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Social Media Marketing and Advertising in an Increasingly Digital World

     Over the course of the past few years, our society has begun to dive into an ever-increasing digital world. Online environments have changed everything society has known and adapted it to fit into the new norm that is the digital era. Increased use of online platforms and the introduction of different technologies has progressed our society into a more efficient and accessible world. Online and digital marketers have much more access to their audiences and are able to specifically target individuals who will help their organization achieve its objectives and reach its goals. However, this ability to target audiences raises concerns about the privacy and safety of the consumers who are on the receiving end of these social media marketing and advertising efforts. 
     In this multimedia story, we will be discussing social media marketing and advertising from both the consumer and marketer perspectives. We will analyze different privacy issues, discuss how marketers are able to target specific audiences, and I will even discuss my personal experiences as a social media manager and consumer in the digital world and how my potential career path has created a sense of internal ethical struggles.

Consumer Perspective

     As a consumer existing in a digital world, there are many aspects of digital and online marketing that are difficult to recognize and understand. To the average user, it can be extremely confusing how platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are seemingly able to know what their users want before they even know it themselves.

Privacy Issues

     Over the course of the past few years, many online users have become increasingly concerned with the privacy issues associated with online marketing. Algorithms within online platforms gather information from their users and analyze their digital footprints and online behaviors to curate messages specific to them (Froehlich, 2022). For example, a search on Google for a local Italian restaurant may generate ads on the user’s social media as the algorithm tracks and learns what the specific user is looking for.
     Many online users are unaware of website trackers, known as pixels, that are crucial to audience targeting. Through pixels, organizations are able to collect a variety of information that connects their activity on websites to social media platforms (Cohen, 2022). For example, the company I work for installed a pixel on their website to track user behaviors, such as initiating checkout but not purchasing the product. By having this pixel on this site, the company can use this data to target these potential customers and show them ads specific to their behavior in order to encourage them to complete their purchases. 

 

 

 

 

In the photo above, you can see the website traffic for the company I work for as recorded by the pixel we have implemented onto the site. It records the number of page views and records each event, allowing us to see the number and trend of the pixel on the site. This information is later used to help create target audiences for our ads.


     The concerning aspect of being a consumer in a digital world is how organizations continue to find loopholes around various privacy changes and improvements. Recently, Apple introduced new features, such as their opt-out feature, that would grant their users more control over their privacy and who can access their data (Frey, 2022). However, various startup companies are finding loopholes as they can target ads without relying on third-party cookies and cross-site tracking identifies (Bluestein, 2022). If marketers are able to find loopholes in these new privacy changes, what is going to stop them from continuing to find other workarounds as new policy changes are enacted?

     In the TEDx Talk below, Dr. Fred Cate discusses data privacy, consent, and aspects related to the issue that many people, including myself, are unaware of. With long policies filled with confusing jargon, a typical user is not going to take the time to read through this extensive document. Even if a user does take the time to do so, their lack of experience in data privacy and these different technologies will not allow them to understand the depth and gravity of these various policies.

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Marketer Perspective

     Online platforms and the ability to reach such specific target audiences create exciting opportunities for marketing professionals. This new form of advertising allows marketers to reach a larger audience without the typical cold-calling and door-to-door marketing that many people are used to. Not only are these platforms more accessible, but they create an environment that is so specific that only people who are interested in the advertisements can see them.

A Look into the Backend

     In order to understand how these digital marketers are able to target their specific audiences, I thought it would be useful to give a bit of insight into the backend of a social media business manager platform. For the sake of this walkthrough, I will be focusing on Meta Business Suite and Business Manager, the platform used to create ads for Facebook and Instagram.

     The secret to targeting advertisements toward certain consumers is not in the actual ad itself but rather in the specific audience. While aspects of the ad play a part in its success, such as the copy and type of media, the key to a successful ad is proper audience targeting. For Facebook and Instagram advertisements, organizations have the option to reach consumers by utilizing three different types of audiences.

Custom Audiences

     Through the Custom Audiences feature, marketers can target audiences that have shown an interest in the business already. This type of audience can use data from pixels on the organization's website, such as website traffic or leads in a mailing list, or other sources, such as a customer list, Facebook page, and Instagram account, to target people who have interacted and shown an interest in the organization.

     For example, for the company I work for, we have created ads specifically targeting people who have engaged with our Instagram account through likes, comments, saves, carousel swipes, button taps, and shares. By doing so, the company can target an audience that is already familiar with the brand and the products they sell.

Lookalike Audiences

     Through the Lookalike Audiences features, marketers can target people who exhibit similar behaviors to your already established audiences but haven't been exposed or introduced to the organization themselves. These audiences can be based on page likes, pixel data, and any existing Custom Audiences.

