Paid Social – The infant channel that’s growing up quickly

In this edition of Digital Marketing Roundtable, hosted by Acquire Digital Talent we turn to a channel that for me has had a breakout year in 2019…Paid Social.

Being one of the younger channels in the Digital Marketing family, Paid Social this year has been reminiscent of what I saw happen to Paid Search around 5-6 years ago.

It was heavily managed by digital agencies, then all of a sudden, like the flicking of a switch, everyone from small tech startups to large corporate brands wanted to take it in-house.

With it being a channel that’s growing up so fast, I gathered a few of the very best within the world of Paid Social to learn some more.

I was joined by:

Jon Beazley – Senior Acquisition Manager at Busuu

Kota Shibata – Paid Social Lead at Highrise Marketing (ex Eve Sleep & World First)


Rolando Ibargüen – Head of Paid Social at TIO (ex Deliveroo & Treatwell)


Here’s how it went down…


Alex Marriner: Thanks for joining me today guys. So, tell me, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen in Paid Social since the start of your career working within the channel?


Jon: No doubt the largest shift I have seen is in the way that campaigns are structured to achieve optimal results. Both from a targeting and bidding point of view the way most advertisers’ campaigns look today is drastically different from that of two or three years ago. This is ultimately due to developments in campaign optimisation capabilities from ad platforms allowing for better and more cost-efficient ad delivery. Gone are the days of granular campaign setups where splitting audiences down into small segments and allocating budget and bids across these in a manual fashion was the best way to drive performance. The introduction of conversion bid optimisation, especially within app advertising, has allowed advertisers to consolidate campaigns and lean on the optimisation algorithm to deliver ads to the most relevant users. This change essentially removed the need for a lot of the manual optimisation that performance marketeers previously needed to do, freeing up time to focus on what is undeniably the biggest lever of campaign performance, creative.


Kota: The biggest change in paid social for me is competition – paid social has grown so much that it is now the go-to channel for many businesses, meaning competitiveness at the auctions fluctuates a lot, making it hard to balance costs with scalability.



Rolando: The increased focus on creative has been immense. Over the years, the battle for user attention has become more difficult with the increase in competition. Gone are the days when being an Excel wiz was sufficient to make paid social campaigns a success. Creative that is eye-catching, engaging and ‘stop scrolling’ worthy is a must.



AM: How do Digital Marketers and those in Paid Social combat the fact that arguably Facebook is the leading platform (where a great deal of money is spent on social ads), but with different legal issues popping up and more people saying they’re not using Facebook anymore, where will you find these users? 


Jon: What a lot of end-users may not take into account is the portfolio of products that platforms like Facebook have at their disposal to serve ads. It has certainly become more difficult to reach certain audiences on traditional placements such as Facebook feed, however, Facebook has been quick to capitalise on opportunities for ad inventory within their family of apps, with placements such as Instagram Stories now taking up large proportions of spend for a lot of advertisers.


Kota: Many of the people who are choosing not to use Facebook are still using Instagram, so if your ads are optimised for Instagram, you can still reach these users through the Facebook platform. Of course, you want to make sure you’ve got wide coverage by running ads on Google and any other relevant channels too.



Rolando: I don’t think people ‘not using FB’ is a major cause for concern. The social giant has an ever-growing portfolio of platforms, websites and apps under its umbrella, which has a phenomenal reach. So, if someone stops using FB, it’s very likely that they will still be reachable via one of the other available platforms.



AM: One of the big industry issues now is data ownership. There’s a lot of evidence that the upcoming generation is much more caged and savvier about their data than we have been historically. What changes in the landscape have you seen in the wake of GDPR and Cambridge Analytica now the dust has settled? 


Kota: The biggest changes I’ve seen are from changes that Facebook has actively made in response to various scandals and not so much from users themselves.



Rolando: I think one of the most evident changes has been in how much transparency is now needed/required by users. From creating targeting audiences to crafting simple ad copy, the social advertising ecosystem is a lot more scrutinised. We are now forced to be very clear with the reason that we are showing ads and the actions that we desire users to take.



AM: Another area of issue at the moment is around GDPR. Nowadays it’s more difficult to purchase and share data, we’re seeing that the likes of Google and Facebook have even more power (as smaller companies without the data can’t enter the market as readily.) What are the consequences of walled data and the impact on marketing in the future? 


Kota: We have to look at GDPR as a good thing because consumers will stop using services like Facebook and Google if they can’t trust these companies. It might mean that we as marketers need to get savvier, but I hope that data not being shared around carelessly will lead to consumers viewing ads in a more positive way.



Rolando: For paid social, this can be seen as a benefit, as it means companies need to invest in the channel in order to reach the desired and valuable audiences that only the social giants can provide access to.



AM: How do you see Paid Social changing over the next 5 years and what steps can those working in this channel do to future proof themselves?


Jon: I think the key thing here is for Paid Social Managers to be able to understand where the value that they are delivering is. In most cases, this is going to be bridging the gap between creative and strategy to help deliver the most value from campaigns for business KPI’s. As campaigns become more automated and this trend continues, marketers will continue to see the benefits of this on campaign performance. The focus should shift towards creative testing and ensuring campaigns are aligned with business goals. Understanding the unit economics of a business and how campaigns can contribute to this and business growth should be at the forefront of all paid social managers minds. Alongside this, continual creative testing to combat ad fatigue and the ever-increasing CPM’s that we are facing.


Kota: Big focus in digital technology now is AI and automation. So in 5 years’ time, a lot of the things will be automated, meaning focus for marketers will need to develop skills in the areas that can’t be automated. So KYC is going to be the key to marketing in the next 5 years.



Rolando: Creative development will continue to increase in significance. Get yourself involved in the creative process, whether that’s with your in-house team, or with an external partner. Pick up some video editing skills, so you can create and amend assets yourself. Learn to tell stories that resonate with audiences. Brands are now acknowledging the importance of creating emotional connections with people – creative is the key driver of this.



Many thanks to Jon, Kota, and Rolando for their insights.

If you’ve missed out on a previous edition, click the relevant links for SEOPPC, and Growth Marketing.

We still have a few more stops on our tour, so keep your eyes peeled over the coming months.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far…

-Alex Marriner