ‘taskifying’ or ‘crowdwork’ by corporations. Instead of hiring help, corporations – from the smallest start-ups to the largest firms – can now just post their needs to the web. These needs usually consisting of routine or behind-the-scene jobs, can extend to handling customer care via social media, and is a radical shift into how employment is defined. Whilst a company may try to avoid this by staying off social media altogether, the consumer is ultimately the most powerful when it comes to a brand’s reputation. This is evident with platforms such as Yelp or TripAdvisor that rely on user-generated content.


In fact, user-generated content has created a participatory culture – a term that is often used for designating the involvement of users, audiences, consumers and fans in the creation of culture and content. Traditional or ‘broadcast’ media such as print has been forced to evolve and re-brand as digital media – produced and shared across multiple platforms simultaneously and published instantaneously. Consumers are equally consuming and creating content, with Yelp being an excellent example of such influence. Businesses often go viral for the wrong reasons and never recover. This creates a challenge for advertisers to cut through the clutter whilst engaging with a hyper-aware audience. At the same time, advertisers are saving thousands using social media for large campaigns which are proving more effective in reaching key demographics than other channels. This results in a more casual advertising approach with celebrity endorsements, using Instagram as the vehicle of choice compared to large billboards. Another popular tool is an ‘advertorial’: a hybrid of engaging content and advertising. Disguised as anything from an editorial to a quiz, an advertorial is usually published to social media by established brands, such as Buzzfeed. These advertisers have been paid to promote a brand, product or service discreetly. Other methods include the sharing of trending content such as a meme, edited to include the brands’ logo, and product placement within videos or photos. ‘Click-baiting’ is an increasingly used tactic where a misleading or intentionally controversial choice of wording is used to grab attention and encourage a click-through to the content. This content is usually situated within the advertiser’s website where advertisements are displayed. These social media practices have instigated the creation and editing of policies within the advertising industry. Facebook, a key player, are constantly updating their advertising policies and advertisers are continually developing new ways to use social media to reach their target audience.


Ultimately, society can benefit greatly from advancements in computing, communication and content consumed, and the convergence of these have shaped the advertising industry into what it is today. These changes, whilst seemingly detrimental to traditional media has only mitigated evolution. As an advertiser, it will be interesting to see what social media will allow in the future.