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Social media perils: Is simply age-gating adequate?

Last month, Reuters wrote a blistering article which said that children as young as 13 years of age were “inundated with daily ads” from the alcohol industry on social media platforms. According to the article this was despite age-gate technologies social media sites boast.

While the platforms that were explored were Twitter and Instagram, the article was harder on the Facebook-owned photo sharing platform for allowing all underage profiles to be able to follow alcohol brand accounts.

In a conversation with Marketing, an Instagram spokesperson clarified that it had implemented age-gating measures in April 2015 and this was a tool the platform had been working on prior to the research.

“We’re committed to making sure that our platform is safe for young people,” the spokesperson said.

Currently the platform requires people to be at least 13 years old to use Instagram.  For sponsored or paid advertisements , Instagram uses its parent company Facebook’s ad serving technologies to ensure that ads will be shown to people who have identified that they are over the legal drinking age in their country.

For organic content, when someone tries to access an alcohol brand’s account, Instagram will first use Facebook information to verify if the associated age of the Facebook user. If they do not have a Facebook account, the platform automatically shows a dialogue box asking them to confirm their age status.

While there are steps put in place, there are no ground breaking security measures to protect children from advertising.

Digital proliferation today is at an all time high and social platforms are morphing at breakneck speeds. Along with that, it is safe to say young teens and adults born in the digital era are far savvier than the basic age-gate technologies put in place by many platforms.

Jamie Lewin, head of strategy at m/Six explained that this could be because nascent digital platforms are more concerned with building up their audiences and hence try their best to simplify the sign-up processes.

Initially, these platforms are most concerned with building up an audience and safety is not on their priority. It’s this later stage which calls for brand safety, the rigour of audience segmentation, and the ability to exclude or target content to specific segments.

As such, they remove as many friction points to getting started as possible, and often forego even asking date of birth.

The responsibility later falls on the shoulders of brands and the agencies, which represent and advise them, to hold themselves to the highest standards of safety.

Helen Lee, managing director of ZenithOptimedia Singapore was of the view that this is in fact where agencies needed to step in – to protect the clients’ interests and ensure that their ads do not show up in a less ideal environment.

“While this might sometimes mean additional charges for the usage of brand protection / viewability technologies and most often clients find these a worthwhile investment,” she said.

If you want to jump onto the bandwagon…

Before a brand commits to a communication platform, it needs to understand the relative strengths of that platform. And increasingly in the digital space that means safety and target-ability over scale, explains Lewin.

In this operating environment, we see a huge tension between brands wanting to stay relevant to younger and therefore embracing the relative risk of a nascent platform’s approach versus the safer choices of tried and tested platforms.”

While the likes of Yahoo, Facebook and MSN have strong first party data coupled with the ability to accurately age-target, they might not always be the sexiest of platforms having the most engaging of audiences.

This is an ongoing challenge for clients but one which can be managed through research and technology.

“While parameters like the audience’s country of residence, device or the network they are accessing the Internet can be easily tracked, personal parameters like gender and age are a bit trickier since only social networks capture these data points,” Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner at Happy Marketer said.

For non-social media publishers who do not capture users’ personal data, clients may need to take it one step further and work with the publishers to make estimates about the audience through proxies such as surveys and focus groups.

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