Sabre Thinking

28 Feb / The Birth of a Revolution: A History of Social Media Advertising

Since the dawn of time, people have come up with new and creative ways to interact with each other from a distance. Since the emergence of the Internet, the days of telegraphs and carrier pigeons are far behind us. Social media has made it extremely simple to share content, ideas, thoughts and opinions to a global audience – within seconds. Along with this capability, it has also become a very lucrative platform on which to advertise. Although just a decade ago this platform was not available to advertisers, its popularity has enabled various companies and organizations to generate billions of dollars each year. However, social media wasn’t always the super accessible and multi-platform utopia that it is now. Before cell phones and the smart apps that come along with them, online interactions were limited to desktop computers, not nearly as convenient and readily available. Once it went mobile, social media really began to grow.

In the 1990s, the Internet and e-mail were just starting to flourish. AOL’s “You’ve Got Mail” was coined as a catchphrase and the infamous tone of the dial-up modem was a widely recognized “jingle.” Back then, many people would advertise in the classified ad section of the newspaper, and on early messaging services like Prodigy. In 1995, Craig Newmark had the bright idea to start sending out e-mail blasts consisting of social events in California, which eventually led to listings for jobs and apartments and went on to grow into the local advertising giant that we know as Craigslist today. Through Craigslist, communities can connect and exchange all types of goods and services within a certain area. Businesses may advertise on the site if they are aiming to target a specific geographic location, and it can also be a great place for people to network or look for jobs or a roommate.

As the Internet gained users, more advertisers discovered opportunities for renting ad space on popular websites. They would pay to run banner ads on a website for a pre-determined amount of time. In the late 1990s, free blogging sites like LiveJournal started to gain traffic, and they had to rent out ad space to generate revenue. Once the turn of the new millennium arrived, people had moved on to sites like Friendster and MySpace to share personal information with the world. This was the first glimpse of social media as we know it today and played an important role in birthing some of the first “social media celebrities” who are now known as influencers. For artists, musicians, writers and content creators of all trades, MySpace was the platform for showcasing yourself to the world.

In the mid-2000s, social media started to gain even more steam with the launch of Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook in 2004 [originally known as “Thefacebook” and exclusive to college networks until 2006], followed by YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006. Advertisers were looking for ways to target young people who were uninterested in banner ads and spent the majority of their time connecting with others on these various platforms. Once open to the general public, Facebook began running ads that, at first, were text-based and located in the sidebar, and eventually grew to self-serve ads that companies could set up and manage on their own. In 2008, they established “Pages” which allowed companies to set up profiles for their business and interact with customers. This helped companies target ads, as Facebook set up an algorithm that enabled people who “liked” a company’s page to see ads from that brand integrated into their newsfeed. Meanwhile, Twitter unveiled “promoted tweets” in 2010, the same year that Instagram launched.

As Instagram and another disappearing-messaging app, Snapchat, simultaneously rose to popularity, we started seeing oodles of sponsored content from both brands and influencers. By 2016, companies were spending 20% of their digital advertising budget on social media campaigns, and both Instagram and Snapchat had developed programs for advertising on their platforms.

Aside from using influencers and traditional content marketing, many brands have used partnerships with social media to not only advertise but to sell products. Most social media platforms have implemented browsers that can guide you through a purchase without leaving the app, making impulse buys easier than ever. Snapchat was able to sell out the newest Air Jordan sneakers in their app through partnerships with the NBA, Shopify, and Darkstore. This is undoubtedly a preview of what is to come for the world of social media advertising, especially with the added convenience of same-day delivery, courtesy of services like Darkstore.

Social media advertising is still on the rise as more innovations are introduced. It is projected that social media advertising spend will surge to $17.34 billion by 2019. We have come a long way since banner ads in just over a decade, and we are eager to see what’s to come.

So, where do you get your social media fix?

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