Quality Content Fights Back As Social Loses Faith

Social platforms command an impressive claim to consumer time — according to the IPA, UK adults spend nearly three hours with these networks each day. So it’s little wonder that the social advertising market is now worth over £1 billion.

But what about the wider publisher spectrum? Does the rise of UGC and the dominance of social aggregators mean that all other publishers, including those focused on creating meaningful content, have lost the fight for attention and ad budgets?

Not by a long chalk.

While social remains popular, advertising issues and the growth of fake news have dented its media credibility. Fake news is now such a significant concern that Collins Dictionary lexicographers state that usage of the term has soared by 365% since 2016.

So where does the battle of social platforms versus producers of original content stand — and how can we regain and maintain trust in the digital ecosystem?

Depleting faith in social

The much-cited reach of social platforms, alongside their roles as content access points, is being offset by reputational damage. Facebook and Google have appeared before congressional committees to discuss the possible use of their platforms by Russian hackers during the presidential election, and there are suggestions that Twitter was also leveraged to influence Brexit. The validity of social performance metrics has been questioned, and networks have been accused of not doing enough to counter fake news. And then there are the well-documented incidents of YouTube ad misplacement.

As a result, brand confidence in social platforms has fallen — with advertisers such as Unilever threatening to pull investment. After all, social sites are not technically classed as publishers, which means they are not subject to the same regulations and there is a greater risk of inappropriate or illegal content. In addition, consumer conviction in social has fallen ­— our own research has revealed that in the UK, 33% of respondents categorised news on Facebook as either somewhat or extremely untrustworthy, and 23% felt similarly about news on Twitter.

Enhanced faith in household editorial brands

As uncertainty about the quality of content on social platforms has grown, the value of other publishers is enhanced. Consumers favour established premium providers, with 80% of UK respondents feeling that BBC news is either somewhat or extremely trustworthy, and 48% saying the same of The Guardian. 

The main reason for this seems to be that the roots of editorial content are clearer. While confidence in news sources for the BBC is high, less than half of all respondents knew the origins of Facebook and Twitter news. Faced with endless streams of misleading and false content, consumers want to know the exact foundations of what they are reading, and as an industry, we can have confidence that consumers really are placing their trust in certified sources. 

There are encouraging signs that advertisers are acknowledging this change. Last year the huge share of digital ad budgets usually allocated to Google and Facebook actually shrunk — albeit only by 5% — and spend for other media players grew. Evidently, the advantages of associating ads with carefully crafted and reputable content are gaining recognition. By investing budgets into carefully chosen premium sites, advertisers can leverage the value of the editorial halo, which results in favourable brand results and stronger levels of consumer response compared to social.

So who is winning?

Social still commands a high proportion of advertiser and audience interest. But its grip is loosening. Recent events have highlighted the cons of less regulated social platforms, while emphasising the pros of premium sites. When you add the ability of established content creators to offer contextual relevance, something that is likely to increase in importance post-GDPR, the trust consumers have in premium brands makes them an attractive prospect.

In the coming months, it’s likely we will see a more balanced distribution of advertising spend as brands begin to prioritise contextual relevance and safety, as well as social scale. Although the battle isn’t yet won, it’s set to be a fairer fight from now on.

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