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First-Party Data Or Social Media Advertising: Which To Use?

Companies all over the world spend millions of dollars on social media advertising. For many years, it’s been one of the best avenues for brands seeking to expand their reach and visibility. By building a social following, brands gain direct access to customers already interested in their services and from there, speak to them directly and set about converting them into paying customers.

However, social media metrics leave much to the imagination, which is not an ideal way to set about developing audience strategies. Likes and comments on social posts are hard to quantify without more specific data, though some of the declarative data uncovered therein can help further an understanding of audience behaviors. Without access to concrete, sophisticated data, how can you build relevant audience profiles to augment your publishing strategy? And without those profiles, how do you know what to advertise to new audiences? How can you convince third-party affiliates to advertise on your site?

Publishers have recognized first-party data as not only a viable alternative to social media metrics, but a far more valuable resource with rich insights instrumental to audience growth and activation, subscription revenue, ad revenue, retention, and so much more. By investing in a first-party data strategy and taking advantage of resources that help you acquire, analyze, and interpret insights, publishers can track audience engagement across their digital property portfolios. By doing so, they’re able to make informed strategic decisions that drive conversion and support the efficacy of their audience funnels, thus ushering unregistered visitors into paid subscriptions. 

Publishers report less value in social media advertising

A telling sign of how publishers are rethinking their approach to audience insights and how to spend their advertising dollars is revealed through the Publishers and Social Media: 2021 Trends report conducted by Echobox

Based on a survey of 159 publishers from over 40 different countries, the findings revealed that 63% of respondents believed discovering and tapping into new audiences is now more important than ever. For publishers hoping to lead the curve, this report indicates an evident need for audience expansion strategies that connect to fresh eyed audiences as opposed to relying on brand-aware users who sought them out through social media channels.

In the same study, only 29% of publishers chose to prioritize investments in new social media channels. While many respondents said social media continues to be an excellent resource for “more referral traffic,” little is mentioned about the conversion rate to transform referral traffic into paid content subscriptions.

Additionally, social media algorithms continue to remain beyond the control of publishers who must do their best to anticipate upcoming changes and implement contingency plans for detrimental algorithmic changes. Four out of ten respondents say constant changes to Facebook’s algorithm cause an extreme and unexpected impact on traffic. This inconsistency makes it hard for publishers to predict accurate growth in both website visits and new subscription rates.

First-party data is a response to the changing times

Sometimes, the best growth strategy is less about bringing in more traffic from social media to a publishing site and more closely tied to establishing an approach that optimizes existing traffic with behavioral data. These insights are used by publishers to enhance content strategies by aligning writers and editors around data-driven audience insights. Data-informed teams are far better prepared to produce more content that strikes a chord with audiences and leaves them eager for more and prone to return visits with longer page visit durations.

Part of the reason for this approach is in reaction to updated consumer privacy protection laws. Mandates like GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy protection legislation have begun a depreciation, or retirement, of third-party cookies, which Google will indefinitely eliminate by 2023. These cookies have traditionally been used by brands and publishers to acquire audience insights and support advertising campaigns.

According to Google, 90% of North and South American publishers say stricter consumer privacy laws have forced them to adapt their strategies. Now, the vast majority of these publishers are leaning into first-party data in order to acquire more accurate and detailed information about their customers. First-party data allows publishers to build enriched audience profiles that third-party cookies and social media engagement could never provide.

Publisher ownership of first-party data leverages revenue-driven affiliate partnerships

First-party data gives publishers the insights and sophisticated specificity to enhance and take ownership of the direct relationship with their audiences. Since audience insights are acquired through reader interaction with published content, publishers retain the rights to that first-party data. This provides powerful leverage for publishers to increase advertising revenue through highly curated partnerships with specific affiliate advertisers.

It’s a great way to appeal to affiliates eager to advertise at a time when advertising budgets are being cut. Recent economic downturns have forced companies to scale back on their ad budgets, though they do still need to generate awareness and engagement.

As the proprietors of detailed first-party audience data, publishers can incentivize affiliate advertisers to spend their limited budgets wisely on ad inserts with the greatest potential for engagement and conversion. It’s a strategy that companies like Trusted Media Brands have successfully delivered upon, which has generated 40% year over year programmatic revenue growth.

Social media casts a wide net; first-party data chooses the right bait

When calculating the ROI on advertising campaigns, a helpful way to look at the dichotomy between social media advertising and using first-party data to connect with affiliates is to think of it like an analogy for fishing.

Social media advertising is essentially casting a wide net out into the digital ocean. The hope is that you use the social media algorithms effectively to maximize reach and engagement. Through that engagement, you need high clickthrough rates (CTRs) so that you have the best potential to grow paid subscribers of your content. Those subscriptions are the final achievement to prove the merit behind your social media advertising strategy.

There are a lot of holes in that approach, which is why using a first-party data strategy to convince affiliates that they should advertise on your site is far more effective. With first-party data and the audience profiles and segmentation it can provide, you don’t need to cast a wide net and hope for the best. Instead, you’re in a position to convince the right affiliates that their products and messaging have the greatest potential to connect with the consumers that make up your engaged audiences. When we choose the right bait, we stand a greater chance of catching exactly what we’re after.

First-party data is a win for publications and audiences alike. Audiences benefit from the improvements it informs and appreciate the thoughtful content produced for their interests. Publishers on the other hand stand to benefit greatly from the ability to appeal to their affiliates and encourage them to invest more of their advertising budgets into developing extensive relationships with their publication. Everybody wins and everybody gets more of what they want!

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