Social Media Pay to Play – the death of creativity?


There has been much discussion recently about the maturing of the social media market and the ever-increasing importance of paying for placement of social media content, particularly on Facebook. After a $100 billion IPO in 2012 it has come as no surprise that Facebook has changed its algorithm to suite a paid for advertising model. But in this new age of pay to play are we in danger of losing the creativity from our social media campaigns or does this mean we have to up our game when it comes to creativity to counteract the shift?

I think I should start out this post by outing myself as a big fan of the creative element of any social media campaign. Whether its Van Damn doing splits between two moving Volvo trucks, or Pepsi Max leveraging some sweet augmented reality in a bus shelter, if it’s creative I get all emotional about why I chose a career in marketing, and it gets me out of bed in the morning. That being said I am also a realist when it comes to how the world works and the free for all creative party that was social media was bound to end sometime.

So what has changed recently that has influenced a seismic shift in the way social media fundamentally works? Essentially what we are seeing are the results of the social media networks chickens coming home to roost. Many of these platforms have been billed as being ‘the next big thing’ and have taken on sizable investment in order to grow. Some have risen to the dizzy heights of a multi-million user base, whilst others have been snuffed out quicker than Mark Zuckerberg can say ‘cheque book please’. With so much cash floating around for the last few years and with investors clamouring to get in on the social media party it is no surprise that nearly all of the major networks are looking to generate a high return from their hard work growing a user base. But we need to ask ourselves, at what cost to that hard won user base?

One question that was a key theme at this year’s SAScon, where I was on a panel discussing paid social media, was around what the impact of the rise of paid advertising on social channels has on the creativity of our campaigns. With the organic reach of Facebook pages falling off the proverbial cliff according to many industry experts (and even Facebook themselves)  for me the answer is in a digitally balanced approach which incorporates both strong creativity and ad platform flare into a campaign. After all the golden egg of Facebook has to be the sheer volume of data and insight it holds on people.

Whilst ensuring a balanced approach is always important, for me the current pay to play atmosphere heightens the need for creative flare in all of our social media endeavours. I also think it’s time for certain brands to accept that they should probably place their digital marketing budgets elsewhere if they can not reconcile whether or not they actually are a ‘social brand’ at heart. I make this point because of the growing shift of the user base of social media and their apparent fatigue at brands who hold little no relevance to them trying to talk to them in their social space. An example of this I personally had recently was an advert for copper piping in my timeline. Now it’s not that I have anything against copper piping, it’s just completely irrelevant to me in my social space, at a time which could only be described as my complete indifference towards its merits and function.

Although Facebook are rolling out more and more features which allow users to flag advertising content as irrelevant to control what they see, ultimately I believe brands will need to become more and more creative in their social media advertising, not just in their campaigns in order to stay the tide of social media fatigue from key user bases. So in conclusion I firmly believe that creativity in social media is very much here to stay, it just needs to be implemented beyond the campaign and into every part of a brands communication with a digital customer, especially within social advertising.

About the Author

  • Kristal Ireland

    Previously voted as one of the UK's "Top 30 Digital Women Under 30" by The Drum magazine, Kristal Ireland is the multi award winning Director of Strategy for digital marketing agency Enjoy Digital based in Leeds. Kristal has worked with some of the UK's biggest brands, including Thomas Cook, Welcome to Yorkshire, The National Trust, Illamasqua, Npower and The University of Leeds and speaks extensively in the UK and beyond on digital marketing. With a broad digital skill set across search, social, mobile and digital brand development, Kristal has worked over a number of years to formulate a truly strategic digital planning model, ensuring that customer and market insight are at the forefront of developing digital strategies that work for her clients. Kristal is also a regular judge at the UK Social Media Communications Awards. A passionate advocate of digital inclusion Kristal works with a number of charities and youth projects in Leeds to help develop skills and confidence in the digital arena.


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