ocial leaders have made significant headway opening up their walled gardens in 2018: from YouTube’s JICWEBS certification in March to Twitter’s recent pledge prioritising the health of the platform, and Facebook’s focus on building a ‘foundation of trust.’ These platforms are well aware of the hurdles they face, and ready to keep progressing.

So, let’s take a closer look at the story so far, and what we can expect in 2019.

Social progress: The last 12 months

2018 saw an uptick in social media platforms taking action on multiple fronts. Firstly, several platforms moved to improve trust and transparency via third-party verification and certification. Following an extensive audit, Facebook and Instagram were granted Media Rating Council (MRC) accreditation for measuring ad impressions, and has since had the process for providing data to third parties for verification approved. Similarly, Google’s YouTube impression and viewability measurement also received the MRC stamp of approval, and Twitter continued its ongoingreview.

Secondly, key players opted to further enhance in-house reporting and measurement by partnering with independent companies and creating their own initiatives. For example, Snapchat integrated third party verification measurement covering viewability and ad fraud after an effective six-month beta test. Applying to Snap’s in-app video buys, the aim is to reduce uncertainty about audience reach by tracking fake, legitimate, and completed views. Meanwhile, Google launched a preferred partners programme that is intended to help advertisers identify trusted measurement providers — with 20 specialisation partners awarded badges — and Facebook extended its publisher lists capability to cover video ads; providing greater buyer control over where ads are placed.

Where are we now?

Social has arrived at the final quarter in a strong position. In part, this is down to its inherent appeal as an influential advertising medium with a vast user base. But its commitment in increasing clarity has also fuelled confidence and success. Either way, the statistics show healthy development; in the UK, marketers are predicted to spend £3.3 billion on social network advertising in 2018, a 24% increase on 2017. This equates to a quarter of all UK digital ad spend this year, according to eMarketer’s most recent forecast.

Yet this sizeable investment also means advertisers are keener than ever to ensure campaigns have the opportunity to engage target audiences and drive high returns, which means calls for continuous refinement in measurement persist. In particular, demand is increasing for metrics that address multiple concerns, from the safety of ad placements to the resulting campaign impact.

Future focus: Where will 2019 take social?

Placing ads in environments that amplify their impact and align with brand values is crucial to maintain advertiser and consumer favour. Consequently, we can expect brand safety to remain the top priority for advertisers and social platforms. In fact, Google is already working to offer advertisers better brand safety assurance: with testing of objective verification tools in progress, alongside an MRC audit that could potentially result in both brand safety and unique reach accreditation.

There is also increasing emphasis on expanding assessment to include a broader range of hygiene checks. Advertisers understand that constant verification and optimisation are vital to boost campaign results: with verification identifying value loss and protecting media, while optimisation based on performance data maximises the chances of engagement. As a result, demand is rising for customised metrics that go further than measuring against baseline viewability (such as the MRC’s benchmark) and provide interaction insight, especially time-based metrics.

For example, metrics such as time-in-view are gaining popularity as a means of evaluating potential to influence. In other words, establishing whether ads are in view for long enough to capture consumer interest and thereby achieve campaign outcomes. After all, in an environment such as social where windows to seize attention are short, advertisers must make sure every second counts — and this requires a clear idea of which ads are likely to stay in view.

Looking ahead, the cycle of social media’s power is set to keep running: rising audience numbers will keep attracting larger numbers of advertisers, creating more competition that drives the need to measure performance precisely and adjust ads for optimal impact. The advances made in 2018 won’t be the last, but it’s still important to acknowledge them. With every step made to help advertisers understand the effect of their impressions and spend, the social advertising industry moves closer towards a transparent, safe, and efficient ecosystem that works for everyone. So, this positive progress is more than worth celebrating and continuing.

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