Social media use is a near-universal habit. Eighty-six percent of U.S. adults ages 18 to 75 have at least one social media account. On average, social media users have accounts on three to four platforms and log in to two of those accounts daily. The breadth and depth of social media adoption creates a magnetic pull on marketing budgets.
Participants in the 2021 Gartner CMO Spend Survey allocated 11.3% of total marketing expenses to social marketing. This does not include investments in paid advertising on social networks like Facebook or Pinterest. Social marketing is critical to achieving marketing goals, with digital marketing leaders citing it as the number one channel for building awareness and driving conversion, and the number two channel for demand generation and customer advocacy. To support this, paid social channel budgets should be part of a larger, coherent social marketing strategy.
“Individual paid social advertising platforms offer a wide array of creative formats, targeting, testing and measurement, but capabilities vary, and they aren’t interoperable,” says Eric Schmitt, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner. “The questions of how many and which platforms to invest in are among the most strategically important asked by digital marketers.”
Audience reach on the top social platforms
At least 10 major paid social platforms compete for ad spend. Meta’s Facebook, Google’s YouTube and Meta’s Instagram lead the pack by percentage of consumers using each platform and by frequency of use.
According to the 2021 Gartner Consumer Advertising and Content Marketing Preferences Survey, there are notable age- and gender-based differences in use by platform:
Age: While younger consumers (Gen Z and millennials) generally outpace their older counterparts (Gen X and baby boomers) on nearly every platform, the pattern is slightly different for LinkedIn. Millennials and Gen X — the two cohorts in the prime of their careers — are LinkedIn’s power users. Eighteen percent log in at least once a week, including the 8% of millennials and 6% of Gen X who check LinkedIn daily.
Gender: Women are significantly more likely than men to use Facebook daily (53% vs. 41%). This variance is consistent across age groups. Pinterest users are overwhelmingly women. Only 11% of men have an account. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to frequent Twitter, Reddit and Twitch. This difference is mostly driven by men under 43 years of age.
How to invest your paid social media budget
If you’re in charge of marketing strategy and execution, consider audience uniqueness in conjunction with overall platform size. Gartner recommends the following:
No. 1: Master — and maintain — best-in-class audience targeting
There are many techniques for effective audience targeting. These include custom audiences, look-alike models, geo-based targeting, interest-based audiences and a cornucopia of advanced analytics and testing techniques. Successful targeting maximizes reach into the desired audience through ad effectiveness and economic efficiency. Make the most of individual platform targeting capabilities, and strive for limited, pragmatic data interoperability.
No. 2: Actively manage paid social media spend
While Facebook and Google dominate, the market for paid social media remains dynamic and uncertain. Changes in consumer behaviors, privacy laws and antitrust actions fuel the uncertainty. Mitigate risk by reviewing paid social media investments quarterly and anticipating regular changes to the portfolio. Develop a strategy for testing the benefit of new platforms, perhaps by using geography-based techniques designed to measure incrementality.
No. 3: Prepare for ongoing disruption to paid social ad targeting and measurement
Apple and Google have announced critical changes to the use of browser cookie and device identifier data for advertising. Paid social ad targeting and attribution data availability are degrading and hitting paid social performance campaign tactics especially hard.
No. 4: Create content that resonates with brand-engaged users
Brand-engaged users are people who use a given social media platform at least once a week — and say they like seeing content from and follow brands on that platform. This group doubled from 10% of all social media users in January 2019 to 20% in April 2021 and is principally (76%) composed of Gen Z and millennials. Target these users on the platforms where they’re most abundant by building social content that aligns with their preferences.
No. 5: Tap into streaming TV advertising to complement paid social media
Adults ages 18 to 43 spend more time on streaming TV than broadcast, cable and satellite. To guide media investments into over-the-top (OTT) TV, connected TV (CTV) and YouTube, stay on top of a market that is fragmented, immature and challenged by the popularity of ad-free services.
No. 6: Pair paid social advertising campaigns with earned media
The volume of consumer posts about brands has increased sharply since the beginning of 2020. Though Facebook and Instagram experienced year-over-year increases, Twitter continues to dominate as the most prolific platform for brand buzz.
No. 7: Keep your paid social media mix on an agile footing
While Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram dominate, successful brands set aside media budgets to advertise on emerging platforms. Focus ad spend where your target audiences are likely to frequent, but don’t be afraid to experiment placing ads with smaller, yet growing platforms.
No. 8: Develop a robust pipeline of relevant social content
To successfully manage social marketing content, optimize your assets, scale your production consistently and efficiently, and build a robust pipeline of user-generated content.
Released by Gartner