Do audiences engage with advertising on social media?

Advertising has become part of the everyday experience of social media, but have you ever paused to think about whether it works? Perhaps you skim past ads in your feed or maybe you like helpful suggestions from brands that are relevant to you. As with any online content, it is important for communicators, including advertisers, to understand their audiences if they want to get their message across. So how do audiences respond to advertising on social media?

Created on Canva by L Bevilacqua, 17 September 2018.

A multi-platform study

A University of Amsterdam study recently examined audience engagement with advertising on eight social media platforms. The study found significant differences in how audiences responded to advertising on each platform (Voorveld et al. 2018). It is well worth reading the full journal article, but if you’re short on time, here are some of the findings about four popular platforms:


  • The platform is primarily used for social interaction.
  • Users reported noticing ads 31.77% of the time.
  • Users were generally not appreciative of advertising, particularly when it interrupted the social experience.
  • More than 20% of users felt annoyed or confused by ads.
  • There was a strong negative evaluation of advertising, particularly when users were checking the platform as a pastime.
  • However, users who used the platform to obtain useful information evaluated ads more positively.
  • Users also responded more positively to ads that imparted positive feelings, fed curiosity or provided something unique.


  • The platform is primarily used for entertainment.
  • Users reported noticing ads 27.09% of the time.
  • This platform had the most negative audience response to ads, perhaps because the advertising often interrupts the main activity of watching videos and is unavoidable.
  • Ads were more positively received where they made users feel cheerful.
  • Almost 30% of users felt annoyed or confused by the advertising they saw.
  • When the platform is used as a source of information rather than entertainment, the response to advertising was less negative.
Voorveld et al. 2018, p. 52. Created on Canva by L Bevilacqua, 17 September 2018.


  • The platform is mainly used for social interaction, and staying informed and up-to-date.
  • Users reported noticing ads 27.8% of the time.
  • More than 20% of users felt annoyed or confused by ads.
  • Advertising was more negatively evaluated where it interrupted the user’s enjoyment or relaxation on the platform.
  • Advertising was more positively evaluated where the user’s main aim of accessing the platform was to stay ahead of others.


  • The platform is primarily used as entertainment and for staying informed.
  • Users reported noticing ads 22.27% of the time.
  • Where the platform created a sense of cheerfulness for users, advertising that reduced cheerfulness was evaluated more negatively.
  • However, ads could also be experienced as more entertaining than on other platforms.

Implications for advertisers

The key message for advertisers is that not all social media is the same. Care needs to be taken in selecting the appropriate platform as well as the best type of content for both the intended audience and the platform (Voorveld et al. 2018). Poor platform or content choices may lead to a negative experience for target audiences and therefore potentially a negative view of the brand (Voorveld et al. 2018, p. 52). This makes sense when we consider that most, if not all, online content works best where the content and the context work in harmony. However, I found this study interesting because of this insight it provided on how audiences on different platforms engage differently with social media and advertising on social media.

What do you think?

Do you find advertising on social media helpful or annoying? Maybe you don’t notice it. I’d love to hear your view in the comments below.

References and further reading

If you found this topic interesting and the findings helpful, I strongly recommend reading the full journal article:

Voorveld, H A M, van Noort, G, Muntinga D G & Bronner F 2018, ‘Engagement with social media and social media advertising: the differentiating role of platform type’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 38-54.