The evolution of social media is evident in the proliferation of its usage amongst brands and users alike. According to Forrester, at least 80 percent of the top 50 global brands actively post to the top five social media platforms, and 93 percent of B2B marketers use social media –– currently the No.1 content marketing tactic used by B2B brands.

On the flip side, two-thirds (65 percent) of American adults use social networking sites, up from 7 percent when Pew Research Center began systematically tracking social media usage in 2005. Globally there are 2.078 billion active social media users, over half of which are active mobile social media users. Social media is no longer new media, with many of the big players being over 10 years old.

At the forefront of the social evolution is social advertising, which continues to advance not only in adoption but also innovation, and at rocket’s pace. According to new figures from eMarketer, advertisers worldwide will spend nearly $30 billion on social advertising in 2016. By 2017, social network ad spending is forecasted to reach $35.98 billion, representing 16 percent of all digital advertising.

Pay to play is here to stay
Long gone are the days when brands could share organic content on their social channels and expect their audience to see it. Social channels like Facebook and Twitter continue to give more power to users by allowing them to adjust their preferences for what is displayed in their feeds, and social algorithms are constantly shifting in an effort to show users the most relevant content based on the content they interact with most.

While this might sound like a disadvantage for brands, the ever-expanding targeting capabilities available to advertisers have made it increasingly easier to segment audiences and create more personalized content. People give social networks vast amounts of data through their profiles and interactions with friends, family and brands, and this data will increasingly be used in advertising.

Endless targeting possibilities
When social advertising first emerged, advertisers could only target by the basics, including location, age and gender, through data readily available in user profiles. Over time, user profiles expanded to include more information and interests, and social channels started integrating data about user connections and behaviors into their targeting options, paving the way for more personalized ad content and retargeting marketing.

More recently, both Facebook and Twitter expanded targeting options to include custom and tailored audiences, respectively, which allow advertisers to use email addresses, phone numbers, user IDs and pixels to create highly targeted audiences. Advertisers can then retarget and even clone them to create lookalike audiences. Both channels also now leverage data from trusted partners to target people based on behaviors that happen outside of the social channel, like income, recent purchases and home ownership.

Social ads are becoming more interactive
In addition to a growing list of targeting options, social ad formats continue to evolve, giving advertisers a multitude of ways to interact with their audiences and accomplish their business objectives. Interacting with a social ad once meant clicking, liking or commenting, but now brands can engage users through video, interactive carousels and multimedia ads.

Facebook recently announced Canvas, a new ad format that the social channel describes as “an immersive and expressive experience on Facebook for businesses to tell their stories and showcase their products.” Using Canvas, advertisers will be able to easily build an interactive experience using a combination of videos, still images and call-to-action buttons — a sort of superhero of ads for advertisers looking for more meaningful engagement.

Mobile and video dominate
According to comScore, mobile and video are the fastest-growing segments of digital advertising. Much of digital ad spending growth can be attributed to mobile adoption. The latest “Global Digital Snapshot” from We Are Social reports that there are 1.925 billion active social mobile users globally (26 percent penetration), and more than a half billion people (47 percent) now access Facebook solely from mobile devices.

Facebook users now generate 8 billion video views per day, nearly double that of YouTube. Much of this increase is driven partly by an emphasis on embedded video in Facebook’s news feed, which has not only created competition with video giant YouTube but also motivated other social channels to up their video advertising game. Video will increasingly be used in social advertising as users increasingly prefer to interact with visual content and advertisers continue to expand their video advertising offerings.

Social shopping for all
Most social channels are also adding e-commerce functionality into their advertising repertoire, allowing users to purchase items after clicking; in many cases without leaving the social channel. Both Pinterest and Instagram launched versions of buy buttons in 2015, creating new ways for e-commerce brands to leverage social during the buying phase of the customer journey.

YouTube also announced TrueView shopping ads in 2015, which allow e-commerce advertisers to show ads for their own products in their own videos. Meanwhile, Facebook is partnering with Shopify to help brands create a shopping experience right on their Facebook Pages. Facebook is also testing a shopping section that will act as a “single place for people to more easily discover, share and purchase products.”

What’s ahead
Looking ahead, the next evolution of social advertising will revolve around the Internet of Things and wearable devices. Consumer behavior and connected devices will intersect to create even more opportunities for advertisers to reach their audiences. At the center of these opportunities will be the biggest of data, created through the constant chatter of always-on devices tracking our every move. For now, we can rest assured that wherever there’s data, there’s a way to engage our audiences through social advertising.

About Hillary Ferry

After launching her career at a firm in Los Angeles, Hillary’s family lured her back home to Des Moines as our digital marketing director. Outside of work you can find her coaching gymnastics. Reach out to her at for help with digital strategy — or your cartwheel technique.