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From TV and print, to podcasts, influencer partnerships, live streams and social media ads, how many channels are there these days?

Media’s more fragmented than it’s ever been.

Promisingly, 49% of internet users say they’re likely to buy brands they see advertised.

While advertising isn’t the only way consumers discover brands, if that’s what you’re banking on, it’s crucial to get it right.

By the end of 2020, 98% of consumers globally said they’d visited a social network in the past month. Meanwhile, global social media ad spend has jumped 50% in a single year. With ads saturating our feeds, standing out is key.

So, how can your brand’s social media presence inspire and engage your audience – especially if you’ve paid for their attention?

Using our latest insights, we explore how social media fits into the consumer journey, and how brands can make the most of their ads on various platforms. 

How did social media evolve into a place for research?

The role of social media in users’ daily lives has changed – it now carries significant weight in the path to purchase.

Compared to other media channels, being on social media consumes the majority of our time. Around the world, consumers devote nearly 2.5 hours a day switching between various platforms.

Although traditional sources like TV ads (36%) and word-of-mouth (32%) are still more popular for brand discovery than social media ads (27%), social networks are the second-most prominent research channel after search engines, with 42% of people doing their product research on social media platforms. 

Even if consumers discover a brand through a different source, social media is a cornerstone of many people’s purchase journey.

It’s where they go for further information, and what they find can entice them to follow through with a purchase.

Understanding what consumers want while researching products ties in very closely with how brands are perceived online. 

Powerful online purchase drivers, like coupons and discounts (40%), reviews from other customers (36%), loyalty points (27%), and the product having lots of “likes” or good comments (22%), can increase the effectiveness of a social media ad.  

Who’s using social media to find products?

Around the world, nearly 3 in 10 social media users use social media primarily to research products to buy.

That said, reasons for using social media differ widely by age and region.

Chart: who's using social media to find products

Gen Zs and millennials make up two thirds of the market of people using the internet for product discovery. It’s unsurprising, given they’re among the heaviest users of social media globally.

Unlike their older counterparts, who use social media more moderately, these age groups spend more time on social media than the global average of 2.5 hours a day.

This represents a huge opportunity for social media marketers targeting younger consumers, as well as for advertisers in emerging markets. In places like MEA and LATAM, consumers spend well over 3 hours a day on social media.   

The impact of ads seen on social networks isn’t consistent across the globe, but they’re making good headway. In developed regions like Europe and North America for example, social media ads have the potential to reach a quarter of consumers. 

In all five regions we track, ads on social media are a more prominent means of brand discovery than ads on other websites. 

28% of internet users say social media ads help them find out about new products, which means social channels have achieved and maintained true global reach. 

Ad-blocking has overwhelmingly demonstrated the steps adults are willing to take in order to protect their online experience from unwanted, intrusive or irrelevant content. 

Thankfully, the situation for social media is slightly different – and a more positive one for marketers. The popularity of accessing social media via mobile apps is what shields it from web-based ad-blockers.

One of the most successful ways to find an audience on social is to target users who follow certain types of accounts.

For example, followers of beauty experts, fitness experts, or other influencers are over 60% more likely than average to use social media to find products to buy. 

Who clicks on social media ads?

24% of global internet users have clicked on a sponsored post or ad on social media in the past month. 

These consumers are most likely millennials, married (50%) and working full-time (54%). There is more or less equal gender divide here, with a slight prevalence towards males (53%). 

Social media ad clickers are also 27% more likely than average to donate to charity monthly, and almost half believe it’s very important to contribute to the community they live in.

These are consumers that care whether the brands they buy from are socially and environmentally responsible.

Two thirds also say they’d rather pay more for sustainable or eco-friendly products, and over 4 in 10 want brands to be transparent about how they collect data.  

This consumer segment is also much more likely than average to have paid for digital products in the last month, from dating services (81% more likely) to eBooks (64% more likely).

Clearly, social media ad clickers aren’t hesitating to purchase products from the ads they’re seeing. In the U.S. for example, over 30% of consumers who have clicked an ad on social media have also purchased something they’ve seen in an ad – in just the past week. 

Pinpoint trends specific to your consumer, in our flagship social media report.

What do consumers want from social media ads?

Social media ad clickers won’t just click on any ad they see. After all, they’re exposed to all kinds of advertising throughout their day-to-day.

Advertising that will engage them has to be relevant to their interests, and personalization is key here.

Part of that personalization requires an understanding of how different generations have vastly different preferences when it comes to ads in general.

Chart: different generations want social media ads to do different things

For the most part, younger consumers in the U.S. and UK want ads to be more entertaining, more relevant to their identity, and more supportive of diversity and inclusivity, as well as raise awareness about climate or social issues.

On the other hand, older consumers tend to prefer more practical information.

Baby boomers are most likely to want ads that provide practical information, and most likely to want ads to provide discounts or special offers (43% say this).

And bridging the gap between young and old, Gen Xs are most likely to want ads that provide personalized recommendations.

What’s missing from the above chart is how fed up consumers are with COVID-19 ad content.

Support for these types of ads is the lowest of any other option, and decreases steadily with age, from just 13% of Gen Zs to only 8% of baby boomers.

A year into the pandemic, it seems consumers would rather shift their focus. 

How do social media ads stack up against other channels?

For the most part, social media ads are very successful if their purpose meets consumers’ expectations. 

Chart: social media ads succeed at being entertaining

Among consumers in the U.S. and UK, social media ads are seen as more personalized, entertaining, and memorable compared to other digital ads.

These are traits that younger consumers in particular want – and respond to. Yet for older generations, it’s a slightly different story.

Baby boomers, who overwhelmingly want ads to be informative, are the least likely to say social media ads succeed in being memorable or entertaining. They’re more likely to consider an ad ‘relevant’ if it teaches them something. 

Generally speaking, consumers in the U.S. and UK share the sentiment that ads can also be distracting, intrusive, and disruptive, which can harm a brand’s image online.

It’s something to be mindful of, given the increase in time spent online coinciding with pandemic lockdowns.   

Ads perceived as excessive, disruptive, or irrelevant can be even more detrimental to a brand’s image than ads placed next to inappropriate content.

Given brands spend millions of dollars a year making sure their ads aren’t associated with negative content, this points to the fact that the digital experience needs more focus than mere targeting.

It’s not just about who will see your ad and where, but what role the ad will play in the viewers social media experience – whether it will add friction or disrupt the content they’re trying to view. 

Social media ads are effective when you know the landscape 

These days, social media advertising is more competitive than ever. 

Consumers spend a huge portion of their day scrolling through various platforms, so, for companies who advertise in the space, it can be easy to get lost in the noise. 

Yet, there are some ways to make the most of your advertising budget. 

Know your audience: Not all social media users are the same, and how a potential customer uses social media will vary based on their age, region of the world, and even the types of accounts they follow. The same is true for the ads they want to see. Younger consumers want to be entertained and accurately represented, while older audiences are more partial to ads that inform or offer special deals. 

Avoid adding friction: Social media’s a great way to get in front of consumers online. Many platforms allow advertisers to side-step adblockers, and target audiences based on more personalized information than other sites, but with great power comes great responsibility. Advertisers must be careful to not upset the social media experience of their target consumers. Excessive ads, ads that disrupt the other content on the screen, and ads that are too personalized can all work against a brand. 

Use social media to inform: Social media ads are a great way to increase brand recognition, but when the strategy is to sell, a holistic approach is needed. Many consumers turn to social platforms when researching products, so brands have a great opportunity to gain consumers outside of the ads themselves. Offering discounts, highlighting reviews, and cultivating good comments are a great way to convert social media users from curious to customers. 

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