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The Evolution of Social Advertising in a World of Fake Ads

Social media has quite literally become its own world. And that has never been more important for advertisers.

“Nuclear buttons,” Twitter rants, fake news, and “trolls” have filled the social media landscape of late, leaving many advertisers asking, “how exactly did we get here?”

Let’s take a look at the journey of social advertising, from onsets to onslaughts…

The Origin

While there are many opinions as to what the true first social media site was, 2003 marked the real, initial take-off of social media as a whole. Despite various prior attempts, the idea had never really caught on.

Myspace and LinkedIn were launched in 2003, and Facebook in 2004. These three networks signalled a new and exciting landscape for a rapidly growing number of internet users.

By 2005, both LinkedIn and Facebook had reached 1 million users. For both platforms, the sizable audience was the trigger they needed to begin the search for advertisers.

Facebook’s first ad appeared in 2005, LinkedIn’s in 2006.

Facebook’s original ads looked something like this:


In fact, 2006 as a whole marked a very important year in the social media timeline. LinkedIn launched it’s first ad. Facebook introduced users to it’s Newsfeed and entered the mobile space. The year also marked the launch of Twitter.

Among the advancements to existing platforms, Twitter seemed to be the first innovative expansion on the idea of social media.

Myspace, Facebook, and LinkedIn had mostly focused on connecting people only with people that they already knew. On these sites, users would typically promote the things they liked – hence the engagement term known as “Liking.”

Users built a profile of their personal information, music and movie preferences, and so on.

Twitter, however, was the first social media network to introduce the intangibles of its users, allowing them to express their thoughts, in a blog-brief, snippet-like style.

Compared to now, the original Twitter feed, of course, looks a bit primitive. For example, look at all of the unused space on the page – a present-day-publisher’s nightmare:


More Photos, Less Words

2010 marked the launch of image-based social media platform, Instagram, followed by Snapchat in 2011.

Since Twitter’s introduction in 2006, this was the biggest advancement in the world of social media.

User’s had been offered the chance to share photos on other platforms, but never as the main attraction.

By 2011, Myspace had run its course, while LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat had all found, or at least started to find, there place in the market.

The social media mountain had finally begun to take it’s shape.

Platform Expansion

Think about how personal the first rendition of Myspace was. Most users would not connect with anyone other than their literal friends and family.

Now, think about what social media looks like today. Almost anyone can connect with anyone else.

That goes for advertisers, as well.

In today’s social media landscape, a brand can connect with essentially anyone on an individual level.

Because of this ability, social advertising has steadily, and substantially increased year-over-year, and continues to trend upward.

While that’s no surprise, the evolution of social media has taken some unexpected, and seemingly strange turns in recent years.

Even though all of the numbers check out, it’s what lies within the platforms that has been a bit surprising.


2017: An Evolutionary Year

To say the least, 2017 was an interesting year for social media. Let’s just say there was a minor shift in tone…

When social advertising was first introduced, brands were reluctant to advertise due to the uncertainty of the surrounding content. At the time, the content seemed a bit unsupervised.

Once social platforms started policing their content, however, brands became more comfortable, and started to adopt social advertising.

In 2016 alone, global social advertising spend exceeded $30 billion. Not too shabby.

As social media platforms gained monumental numbers of users, however, it turned out that they were lacking another form of policing – that of fake content (ads, users, etc.).

People took notice that some brands, politicians, and celebrities had extremely high numbers of fake followers, engagements, and so on.

At first, it seemed like a way for brands to build a reputation. Later, it became clear that it simply made real advertising extremely difficult – 100,000 Twitter followers no longer represented 100,000 people, making it almost impossible to measure actual reach.

This also built heavy momentum towards sensationalism in social media.


There’s two things to consider here…

First, in general, we have seen a rise in sensationalism relevant to politics.

Secondly, one of the greatest traits of social media, is its ability to create viral content within minutes, if not seconds.

Put those two traits together, and that brings us to the present.

With fake users, fake content, fake ads, and “trolls” populating social platforms, brands are left with an interesting environment.

Some of them are taking to the environment, however.

When the new year arrived, there was one notable tweet that sparked quite the bit of controversy. We’ll let the tweet do the talking for itself:

Needless to say, amongst the masses, there were mixed feelings when seeing this tweet.

KFC UK & Ireland, however, saw this as an opportunity. They used the controversial tweet as a way to “troll” the POTUS, take a competitive shot at McDonald’s, and give hopeful customers a chuckle:


It’s hard to imagine that in 2006, upon Twitter’s invention, and the social media environment of the time, that anyone could have forecasted something like this.

After all, it’s more likely that Twitter users will notice tweets about “nuclear buttons” than they will about esssentially any brand on planet earth. So, KFC decided to throw themselves into the mix.

This was an attempt to play to their audience in ways not previously available.

KFC UK & Ireland has a demographic that is not emotionally tied to supporting the United States President. Given that this tweet was international news, however, they decided to capitalize.

This example shines a light on the social advertising environment that brands currently exist in.

Interacting with users is more personal than ever, yet because of that, there can be heavier political, and heavier emotional implications that take effect.

Consumers are now more sensitive to the humans behind the products. Social advertising allows brands to provide an extra layer of depth in their messaging.