Social spending in 2020 is increasing, but is it the right move?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher February 5, 2020
Despite the widening group of marketers who don’t believe social media marketing works, there are still just as many doubling down on it in 2020.


eMarketer states that US digital ad spend will be $151.29 billion in 2020. That’s a little less than in 2019 and is predicted to continue to decline over the next few years slowly. However, the percentage of total media ad spending on digital ads is increasing year over year.

In the Social Advertising Trends for 2020 report from, 52% of marketers will spend at least half their annual marketing budget on social media ads. In this report, Facebook looks like it will get the most of that budget, followed by Twitter and Instagram.

Also, 39% will invest in social advertising tools in 2020. This is a small study, with 100 marketers, but it’s in line with other studies.

Like Statista, which states that worldwide social media advertising will amount to over US $102 million in 2020 and will increase by 7% annually over the next three years.

One of the reasons brands might be spending more money on social ads is that adblockers can’t reach them when consumers use mobile apps to access their social media accounts. There’s also research that shows more consumers are using social media to discover brands and do brand research.

Measuring the ROI of social ads is still hard for most brands to do. A Sprout Social study found that marketers still measure performance in terms of likes and shares primarily, with revenue attribution lower on the list. They also listed determining ROI as number five on the list of challenges after things like defining strategies that support business goals (#1) and identifying target audiences (#2).

It could be that social ads are becoming less about driving conversions and more about building awareness and gaining insights about customers that can help drive product decisions or help Sales understand what’s important to prospects.

What about organic and influencer social media marketing?

Of course, it’s not all about advertising. Brands also spend a lot of time on social media marketing that isn’t ad-focused. And you would think that social media marketing should be effective. But the reality seems to be offering a mixed reaction depending on the social network.

When you examine the research from Trust Insights on unpaid and influencer spending on social media, the numbers suggest that marketers should rethink some of their social spending strategies.

Let’s start with Facebook:

  • The median engagement of a Facebook brand post, unpaid in 2019 - 0.0215% (in other words, one out every 4647 people engaged with a brand’s unpaid post.
  • Similar results were found with influencer pages (actually, they were a little worse).

Then Instagram:

  • Brand post engagement rates were 22x greater than Facebook at 0.47%; however, engagement levels declined over the year.
  • For influencers, engagement rates were better at 1.37%, but they also declined over the year.

Finally, there’s YouTube:

  • Here the engagement rates were much better at 3.7% per video. The report notes that once a video reaches over 100 views, engagement comes.
  • Also interesting, the median number of posts per YouTube channel is 2.57 videos per year. That’s not a lot. Which is good news for marketers who don’t have crazy high budgets for video production.

Another way to think of these numbers: Mailchimp states that the average email open rate was 21.33%, and the average CTR of email in 2019 was 2.62% - you can see your industry numbers here.

So, video is a good place to spend your social media marketing money, and it’s content you can use on your website and other video platforms tools that are more brand-focused. It would also make more sense to improve your email marketing strategies before spending a lot of time and budget on social media.

The recommendation from Trust Insights is to migrate audiences away from the Facebook ecosystem to places where you can build better engagement, like Slack communities, Discord groups, or even email newsletters.

A note on press releases

Press releases are another way to get attention for a brand, but as someone who deals with a lot of PR people, does a lot of research, and has written a few press releases myself, they aren’t that effective.

The Trust Insights study looked at press releases using Google News data and found the median number of clicks was zero. Think about that - no clicks.

Press release content is typically very light, not supplying a lot of detail about whatever news the brand is promoting. Even in the tech industry, press releases don’t offer a lot of information. Another very good point that may be part of the reason no one clicks links in PRs - the writing.

From the report:

When the role and value of media relations and public relations is to build awareness and trust in a market, the last thing you want to do is craft templated statements with a grab-bag of the same words everyone else uses. Such language reduces our company's brand to mediocrity instantaneously, and immediately frames us as a commodity in the minds of our prospective customers.

That language? “Leading, first, service, experience, best,” and so on. Rethink the fluff.

My take

You get different reports about the effectiveness of social media marketing, organic or paid. And there is no sign of dropping any social media platform any time soon. But there are signs brands are decreasing spending on social networks that aren’t driving a lot of value, and moving to social networks like YouTube that have stronger potential.

They are also thinking more broadly about how social media can work for them across the company, making social media more than a marketing tool.

Image credit - Two women thinking one has a question another solution with light bulb - by @pathdoc, from

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