The Q4 2019 earnings reports are in for Facebook, Snap Inc., and Twitter. Here are our top takeaways for marketers:
Last year, we at Forrester argued that despite the number and extremity of Facebook’s scandals, they wouldn’t doom the company in the short term. So far, that’s held up, as the user base has continued to grow — in Q4, daily active users grew 9% year over year — and ad revenue keeps rising, with 2019 totals showing 27% year-over-year growth.
After controversy swirled around the 2016 US election interference and Cambridge Analytica’s access to user data, Facebook is attempting to reposition itself with a “reputation of privacy” over the next decade. But for all the aspirational talk about privacy regulations and data rights that Facebook leadership espouses, advertising made up a whopping 98.4% of Facebook’s Q4 revenue, indicating that it has very little incentive to change its tune around data collection for microtargeting.
As we reckoned last year with the future of Facebook, Inc., we posited that the company would need to ask itself a hard question about its current and future services: “Do we enforce our new privacy vision at the expense of our advertising business?” Zuckerberg gave us a hint last week: Don’t count on it.
Snap’s Q4 earnings were remarkably better than anticipated from a marketer perspective. Snap reported that it has reached its highest number of active advertisers ever, revenue from Story ads doubled year over year in Q4 2019, and ad revenue in the US jumped 20% to $509 million.
Historically, Snap has not been the savviest operator when it comes to ad pricing, packaging, and measuring. The results this quarter show a maturation in that area: a new emphasis on a portfolio approach to its ad products, increased investments in ranking and optimization to boost scale and return on ad spend, and continued focus on innovative ad experiences around video and augmented reality.
The prioritization in the earnings call of ad products, ROI, and the efficiencies that can be earned (for both advertisers and users) when Snap’s ad products are used in a complementary way show that it has really taken the criticism about its business approach to heart.
While Twitter earnings missed the mark on net profits, the company beat user and revenue growth expectations, hitting over a billion dollars in revenue and prompting Twitter stock to surge shortly after markets opened. Year-over-year ad revenue was up 12% to $885 million, and total ad engagements increased 29%.
This is the best earnings report Twitter has seen in a while. The company continues its efforts to rebuild its core ad server and shift investment — including significant headcount in 2020 — toward interest-based engagement, and it has been remarkably consistent in its emphasis on major world events, such as the Olympics, as the primary vehicle for advertisers to reach engaged users.
And in a nod to the persistent difficulties around abuse and trolling on the platform, Twitter rolled out author-moderated replies — which has tempered the need for more significant action against users who violate its terms. Twitter has also put more effort into proactively identifying and removing abusive content on the platform. This strikes us as something the company will quietly continue — drawing attention to the solution will only draw attention to the problem — but since Jack Dorsey has publicly escalated his feud with Mark Zuckerberg over political ads, it seems natural for him to use a push for a cleaner, more news- and interest-driven platform as a differentiator.