Beating Google AdWords: How Social Media Platforms are Expanding Their Advertising Reach

Many social media sites are trying to push back against the juggernaut known as Google and its mammoth advertising operation. Perhaps it’s no secret how important advertising revenue is to most social media platforms. After all, free services have to find money to operate from somewhere. Fully taking advantage of advertising, however, has been tricky thanks to Google AdWords and its powerful influence across the web. AdWords’ reach is impressive and plays a crucial role in Google’s growth. In fact, AdWords is the mega-corporation’s primary source of revenue. Needless to say, many social media platforms see this and want to expand their own advertising efforts in a push to compete with Google every step of the way. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn know the value of a more expansive advertising scope, and though each is working independently of the other, it’s fascinating to see that they’ve come up with similar strategies to achieve their goals.

As powerful as Google is, the major social media sites have something that Google doesn’t always have: big data for each individual user. The value of this data can’t be overstated. With the information compiled on social media sites, companies can get a detailed view of each user -- their interests, motivations, backgrounds, and even current life situation (job, marital status, etc.). Google has tried to tap into this resource through its own apps, extensions, and social media efforts, but the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have data in spades and are looking to press that advantage.

Facebook is no stranger to the advertising game, but for years the company was limited to having advertisements on their own page. All of that is changing rapidly. In late 2014, Facebook announced they would re-launch Atlas, which helps advertisers keep track of and target Facebook users over multiple channels and devices. The customer journey can be a complex one that takes place over a long period of time while using different devices, from smartphones and tablets to laptops. Facebook essentially allows advertisers to closely track this journey by using the social media company’s persistent ID. That means Facebook gives them an advantage in developing targeted ads wherever a specific user decides to go. This is especially important considering how often Facebook users access the site from mobile devices, and thanks to advances in mobile technology and cloud computing, people are rarely truly offline these days. In other words, data from Facebook is being used to engage in targeted campaigns on other sites and devices.

Twitter is employing a similar strategy with the announcement of partner audiences. The deal works by allowing advertisers to target specific parts of Twitter’s audience. How the audience is divided largely depends on who advertisers are looking to go after, which can largely come from the data the social media platform has collected on its users. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if a user tweets something about being hungry, only to get a targeted advertisement about food in their feed. Twitter, much like Facebook, can also help advertisers create targeted ads based off of signals that comes from sites off of Twitter.

LinkedIn has the same approach in mind when it comes to expanding their advertising reach. Their Lead Accelerator works similarly to Twitter’s partner audiences, dividing their audience into segments, allowing for more customized and personalized advertising. LinkedIn also recently launched the new Network Display, which takes after Facebook’s Atlas program. By using login data from LinkedIn, advertisers are able to target LinkedIn users even when they’re not on LinkedIn’s page. This basically creates a fully immersive and seamless experience that tracks the full customer journey.

By expanding their advertising reach, major social media platforms are hoping to put a dent in Google AdWords. The key to this aggressive expansion is the big data the platforms have compiled on their users which allows them to engage in multi-channel marketing and gives them a complete view of the customer. All this data provides deeper insights into what makes each potential customer click, making advertising more effective. By taking the advertising experience away from a specific platform and onto all devices and sites, social media companies will be able to reach customers like never before. While the overall impact of this effort remains to be seen, there’s little doubt it’s a smart strategy on the part of social media platforms.