Co-written with Manfred Tham
If Social Media were a class, discussions about ads and its place would be an ongoing assignment. The popular selfie and brunch-photo sharing app, Instagram, recently announced plans to monetise its business through ads – sponsored posts that will appear on timelines masquerading as updates from your friends and stalkees.
Naturally, the response online has been… unbridled, to say the least. It all fits into the 3 logic laws of the Internet: 1) Never click on ads that contain the words “FREE” or “Congratulations”, 2) Never read a comment section, and 3) Always complain every time there is a new update.
Everyone whines about ads when they show up, but it’s all about finding a delicate balance. As the mother of all social media platforms, Facebook has long had a rough relationship with ads. In fact, the growth of Facebook can be attributed to its synergy with the advertising world. With the rise of the social network, marketing companies were presented with a sparkling unicorn: campaigns that could be tailored to target precise demographics. To this day, Facebook still reigns supreme in this field: by letting advertisers select their audiences according to their “likes”, posts can reach users according to their age, marital status, education, location, and thanks to Spotify, even what they listened to last.
But Facebook’s ads only entered the News Feed in 2011, when pages could pay to have “Sponsored Posts” appear on the curated timelines of users. Bypassing the delicate algorithm that determines who appears on your News Feed (and how often), these intrusions were decried initially, but are accepted as commonplace today amongst the sea of shared articles and images.
In fact, with Facebook being essentially an article archiving site to learn of your friends opinions, ads are great. They add more articles to the mix to break up the confirmation bias or add in cute cat videos to break up the weightiness. At most, it only takes a flick or two to move past the paid-for pixels.
Twitter‘s introduction of ads was similar, but handled with much more gentleness. A tiny “x” at the corner of the tailored tweet gets rid of it immediately, and your reasons for doing so are also recorded. Besides, with a substantial following count, the promoted tweet is probably lost on your timeline anyway as your friends tweet about their first world problems.
As the most politically-incorrect platform, Tumblr certainly held out for a while in the monetisation era. The staff at Tumblr certainly share a unique relationship with its users – they’re less like corporate types and more like a mix between your weird neighbour and a hyperactive teen. When sponsored posts were introduced after Yahoo acquired the platform, the lowercase-loving community embraced it with significantly less grouching than on other sites. Bonus points to Tumblr’s advertisers for making pretty ads to blend into the timelines of fandoms and opinions.
But some of these ads suck lol.
But are Instagram ads all that bad? At normal scrolling speeds, they are presented to us for less than a second. So why the bellyaching every time they appear? You just scroll across everything, pity-liking everything. You’ll barely see the ad and if you do, you’ll just fly past it without double-tapping. You could leave a hate comment but really, you’ve spent way longer staring at a hot guy or girl on Instagram than an ad.
And that’s just it: just like how you need battery life to keep your phone alive while scrolling, the people behind these platforms need the cash to keep their site afloat. It’s great to create a product that everyone loves, but it’s even greater to plan ahead – to keep the organisation (and the people behind that product) going for a long time. Imagine working at Starbucks (because everyone loves Starbucks) but FOR FREE. That’s not really fair to you now, is it?
So let’s just suck it up from now. We should really at least be thankful that Instagram’s held out this long, given how Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr have all started financing their operations long ago. But if advertisements annoy you that much, you can always just create the next big social network…