According to a recent IAB US report, social media investment was forecasted to drop 33% across March and April. A report of 400 media buyers surveyed by IAB Australia solidified this prediction, with a 33% reduction in digital ad spend at the end of Q1 with 70% of buyers adjusting or pausing their investment.

In turn, Q1 results dropped for a number of social media companies, with Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter citing a decline in March ad revenue as a key factor. But despite March results, a number of these companies have driven growth YoY, with Snapchat and Twitter countering strong performance across January and February, offsetting the impact of COVID-19.

Facebook’s Ad Revenue rose 17% YoY with monthly users up 10%. Snapchat’s revenue increased a staggering 44% YoY to $462 million with their Daily Active Users increasing by 20%. TikTok, while not a public company, added more than 12 million unique visitors across the US in March alone, with unique users rising 48.3% between January and March.

As of mid-April, 31% of Australian brands have delayed their spend in digital as a whole, waiting for signs of movement from uncertainty, to a new normal, on the way to full recovery. And this move feels tantalisingly close with news outlets suggesting the government will relax Social Distancing restrictions any day now.

As we gear up for the new normal, it’s nice to know that what made the social sector so strong at the start of the year has been its continued strength during the pandemic and will be advertiser’s greatest opportunity on the road to market recovery. 

Changing behaviours and a new normal

With social isolation limiting daily human contact, it feels like every friend, family member, content maker and celebrity has turned to social media to stay connected. Throughout March, the average time on TikTok per user was nearly 8 hours. Live Streaming added a new way to connect for content creators with TikTok also introducing the nightly series #HappyAtHome: LIVE!.

The time spent on voice and video calls in Snapchat grew by more than 50% during late March compared to February and Facebook saw a 98% surge in its use of its Messenger app. We are inherently socially people and these tools provide live, creative outlets to stay connected and foster community.

We can join the conversation and pivot from DR and Performance marketing, instead offering mission-based marketing or brand activity that joins the community. A recent survey by Unruly indicates only 4% of Australians feel brands should stop advertising during the COVID crisis with a third (34%) wanting brands to make them feel happy.

Be agile and ready to pivot

Joining the conversation means pivoting from your previous marketing plan. Agility in digital allows us to quickly and affordably output creative that pivots our marketing direction and avoids sensitivities around COVID-19. A/B Testing allows us to quickly get a read on the messaging we are putting out there. Facebook has released new guidelines on how advertisers can leverage their measurement tools while traversing COVID-19.

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to pivot to a nimble, measurement led, mission-based advertising approach, Direct Brands are a great source. Direct Brands employ a test and learn approach to digital marketing, are nimble, have strong brand-purpose and are customer centric. They were born out of the internet and disruption.

Further disruption from COVID-19 and a want from customers to invest locally will further drive Australian investment in Direct Brands. Tim Doyle, former head of marketing for Koala Mattresses, called out the current opportunity in Facebook in a recent interview:

“Facebook CPMs… the cost is down to half of what it was a month ago. That creates a remarkable opportunity to hit a large audience for an affordable amount of money.

What’s next?

According to IAB US, the May-June outlook on social ad spend is set to improve, with a 10% increase in ad spend across social. They predict a more positive shift in social investment comparative to other digital and above the line channels.

While we are not out of the woods yet, the new normal might be on our doorstep and paid social will play a pivotal role in helping advertisers traverse the consumer landscape on the way back to full recovery.

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Andrew Macdonald

Andrew is the National Head of Paid Search & Social at iProspect. He specialises in the creation and execution of digital strategy and leading teams to success, with a focus on product innovation, winning new business and driving strategic partnerships for Paid Search & Social.