When It Comes To Brand Suitability, Not All Walled Gardens Are Created Equal
June 21, 2023
By Rich Raddon
Today’s open web largely functions the way it has for 20 years. Meanwhile, modern walled gardens didn’t exist 20 years ago. As with humans, platform youth is the launch pad for sharp, quick, often divergent growth. The walled garden landscape is always evolving, with each of them offering a discrete experience.
The velocity of content produced in the walled gardens far outpaces the open web. What all of these walled gardens have in common is user-generated content (UGC), which is freely given and the source of the platforms’ immense growth and profitability. It has not always been easy for the average person to build a web page and publish information, but the platforms have made it so effortless that the pace of media content being uploaded is unprecedented. Every minute, people upload more than 500 hours of content to YouTube, send 456,000 tweets, and post nearly 47,000 photos to Instagram.
As a result of this never-ending stream of user generated content, walled gardens can feel a bit like the Wild West. You can find just about any type of content you’re looking for, which speaks to the power of the platforms, but this same attribute makes them challenging for marketers who want their messaging to appear next to safe and suitable content.
Different Flavors of Walled Gardens
We tend to treat the walled gardens as a homogeneous cohort, and they do share similarities, but they should be classified and considered in different ways.
For example, when we think about the dominant video-first platforms, YouTube and TikTok, there are stark contrasts. TikTok is an amazing platform, centered on video content without much text. TikTok’s personalization is best-of-class, so between the algorithm and sheer amount of content that’s constantly uploaded to the platform, there’s always something new and interesting to discover in real time.
YouTube, on the other hand, is an on-demand, ad-supported video library. Videos can be watched, rewatched, and continually scored for suitability and context. Consumption can happen over days, weeks, months, and even years. Facebook also has in-stream video, but it’s generally not perceived as a video-first platform. Facebook is all about its news feed, full of GIFs, images, video, and lots of text, all of which creates complexity that can be hard to measure.
Instagram and Pinterest are both image-sharing platforms, with many gravitating towards Instagram to share their personal photos, while Pinterest users — often skewing older — share, curate, and discover other people’s content. Twitter is unique in that it is heavily text based, but there’s also some video, images, and GIFs, with more of a real-time, stream-like environment.
A Crucial Flywheel
UGC is a critical flywheel for engagement. The walled gardens want their users to publish as much content as possible — and tell all their friends about it — driving up engagement and increasing time spent on their platforms, which can be monetized with advertising.
This gives walled gardens a business interest in policing their content, another key difference from the open web. Emerging regulations such as the European Union’s Digital Services Act also require that large tech companies address misinformation and other harmful content on their platforms or face penalties.
Walled gardens want to keep regulators off their backs, avoid consumer and brand backlash, and ensure that the content on their platform doesn’t violate basic human decency. But that becomes very difficult when they have tens of thousands of hours of content being uploaded to their platform every minute.
That’s why many walled gardens have embraced third-party measurement. They largely agree on the need to ensure a brand safety “floor,” but realize they can’t be “grading their own homework,” making it necessary for trusted third-parties to carry out that responsibility to ensure brand suitability.
Walled Gardens Will Continue as Source of Innovation
I’m very bullish on the possibility that new platforms will continue to emerge and gain traction. I didn’t always believe this, but TikTok changed my mind. Previously, it seemed that all walled garden options for accessing specific content were covered, such as using YouTube for video, or sharing photos on Instagram, but now new platforms are challenging these trends.
When TikTok came along with a slight wrinkle in its offering and a compelling user experience, I realized that if a platform is unique and can do something really well, it probably can gain a massive following.
I’m now convinced we haven’t seen the last of the new platforms that will attract a billion users or more. And when we do, marketers will need to understand the complexity of the new environment, how content moves there, and whether that content is a good home for their messaging.
The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.
Rich Raddon is Zefr’s co-CEO and cofounder.