EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, originally published on January 4, 2013, placed at No. 10 in our 20 most popular articles of the year.
ADOTAS — Social media ad spending is on the rise, with BIA/Kelsey projecting that social media ad spending will reach $9.8 billion by 2016, representing an annual growth rate of 21 percent. But just because marketers finally see the value in social advertising doesn’t mean they’re doing it right. Too often marketers take traditional display advertising strategies, apply them to their social ad campaigns and generate disappointing results. As marketers venture into social advertising they need to leave display strategies in the dust and adopt strategies tailored specifically to the social experience.
Many online display advertisers mistakenly view Facebook ad testing as simply another line item in a media plan, but allocating budget to social advertising alone won’t bring results. In the display world, a $10,000 test buy with a few pieces of IAB standard creative usually provides a sufficient evaluation of the performance of a site or ad network, but this approach ignores the incredible untapped potential open to those who leverage even a fraction of Facebook’s tools. Facebook provides unique flexibility and control for audience targeting, which when leveraged properly, make it a very profitable channel for Direct Response and Branding advertisers.
Ad size, another significant difference between traditional online display ads and social ads, impacts creative iterations and display frequency testing. Online display campaigns typically consist of only 2-4 ad iterations per size (e.g.728×90, 300×250 and 160×600), but many social outlets, including Facebook, use a smaller image size (100×72) which impacts messaging. Savvy social advertisers should test and refresh many more permutations of social ads than they would for a traditional display campaign looking for combinations of variables that deliver the greatest mix of impressions and click-through rates. Standard marketplace web and social ads experience varying levels of ad decay (creative burnout), which means advertisers need to have plenty of ads on hand to push out. To overcome the challenges associated with scalability, marketers must utilize tools to build out and manage ad permutations and report on performance.
Finally, social’s unique ad offerings, such as Facebook sponsored stories or page post ads, provide value beyond a link to a company’s website; they include social context which traditional display ads lack. To take advantage of this social context marketers need to ensure there is a coordinated effort within their organization between the team that manages posts on the company fan page and those who will amplify those posts through paid media. A well-crafted organic post can directly affect the performance of a paid media test, as page post ads can incorporate elements of the organic post shown to consumers, along with recommendations from the user’s friends in the form of “likes.” The more compelling the message, the higher the likelihood a consumer will engage with it. This interplay between organic and paid media is a powerful differentiator between social and traditional display ads.
There are several social media channels that display advertisers should explore depending on the goals and audience a campaign may demand. Obviously, with Facebook being the number one trafficked site internationally, marketers should begin their campaigns here. With more than one billion active users it’s nearly a guarantee that a brand’s target audience is on Facebook. Unlike the full service nature of traditional display ad buys, Facebook’s self-service interface enables advertisers to pinpoint their target audience themselves through a variety of attributes including geography, age, interests, education, workplace and friend connections; all of which traditional display networks are hard pressed to match. These attributes give advertisers the ability to conduct real time A/B testing and conversion/attribution tracking to identify the most profitable target segments.
When considering a brand’s overall social strategy, it is important to consider all the options available on social channels. LinkedIn has seen success from advertisers in B2B, education, luxury goods, travel and recruiting; Twitter advertisers have found success sponsoring tweets and hashtags. Pinterest currently lacks a paid advertising platform (though they expect this to change soon) but already provides tremendous value for marketers through visually engaging content. MySpace seems to be making a comeback with major inroads in the music industry, and Google+ is finding some success with small business and consumer engagement. Before diving into any social campaign, marketers should take a close look at each of these networks for the best potential match to their campaign target audience to ensure the best bang for the buck.
The Social Advantage
Marketers considering social advertising need to follow the major industry developments to stay poised to take advantage of new opportunities as they arise. Many of these networks routinely roll out new ad products, features and beta programs that can provide early adopters an edge in the marketplace. For example, Facebook recently released powerful tools like Sponsored Results, Custom Audiences and the Facebook Exchange (FBX), which enables audience retargeting when a user leaves Facebook. Leveraging new capabilities can help marketers get in on the ground floor for new ad types, hit key performance indicators (KPI) and gain a lead on the competition.
As the social media landscape continues to develop, marketers need to evolve beyond traditional display advertising strategies or risk hitting major bumps in the road. Learning the tools and best practices in social media marketing will only come from diving in and investing time in channel research and testing. Smart display marketers will also benefit by approaching social media from a holistic, multichannel perspective. In this way marketers can start to understand the true influence social media has on their overall marketing strategy before jumping to any good or bad conclusions.