May 18, 2024

Written by Morgan Reilly

Why Social Media Advertising Is Overtaking Paid Search

Search no longer rules adland. WARC’s Global Advertising Trends report unveils a seismic shift – social media has dethroned paid search as the top advertising channel. The numbers speak for themselves: $247.3 billion in 2024, illustrating social media’s rise, versus $224.8 for paid search.

Alex Brownsell, Head of Content, WARC Media, said in the report, “Much of social media’s success has been driven by Meta’s remarkable renaissance. However, social’s stronghold on budgets can also be seen in TikTok’s rise, and a return to double digit ad revenue growth at Snapchat and Pinterest.”

So, what’s going on here?

Brands Are Fishing Where the Fish Are

According to WARC, people are spending more time on social platforms, from an average daily consumption of 95 minutes in 2014 to 152 minutes in 2024. And people are doing more than just consuming social – they are searching on social. Platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have challenged Google as search tools, especially as people look for products to buy. As a result, social commerce is on the rise.

HubSpot’s Global Social Media Trends Report also reveals a significant shift in the way consumers discover brands. Eighty percent of businesses anticipate social media will eclipse traditional search engines as the primary discovery method. The report highlights social media’s expanding role, encompassing direct sales, customer service, and a surge in advertising across the dominant platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok).

Notably, 70 percent of brands now sell directly through social media, while nearly 80 percent invest in these platforms for advertising. With 74 percent of organizations predicting social media as the preferred customer service channel this year, the trend towards online service interactions is undeniable.

These findings underscore the importance of a robust social media presence for businesses of all sizes. As consumer preferences and platform popularity fluctuate, brands must remain adaptable. They must continuously refine their engagement strategies to stay connected in this dynamic digital landscape.

Meta Is Back

Meta has roared back from its advertising stumbles of 2021 and 2022. The company will earn $155.6 billion in ad revenue this year. This represents a 63 percent share of global social spend. Both Facebook and Instagram grew by more than 20 percent year-on-year in Q1 2024.

The popularity of Meta’s AI tools is a big reason for the growth. In particular, more advertisers are choosing Meta’s Advantage+, which automates aspects of creative and media planning.

Meanwhile, Meta has also reportedly increased its ad load in Q4 2023 to 19.1 percent, with most Reels sessions now having seven or more ads.

“With this dominance comes challenges, such as rising advertising loads in social environments, and the impact of AI on media planning,” Brownsell warned.

Other Social Platforms Are Attracting Advertisers

Brownsell observed that social media’s firm grip on advertising budgets extends beyond giants like Meta. TikTok, despite facing a potential U.S. ban and slowing growth compared to last year’s explosive numbers, still anticipates earnings of $23.1 billion this year. Meanwhile, Pinterest and Snapchat are poised for a comeback with double-digit ad revenue growth – 17.3% and 13.7% respectively. According to WARC, this renewed success stems from both platforms refocusing on their core strengths and carving out unique niches within the social landscape.

On the other hand, Twitter/X continues its downward spiral. The platform is predicted to decline by 6.4 percent globally in 2024.

Search Faces Competition

As we noted in our blog post about the IAB ad forecast, the growth rate for search is flattening out. That’s happening partly because advertisers are pivoting to video formats such as connected TV (CTV) as consumers abandon traditional cable TV in favor of streaming services available on CTV platforms. CTV allows advertisers to target specific demographics, interests, and viewing behaviors more precisely than traditional TV. This targeting is powered by data analytics and user profiles, enabling advertisers to deliver personalized ads to each household or viewer. This makes CTV a more appealing performance marketing option alongside search.

Recommendations for Advertisers

Diversify Advertising Platforms

Given the prominence of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, brands should allocate a significant portion of their advertising budgets here. The trend towards social commerce is strong. These platforms offer direct sales opportunities – assuming, of course, that TikTok does not get banned in the United States. (Note that the TikTok saga will take quite some time to resolve.) While established platforms are critical, exploring up-and-coming platforms or those with niche audiences (like Pinterest and Snapchat) can provide competitive advantages.

Use AI Tools with Human Oversight

Platforms like Meta’s Advantage+ automate creative and media planning, enhancing ad effectiveness. Advertisers should use these tools to optimize their campaigns and improve ROI. But make sure people remain involved in the process because AI requires close supervision to do its job well.

Prioritize Video Content

With video content’s growing dominance, particularly on platforms like TikTok and Instagram (Reels), advertisers should focus on creating engaging and high-quality video ads. For more on the popularity of video as an ad format, read our blog post about the IAB ad forecast, “Where Your Business Should Advertise Online in 2024.”

Mind Ad Loads

With increasing ad loads, particularly noted in Meta’s platforms, ensure that advertising frequency does not detract from the user experience. High ad load can be problematic as it may lead to ad fatigue among consumers, potentially reducing engagement and negatively affecting user experience. Use data analytics to deliver relevant ads to the right audience at the right time. This reduces the need for excessive ad exposure, as targeted ads are more likely to be effective.

Contact True Interactive

At True Interactive, we’ve been helping our clients maximize their digital ad spend since the dawn of digital. To learn about our client successes, visit our website and read our case studies about digital advertising.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay