*This article originally appeared on AdWeek.
Over the past decade, the use of social platforms grew rapidly, expanding into every aspect of our lives. According to Pew Research Center, 69 percent of Americans today actively use social media to connect with others, get news and share information. This is up from just 5 percent in 2005, when Pew first began tracking social media adoption.
The value for brands to invest in social is relatively unquestioned. Social media advertising budgets have doubled in the past two years, from $16 billion in 2014 to $31 billion in 2016, according to eMarketer. In 2017, social media ad spending is likely to surpass $35 billion, representing 16 percent of all global digital ad spend.
But what about the data? This culture of sharing has resulted in an immense amount of data that reflects human preference and can be quite meaningful in facilitating connections between brands and consumers. People share their interests, thoughts, life events and content preferences across social platforms. Through social data, marketers gain an added dimension of consumer identity that reveals complex interests, affinities and group memberships that change over time.
However, the applications and opportunities that arise from the utility of social data are still in their nascency. Just a few years ago, people didn’t know what the value of a like, hashtag or follow was. Today, we’re moving far beyond this into the processing of this social data into actionable insights that speak to brand affinity and loyalty.
In order to take the value of social data to the next level, marketers need to be able to connect social data to other known attributes like past purchase history or device usage. The only way to do this is by integrating their social strategy with the rest of their media touch points. By expanding their use of social data outside of the walled gardens, brands can create the kind of seamless experiences customers have come to expect.
So how can an advertiser leverage the benefit of social data outside of the social ecosystem it was derived from? By breaking down the barriers of the walled garden to gain a cohesive picture of brands’ target audiences. This grants brands the opportunity to interact with this audience wherever they are in the digital ecosystem.
Following consumer behavior across multiple devices adds dimension to actions such as follows and likes, allowing advertisers to dive deeper into consumer profiles and extract useful information such as purchase history, device usage or TV viewing behavior.
Despite the dominance of walled gardens today, the tides are changing. According to a recent study by LiveRamp/Acxiom, 84 percent of brands think they need a third-party partner outside of Facebook and Google. The likely outcome is that gradually, the walls will lower over time, spurred by advertisers, agencies and publishers calling for a much-needed change.
The tools of choice for marketers will become those that have the same scale, quality and density of data as the walled gardens but allow for more flexible approaches to execution and measurement that solve for today’s biggest marketing challenges and the ever-evolving expectations of consumers.