Analysis

It’s Social, Mobile, Native.. and in the Cards!

Could the future of smartphone and tablet content be in the cards?

If you add up recent developments from Twitter, Google, Pinterest, Spotify and Apple, a pattern is beginning to emerge.  We’ve spent a few years talking about the convergence of mobile and social and the fact that more than half of the world’s social media activity takes place on smartphones and tablets.  It’s also clear to anyone who’s paying attention that the future lies in an Advertiser’s ability to reach people within the native environment of these social platforms.  The most innovative players in the field have been working on exactly how advertisers can get involved in human social interactions in a genuine and non-disruptive way.  And it looks like they’re all reaching some very similar conclusions.

Speaking The Language of the Natives

But first, let’s make sure we understand the language of the natives.  Lately it’s beginning to feel like the ad industry has got hold of a random advertising category generator and started using the descriptors randomly and with wild abandon.  What started off as Social Media has morphed into Mobile Social Media, Social Rich Media, Native Advertising, Native Social Advertising, Social Native Rich Advertising, Mobile Social Rich Native Local App Advertising and who knows what else they’ll come up with!

When the big social networks became popular the term Social Media Advertising was born.  In a very broad sense, this term was used to describe any way an advertiser could pay to get in front of the users of a social media platform.  Social Media Advertising is commonplace now and not necessarily imaginative.  Think text and image ads to the right of the user stream on Facebook for desktop users.  Mobile Social Media Advertising is much the same thing but targeted to a smartphone or tablet user.  The key here is that the advertising experience is tailored to be effective for a user on a mobile device.  With at least half of social media access happening via these devices, Social Media Advertising is tending towards a mobile first focus and will become increasingly so as the world’s consumers move to mobile devices.  Most of the social networks have very different ad units for smartphones and tablets, and require the advertising experience to be tailored as such.

Then there’s Social Rich Media Advertising.  I’ve seen this term used in a few different contexts.  To some, it can mean a rich media ad which incorporates some content or elements from a social platform (such as Instagram photos or a brand’s Facebook page).   To me, this is just Rich Media Advertising with a social element.   I would tend to use the term Social Rich Media Advertising to describe a rich media ad that sits within a social platform, such as Twitter or Facebook. A video designed for sharing in a Twitter stream would be Social Rich Media Advertising.

Native Social Advertising (is) so tightly integrated to the features of a social media platform, that it appears to be native.

Native Advertising is the one everyone’s talking about at the moment.  Native is a term that can mean different things in different contexts.  For example there has been a lot of debate on whether a Native or Web App is the best choice for mobile development.  A Native app is one that’s installed on the device and interacts directly with its core functions like calendar and maps.  A Web App is basically a web site. It may perform many of the functions of an app, but it runs on the web browser of the device.   This is a good example to illustrate the definition of Native Advertising.  When an app speaks the language of the device – it’s a native.  So when Advertising speaks the language of the platform, it’s native.

In the journalism context, Native Advertising is often deliberately disguised as editorial content.  This practice is much criticised, and the criticisms are relevant to any deliberate attempt to fool a customer.  Done well, native advertising blends well with the context of the journalism, providing genuinely useful content, while clearly identifying itself as the work of an advertiser.

Native Social Advertising applies all of the same principles. This is advertising that’s so tightly integrated to the features of a social media platform, that it appears to be native.  In the social media context, if something is Native, it looks the same as the ‘social’ content produced and shared by the users of the platform.   Native Social Advertising speaks the same language, looks and acts the same and blends in with the native content.  Sponsored posts in Facebook are an often touted example of Native Social Advertising.  But how Native IS that really?

The Audience Is Paying Attention

If advertising tries to look Native but isn’t, the audience is generally not fooled.  It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a photo of your friend’s baby and an ad for a handbag.  But what if your friend shared the picture of the handbag with a comment like “Check out my gorgeous birthday present from Mum!”   And what if the picture of the handbag was a high quality promotional shot of the handbag, produced by the advertiser?  What if it expanded to show price and product details and clicked through to an online shop?  Is that still advertising, or is it just useful information about a product your friend recommended?  Is it both?   Or is it THAT the promise of  Native Advertising?