     For example, the company I work for decided we want to create a Lookalike Audience to target users who are similar to those already in our mailing list. These users exhibit similar behaviors, but have not been exposed to our organization and are considered a new audience. The algorithm analyzes user behavior, such as what their interests are, and places our ads on their pages as they are similar to people who have engaged with our brand in the past.

Saved Audiences

     Through Saved Audiences, marketers can create common audiences that can target specific demographics, interests, and behaviors, including other custom audiences. These audiences can be reused multiple times, and once created, they are easy to implement into an advertising campaign.

     In the video below, I walk through creating a Saved Audience. In the example, I created a Saved Audience targeting Rutgers University - New Brunswick students through location, age, demographics, interests, and behaviors.

My Personal Experience

     Given that I have worked in digital marketing for years and have grown up in the digital age, I am a bit conflicted about the positives and negatives associated with digital marketing and social media advertising.

     As a consumer, I am a bit worried about my privacy and how my data is being utilized by certain corporations. It seems as though these algorithms know more about me than I know myself. They can analyze my behaviors, interests, and demographics and predict what I like and what I don't. However, as a marketer, I know and understand that my data is being utilized and that, in the digital age, we will have to sacrifice some aspects of privacy. With that being said, I do think that consumers have a bit of responsibility in knowing how these ads are appearing and why specifically they are being targeted. In my opinion, if I am going to be bombarded with ads when scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, I would prefer that they would be relevant to things that I would like to see, rather than being something completely random and unassociated with my interests.

     The world of digital marketing has created an immense amount of opportunities for organizations and does not seem to be going anywhere any time soon. I think that as a consumer, it is important to protect sensitive and confidential data, including your Social Security Number, health records, and financial information. However, I have begun to accept and even encourage marketers to tailor their ads to me as my behavior and interests online are not very confidential information, in my opinion.

     If, as a consumer, you are concerned with what data is being accessed and how it is being used, it is up to you to be aware of these policies and protect yourself, as there will constantly be loopholes and workarounds to ensure ads are reaching their target audiences.

What This Means for the Future of Digital Marketing

     Corporations will continue to implement policy changes, as Apple has, in order to appear they are better protecting their consumers. However, organizations will also continue to get around these policy changes and access data through other channels. As for the future of digital marketing, there are a few things to consider.

     It is crucial for organizations to become more transparent about the data they are collecting and how they are utilizing it (Ifeanyi, 2022). Becoming more transparent will establish more trust between consumers and organizations while discouraging feelings of betrayal and invasion of privacy.

     It is also important that marketers consider taking different approaches that are not as data-driven. Instead, taking a more community-driven approach that focuses on organic content and influencer marketing will be more appealing to the consumer and, once again, build trust between the consumer and the organization (Frey, 2022). Organizations can also utilize newer innovative platforms that would allow for nonintrusive ad experiences (Froehlich, 2022).

     While there is a lot of space and potential for digital marketing in the future, there really is no telling which direction it will go. As both a marketer and a consumer, my hopes are a more transparent and open experience that is less intrusive, yet still gets the job done effectively.

References

Bluestein, A. (2022, August 8). These startups are helping online marketers get around Apple’s privacy changes. Fast Company. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90773053/online-marketing-privacy-tracking-apple-facebook
Cohen, I. (2022, October 24). Are website trackers and pixels exploiting your customers' privacy? Transforming Data with Intelligence. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://tdwi.org/articles/2022/10/24/dwt-all-website-trackers-and-pixels-exploiting-customer-privacy.aspx
Frey, S. (2022, October 16). How Apple's Privacy Changes Force social media marketing to evolve. VentureBeat. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://venturebeat.com/security/how-apple-privacy-changes-force-social-media-marketing-evolve/ 
Froehlich, N. (2022, February 24). The truth in user privacy and targeted ads. Forbes. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2022/02/24/the-truth-in-user-privacy-and-targeted-ads/?sh=79d95420355e 
Ifeanyi, K. C. (2022, June 24). The good, bad, and very ugly of social media algorithms. Fast Company. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90761087/inside-the-good-bad-and-very-ugly-of-social-media-algorithms 
Lokesh, A. (2022, October 11). How AI is changing the future of Digital Marketing. Unite.AI. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.unite.ai/how-ai-is-changing-the-future-of-digital-marketing/ 
TED. (2020, January 16). Data privacy and consent | Fred Cate [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iPDpV8ojHA&t=322s
Trivette, H. (2022, October 17). A guide to social media algorithms and SEO. Forbes. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2022/10/14/a-guide-to-social-media-algorithms-and-seo/?sh=5d8e04a352a0 
Vanian, J. (2022, October 4). Facebook is selling new types of ads on Instagram and Messenger as revenue declines. CNBC. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.cnbc.com/2022/10/04/facebook-is-selling-ads-in-new-places-on-instagram-and-whatsapp-.html 

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