The past few weeks and months have been dark times for social media networks, with every week bringing a new scandal that cast social media advertising in a negative light. It should come as little surprise that consumers have decreasing trust in the content and ads they see in social media, but recent research shows the damage isn't that bad. Furthermore, there there are things marketers can do to continue creating engaging social media content and ads.

Sprout Social recently released a study based on a survey of 1,000 social media users in the U.S. in March 2018. It showed that only 27 percent of people had a lower opinion of social media ads than they did one year ago. While this isn't good, it's clear that advertising can still use social platforms to reach their target audience with relevant messages.

The key here is that messages have to be relevant. When examining why people had a decreasing trust in social ads, only 39 percent of these consumers attributed their declined perception of social ads to recent political events. The top reason for the drop, cited by 58 percent of respondents, was simply seeing too many social ads overall. This means that the most important thing for marketers to do is create ads that stand out amongst a growing sea of advertising.

On social in general, Sprout research shows that video is one of the main formats people want to see from brands (83 percent). The report also gives extremely useful information about what motivates people to engage with content. According to Sprout, "entertainment is still the single best way to stop the scroll, with 41 percent of people reporting that entertaining content makes them more likely to engage with a social ad".

Being entertaining can be tricky, especially when speaking to a diverse audience. Thankfully, the tried and true method of offering a discount is almost just as effective, with 37 percent of the Sprout survey respondents saying they would engage with an ad that offered them a discount.

An interesting thing to note about using discounts in social ads, they are more effective for Baby Boomers than younger generations. When ranking their motivations for engaging with an ad, Millennials and Gen Xers stated "entertainment" was their top motivator, followed by "discounts", whereas the inverse was true for Baby Boomers.

The desire to learn is an innate part of being human, and marketers can tap into that get their target audience to engage with content. More than a third of people in the Spout survey said they were more likely to engage with social ads that teach them something. For all the age segments reported by Sprout, educational content was their third top motivator for engaging with content.

Appealing to the audience's desire for education can be double-edged sword for marketers. On the one hand, people who are interested in buying a product will want to learn more about the reasons they should buy the product. But informational ads can also generate engagement from people who are interested in the subject matter but not the product itself.

Sprout notes that people who would engage with a social ad that interested them aren't looking to buy directly. Rather, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers will click through simply to learn more. This isn't necessarily a negative thing. Depending on the impression a site leaves with a consumer, they may decide to return later to buy something.

One of the growing trend in marketing is the use of influencers, getting people with large followings on social networks to promote a product on their channels. This is a good way to reach the increasing number of people who use ad blockers, but the research from Sprout shows the limits of influencer advertising.

By its nature, influencer marketing can feel manipulative to people, since it's an ad that in some ways is pretending to not be an ad. The data from Sprout suggest people prefer the more direct approach of ads. According to Sprout, people are more interested in seeing ads from brands than from influencers, 57 percent to 43 percent respectively. That said, the fact that two out of five people were interested in ads from influencers means it's not a marketing tool to ignore.

As more businesses use social media as a way to reach audiences that have "cut the cord" or use ad blockers, it's becomes more important than ever to think of innovative ways to reach people with engaging content. For more ideas on ways to create engaging content, read this article on some of the causes of low conversion rates on mobile devices. a