Introducing the Card

Twitter CardHaving your own, thoughtfully prepared content shared by customers is exactly what advertisers want, and the design metaphor that makes this possible is the canvas or card.  The card is the ultimate medium for sharing packaged pieces of content.   It’s a restricted physical space that is perfectly compatible with a mobile device, but with options for manipulation that increase it’s scope.  It can be turned over, expanded, flipped, stacked, and presented as a row or column.  It suits physical products and services, photos, embedded rich media, ads, coupons and even links to articles.  In fact there is very little that cannot be represented within the confines of a card.  Albums, books, cars, university degrees, weather, products, movies, apps, courses, companies, investments, holidays, software, videos, and of course advertisements. 

All of a sudden the power is in the hands of the consumer and advertising becomes a genuine Pull rather than Push experience.

One of the most exciting thing about cards is that they can be shared outside of their original context. We are no longer constrained by the website, the catalogue, the online gallery or the newspaper.   Advertisers are no longer forced to direct customers back to specific web destinations to access information & content.  Instead, they can bundle up their content into cards, and distribute them where the customers are – on social platforms.  In a complete reversal of the traditional mass marketing paradigm, the sharable card is not scalable, at least not by the advertiser.  It can really only be distributed in a limited and very targeted way.  The scale is in the sharing by brand advocates.  All of a sudden the power is in the hands of the consumer and advertising becomes a genuine Pull rather than Push experience.

Everyone’s Using Cards

Take a look around and you’ll see most of the most popular, socially oriented sites are experimenting with cards.

Twitter recently launched Twitter Cards (pictured above), a product development that makes it possible to create sharable packages of information for distribution in a Twitter feed. There are various card types available including product, photo, gallery, app, media player and lead generation cards. Twitter cards make Mobile Social Media Advertising a reality, and the inclusion of gallery & media player cards means that Rich Media Advertising becomes a much more interesting proposition.

The cards can be associated with web content, so that when a user tweets a link to that content, the tweet will have a card attached.  The card will remain visible in the Twitter feed, rather than just showing the URL.  This means branded content can be shared and distributed.

Facebook applies a very similar approach, with shared URLs appearing in the newsfeed as a large image with a title, web address and summary text.

Facebook Card with URL

Pinterest is, by its nature, a card based platform, with each piece of content presented as a card with an image, summary text and info about who has shared and liked it.  The recent announcement of Pinterest Promoted Pins makes advertiser engagement in the platform an even more viable proposition.    Socially oriented music streaming service Spotify‘s new discover feature recommends content based on what you’ve been listening to.  The feature recommends songs to play, albums to add to a playlist, and artists to follow, all presented in a card based format.

Single Pinterest CardSpotify 1

Google Now is a feature of Google’s search engine app.  It’s a card based information service that pops up at the bottom of your Google Search app  whenever you need it.   The information, which appears when Google predicts you need it, ranges from info about local places to weather, traffic and travel advice.  Each bundle of information is presented as a card.  Similarly, when you search for that type of content in Google, it appears as a card above the search results.

Google Now 1   Google Now 2   Google Now 3

Developer recommendations for Google Glass describe timeline cards as the core of a user’s interaction, providing templates for text and html based cards for content display.

Google Glass

Where To Now?

All of these developments have been driven from a desire to package and organise content in a way that supports a mobile first approach.  We’ve discovered that content designed for the desktop doesn’t translate well to mobile.  Now that we’re building for mobile first, we can truly begin to appreciate the unique nature of the channel and it’s potential.  Through all those supposed ‘years of the mobile’, we’ve really just been treating smartphones and tablets as extensions of the desktop.  What we have ahead is the real revolution.

Like a player in a well scripted production, Apple has arrived at the party as well, with it’s latest update to their iOS operating system.  iOS 7 includes a feature called Airdrop. Airdrop is a method of transferring files wirelessly from one device to another.  It uses bluetooth to detect devices nearby, then sets up a peer to peer Wi-Fi network between the devices, so that files can be shared.  It all happens seamlessly and is designed to share photos, videos and similar small packages of content between friends and colleagues.   There couldn’t be a more perfect type of content than a card for sharing via AirDrop.

 If truly genuine Native Advertising is the ultimate goal, you can’t argue with content that is shared by the audience themselves.

It’s starting to feel like a perfect storm.  We have all of these major web players organising their content into structured sharable packages. We have social platforms gearing up to accept and receive this kind of content, and we have the devices and the technology in place to share and exchange it.  Not least, we have the audience who are willing, able and eager to share content within and outside of their networks. If truly genuine Native Advertising is the ultimate goal, you can’t argue with content that is shared by the audience themselves.