Disclaimer: The following opinion piece represents author’s personal views.
Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, officially announced on his channel last Friday what the company has already made mentions of in the past few weeks — Sponsored Messages, which will allow everyone to pay for advertisements on the independent social network.
But before you express your disappointment about another app receiving annoying interruptions from people you don’t know or like, you may want to read on and see if — for the first time ever — they could be quite useful.
“Win-win” vs “lose-lose” advertising
Telegram, like any other company, is not a charity. It has to make money somehow and advertising is typically one of the ways of achieving it, particularly with millions of users.
After its attempt at issuing ‘Gram’ cryptocurrency was thwarted by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, there was hardly any alternative left.
But one also has to bear in mind that advertising isn’t always bad — it’s a way of getting your message to new people, who would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach. If companies didn’t advertise, they wouldn’t be able to sell much, so they wouldn’t also be able to provide many jobs for people who work for them.
Hence, as a tool, ads are neither good nor bad. It’s what we do with them that matters.
The most extreme example in the social media space is, of course, Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is not only going to allow others to push content to your personal timeline, but also interrupt you while watching videos and have his “pixels” track your behaviour on millions of websites outside of Facebook itself.
The company collects a mountain of data about what you do, like, read, write, who you interact with, what you browse in online shops, what you read for news and even where you physically go with your mobile device.
It will then chop up, analyse and serve this data to an ever-growing pool of thirsty advertisers, who can use Facebook’s all-encompassing knowledge about you, to serve you ads that attempt to draw you away from what you’ve been busy doing — usually to get your money selling you something at the end of the process (often in highly misleading ways).
Google — built on advertising — is not much better although it, at least, still offers an advertising solution that simply shows sponsored results for topics you’re already searching for. In this way, it actually helps both you and the advertisers.
This is the sort of service I would describe as “win-win” — providing advertising to willing people, at an appropriate moment, without disturbing their other activities.
Most advertising is, however, highly interruptive and thus, very annoying. TV ads, radio commercials, leaflets, unsolicited mailbox spam and, on the internet, blinking banners, fake buttons and, the latest, clips coming on just in the middle of an interesting video or between songs, ruining the mood of the moment.
This, in contrast, is a “lose-lose” way of serving ads — hoping for accidental clicks or, very often, misleading people into clicking something they actually were never interested in the first place.
Some advertisers (particularly the dishonest ones) may find some short-term luck with this sort of promotions, but in the long run, they are really self-defeating.
Not only disturbing people in an inappropriate moment is not likely to get them to buy anything from you, but it may actually build negative associations with your brand as one that is intrusive or desperate.
That said, aside from search advertising, which simply expands options available to you, in response to whatever you’re already looking for anyway, there aren’t really any other channels that would work quite as usefully to both publishers and users.
Telegram might just about to change that.
When it comes to advertising, less is more
With the launch of Sponsored Messages, the company has quite openly emphasised things that some may consider a handicap.
It does not collect any personal data, nor track your behavior outside of the app. Publishers can only link to their Telegram channels or bots, not external websites, so all interaction must happen within the app.
Additionally, promoted messages will only appear on channels above 1,000 subscribers and ONLY after the user has read all of his recently unread messages.
But what seems like a rotten deal for advertisers is actually a blessing in disguise.
Because you can target users by topics or channels, it’s much easier to make a decision on what to spend your money on.
Facebook, for instance, with its abundance of options, makes it difficult for advertisers to even know what’s going on. Success of campaigns there is largely down to algorithms finding out who may potentially be your best customer, but this may require relatively high spending over prolonged periods of time, so that enough data can be collected to achieve this (and there is no guarantee that it ever will).
Google’s solutions, on the other hand, are not suitable for all of advertising (particularly content), Twitter is limited and restrictive, as are native ad networks like Outbrain (they will happily serve people some tabloid-level garbage but many products and topics are a no-no).
Telegram, in comparison, is both more open and simple. Even if you fail, you fail quickly and can test more rapidly.
And because you can target specific channels, it means you can also do your own research, instead of relying on an opaque piece of code, while being charged for it for days, hoping to strike gold at some point.
Secondly, the requirement to direct people to your own channels creates a necessity to build presence on Telegram. It’s harder to mislead users if you can’t take them outside of the network to your own phishing or otherwise misleading website.
It’s a win for those with genuine audiences and interesting content and a win for users, if fewer spammers seek to abuse Telegram for nefarious purposes. It’s also easier for Telegram itself to moderate ads and quickly get rid of the offending ones and their authors.
Finally, because sponsored messages will only appear when users have read all their pending messages on the channel, they are not interrupted in the middle of reading or discussing anything with other people.
Ads become an addition, an extension of the experience, likely relevant to their interests and the topic of a given channel, that they get served when there’s nothing more for them to consume — what makes them more likely to engage with the message than if they were interrupted.
It’s a win for advertisers, raising effectiveness of advertising, and a win for app users, who may get useful suggestions to follow channels that may be of their interest too.
In addition, it is hard to overstate the importance of another independent, non-American advertising channel opening up just as Big Tech from the Bay Area is tightening the screw on what it accepts on its networks.
Telegram is certainly more committed to free expression and it should be considerably easier for legitimate advertisers to promote their content, services or products on the platform than it is on Facebook, Google or other.
With Silicon Valley giants, your success depends on the whims of ever-changing guidelines and even your personal activity, as writing unpopular things can get your personal account locked out of Facebook advertising, even if your business is unrelated to your personal life.
That’s why I welcome Telegram’s new features both as an advertiser and a regular user. It can transform the app from a messenger into a real social network.
Featured Image Credit: Gulte