Juli Greenwood
Juli Greenwood 4 April 2023

Pictures Tell a Clear Story to Social Media Advertisers: Stay Flexible

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wasn’t talking about social media when he said "change is the only constant in life," but he may as well have been. The shake-up following Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, which included the exit of at least half of its top 100 advertisers, has greatly altered how many brands are thinking about social advertising.

All this on top of Apple’s and Google's privacy changes, not to mention TikTok’s current scrutiny and possible bans, are delivering some serious change for social media marketers.

As any social expert understands, looking only at subscriber numbers at a single point in time is hardly an effective measure. It’s all about driving audience engagement, establishing trust and loyalty, and perhaps what social networks do best – building community.

When we understand where the actual traffic is, a clearer picture emerges. We recently gained some fresh insights into this by analysing the visual media transactions of nearly 400 global brands. The transactions relate to how often images and videos are actually viewed.

A headline figure: Facebook remained the clear number one social media channel for the brands in our study. No less than 154 billion image requests for Facebook were delivered from our platform in the past few months, for example—well ahead of its nearest rivals of Instagram with 74 billion and Pinterest with 51 billion.

Big Channel Numbers May Not be Your Friend

At the same time, change is undeniably in the air. The number of image requests for Facebook and Pinterest are both slowly but declining. Comparing April 2021 to April 2022, Facebook requests declined by 23% and Pinterest’s by 79%. However, over the same timeframe, Instagram’s increased by 2%, while TikTok’s shot up by a hefty 67%.

But these figures have to be seen in context for marketers to really grasp their message. Even with nearly two billion requests, TikTok is still far behind Facebook. Many brands use Facebook to authenticate users on their sites, which often initiates image requests of users’ profile pictures, as well. 

What’s the message here for the digital marketing professional?

It’s that from Twitter to TikTok, social is complex, and constantly changing. There are few areas where brands need to act and react faster than social media.

In month A, you should run your campaign on TikTok; in month B, you need to react to a trend on Instagram or a Tweet that’s gone viral. We see this speed and volatility as well in our data, where images or videos requested for one platform have a peak one month and a shift the next. 

That means being wedded to one or two platforms, or being dismissive of one that the cool kids are taking a dislike to, isn't the way to go. The picture gets even more compiled beyond the classic social media channels.

Users increasingly engage and share links through private messaging apps or “dark social” channels. Here, the traffic generated from links shared on apps and platforms like Slack, SnapChat, or WhatsApp is difficult or impossible to trace—but our analysis reveals a growing demand for these channels. 

In terms of images or videos delivered to these applications, for instance, SnapChat is the most popular with more than 5.5 billion requests, followed by China’s WeChat with 4.5+ billion requests and Facebook Messenger with 3.5+ billion requests. 

But those stats shouldn’t tempt you to put all your eggs in the SnapChat basket. Over the course of 2021 to 2022, image requests for WeChat increased 76%, while SnapChat decreased by 2% percent, and Facebook Messenger by 21%.

Indeed, though not a consumer channel, it’s remarkable that Slack-based image requests grew by 46%; given its increasing usage in the world of business, the overall number of more than 83.5 million requests is quite significant. 

The Bottom Line: Flex Your Options

The takeaway has to be that we live in complex times in digital right now, and flexibility and the ability to think outside the box has probably never been more critical. A channel that seems dead can bounce back, and one that seems to be on the rise might not be appropriate for what you’re trying to achieve online. 

Probably the only thing that you can bank on: all of these channels demand the best and fastest visual media experience you can offer. If you do that consistently and stay flexible with your channel choice, you'll survive all the ups and downs of the social universe, even in these unpredictable times.

The full results of the Cloudinary 2022 State of Visual Media report research referenced above is available here.

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