Social Growing Pains: Aging Audiences + Advertising

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Aging. The word alone makes most people cringe. And in our current attention economy, where success is measured in virality, that word can be a social media platform’s worst nightmare. But does it have to be? While we hunt for the next big thing to dub as the model of industry success, we should stop for a moment to consider how beneficial, and even essential, aging is to any publisher looking to expand, any platform searching for growth, and any marketer hoping to prove ROI.

Aging (or “maturing” for those that still balk at the word) increases one’s ability to compete in a rapidly evolving market.  While exclusivity is a commodity in itself,  excluding a variety of audience segments means limiting potential advertisers and potential revenue streams which are necessary to any platform’s growth. Older audiences are attractive to advertisers for a very simple reason: purchasing power.

Take Snapchat for example--while millennials currently make up 70% of their U.S. user base, that figure is projected to fall to 56% by the end of 2020. Even Snapchat’s own data shows that 12% of their 50 million daily U.S. users are between the ages of 35-54. Will Snapchat’s growth among an older audience alienate their original youthful user base? Potentially. Much can be said about their impending fall from Gen Z grace, but failure to expand their core user base is a mistake they can’t afford to make.

In today’s world, the distinction between Publisher and Social Media Platform have become increasingly blurred. Content IS king, but social as distribution is the law of the land. Therefore, the dilemma is less about “aging” and more about our ability to create “relevant” experiences for audiences, consumers and advertisers.

The overwhelming adoption of ad blockers has forced the industry (in a good way) to evolve from a so-called “disruptive” advertising model to an experience economy that is driven by relevance. In today’s world, that means putting brands natively into the hands of your audience and integrating them seamlessly into the routines of your consumers.

And that’s why Snapchat has succeeded, because they’ve built their social empire entirely on this premise--think of their Discover feature or the wildly popular filters that have become a brand in and among themselves. They are finding ways to fully integrate (literally or through augmented reality) a content experience that is uniquely curated and created by each individual user.

Let’s not forget that older generations use social media much differently than their younger counterparts. Take Facebook, our mothers and fathers are on there (for better or worse) to reconnect with friends, to share stories, and to truly engage. That crucial shift from the discovery phase of social media to true peer-to-peer story-telling, sharing and engagement is an important one that the industry needs to better understand & evaluate, and not a moment too soon.

Marketers are cultivating new and higher expectations and are looking for partners and platforms to provide deeper insights and ROI around campaigns.  They are flocking to platforms that understand this, in the hopes that engagement with the brand’s native content will translate to a lift in sales or brand equity.  The time for quantifying success by tallying how many users scroll through their newsfeed in the line at Starbucks is over.  Success is no longer measured by reaching the biggest audience, but instead, by proving relevance to the right audience.

“Aging” then, means knowing how to innovate to meet both the needs of one’s audience (who want relevant content experiences) and the needs of advertisers (who recognize that relevance will prove the most successful ROI).

Appealing to a wider audience is key to the survival of publisher and social media platforms across the board.  Sure they may lose some of that “X factor” but as Mark Zuckerberg once famously declared: Facebook isn’t “cool” anymore and that’s okay.

Lauri Baker is senior vice president of sales and marketing at Odyssey.

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