Blurred lines: why owned media and social channels are converging


For The Drum’s Predictions Deep Dive, performance agency Journey Further’s Jonny Longden draws on his experience with e-commerce retailers to map the new shared frontiers of paid and social channels.

Some of the most interesting tensions right now relate to the relationship between owned media and social channels. In short, we’re about to see the lines between these platforms become increasingly blurred. How? Through social shopping; developments in user-generated content and social proof; and new influencer portals.

Social shopping

Many social platforms now let brands sell products directly within their platforms. ‘Social shopping’ has been a buzzword for some time but is still in its infancy in terms of real usage.

Social channels offer engaging ways for users to discover products based on both content and recommendations from their network. This is a fundamentally different experience from searching and browsing websites, where prior intent is required. Social media allows brands to appear to users in relevant ways where those users otherwise may not have been aware of the brand.

Meanwhile, social channels hate the idea of users leaving their platforms, and are constantly striving for new monetization streams. Offering a seamless purchase journey within the platform allows them to control even more of the users’ time online.

This is a perfect storm, coming together this year.

User-generated content

User-generated content is not a new concept, yet it remains difficult to find many brands using it to its fullest. Most still prefer, instead, to control the content themselves entirely.

Social media has provided customers with access to other people’s real experiences with products. If I see an advert on Facebook, I’m one click away from seeing plenty of comments and opinions from people (perhaps even people I know) who really use it. I’ll trust this over what the brand tells me, any day.

Similarly, an image or video of someone using and describing the product is more real than the carefully crafted and glossy (but ultimately unrealistic) content from the brand itself.

Brands are investing a lot in curating, managing and amplifying the ‘right kind’ of content on social channels, but they wouldn’t dream of allowing it onto their websites. But consumers will become increasingly distrustful of glossy, manufactured content when they are just one step away from finding something real on external channels.

If brands want consumers to stick within their owned channels, they need to start bringing real content into the experience.

Social proof throughout the e-commerce experience

I’ve been running experiments on websites for many years. I have no hard data to prove it, but I’ve seen a growing trend of what I would call ‘in-and-out’ behavior: users dipping in and out of your website many times before making a decision to purchase, rather than neatly following your carefully designed checkout funnel flow.

Just look at the volume of users who land somewhere within your checkout process. How can that be? Often, it’s because someone left your site in the middle of the checkout flow and came back over half an hour later, initiating a new session. In between, they were probably looking for external validation and social proof to validate their purchase.

This stuff is happening anyway, so you can either let it happen off-site (where there’s a good chance the user won’t return), or you can provide this content throughout the journey. Bringing social proof into the website and decision journey is an obvious step in e-commerce evolution.

Influencer portals

Now, influencer marketing revolves around the content that influencers share on external social channels.

Amazon recently made an interesting development here, allowing influencers to create their own pages where they can share reviews and other exciting content about products.

Influencer marketing teams need to think in terms of individual partnerships. If someone is going to create content and drive views, what do they get in return? If they are paid, the relationship is merely akin to buying media. But what if we think instead in terms of partnerships?

We need to start thinking about the wider value each party can give to the other. Influencers want to grow their influence. What can brands offer them to help them do this? Influencer marketing should move more towards investing in these individual partnerships than paying for media exposure.


As featured in The Drum