Make your social media advertising smarter

12/03/2013 @ 10:10AM |15,596 views

#5 of 10 More Don’ts of Corporate Social Media

By Davia Temin and Ian Anderson

“Advertising is the price companies pay for being un-original,” designer Yves Behar has said.

But on social media, originality in advertising actually has found a new canvas, a new playground to explore. And the profession itself is being redesigned in real time.

Just as television was a disruptive force for print advertising, so social media is shaking up the entire ad industry – providing us with some best and worse examples of how to leverage the medium.

Procter & Gamble stated earlier this year on an earnings call that they had altered their advertising mix  to devote almost 35% of their advertising budget to social media…even though they were not specific about what is working best for each brand.  Or as the old saying goes, I know that only 30% of my ad budget is working, I just don’t know WHICH 30%…

53:366(Y2) - The Hunger Games

In an earlier article in our “10 More Don’ts of Corporate Social Media” series, “Don’t Confuse ‘Thought Leadership” with “Branded Content’ or ‘Native Advertising’” we discussed the broad range of paid “content” on social media, some more persuasive, creative, and transparent than others. Now we would like to explore the migration of advertising to social media: what is working, what is not, what does the future hold, and what are some examples of the most original, and the most creative advertising out there today.

Here’s What We DO Know

Audiences are simply not paying attention to banner social media advertising. And these ads are not having direct impact on sales.

Viewers have become de-sensitized, or purposefully determined to block out advertisements and content that doesn’t interest them, or that they find intrusive. Study after study  confirms that “click-through rates” on internet ads are just 0.01%, and that  4 out of 5 users (80%) have never even bought a product because of a Facebook ad.

A service called EyeTrackShop has been literally studying where readers’ eyeballs focus on web pages. They have found that users familiar with social media – especially younger users who have grown up with the websites – rarely look at advertisements  in the sidebars, much less click on them, and make a purchase.

Last year, General Motors, went as far as to pull their paid advertising campaigns from Facebook all together (Facebook is the only major social media site with sidebar ads) in favor of using Facebook purely for free advertisement through their branded company page.

Some marketers do persist in sticking to this form of social media advertising – either because they do not know what should supplant it, or they feel that it still has some benefit to their organization.

Regardless, sticking to older forms of social media advertising not only can waste money and viewer goodwill, but adversely affect whatever ROI metrics are used to determine effectiveness. And, if companies don’t begin to innovate in their online advertising, they run the risk of falling behind their competitors as a result.

The CMO Survey

A recent CMO Survey, conducted by Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the American Management Association, showed that while marketers are re-evaluating what metrics they pay most attention to for social media ROI, they are continuing to drive up spending on the digital format (though not to P&G levels): “In August 2013, social marketing spending accounted for an average of about 6.6% of marketer budgets. Within the next year, that share was expected to rise to 9.1%, and in the next five years, marketers expected social to account for 15.8% of spending.”

The CMO Survey also found that for marketers “the emphasis on pure financial metrics is waning…This shift is important because it demonstrates the realization that payoffs from social media are not likely to have a first-order impact on company sales and profits. Instead, the impact of social media is likely to have first-order effects in non-purchase behaviors, such as people sharing opinions about companies and brands. This sharing, in turn, creates exposure, builds knowledge, generates attitudes, and ultimately prompts purchase.”

Indirect, but powerful – that seems to be the potential advertisers are looking to exploit on social media today.

The Second Wave – Not Quite Right Yet

As advertising’s first forays onto social media – based on advertising in older media – fail, new forms are rushing to take their place.

Some of these new formats are inventive and add value, others are just annoying. Because in their rush to find out what does work, many social media sites and advertisers are going too far in the opposite direction, testing the limits of how much clutter or indiscretion they can insert into folks’ news feeds.  When the sponsored posts, tweets, and ads masquerading as content start to outnumber the legitimate messages from friends and folks they follow, the public tunes outand migrates to other social media platforms.

We suspect that there is a magic proportion for how much advertising to real content viewers will accept before they desert a platform.  And we are discovering that in real time today. Even Steve Coll, the new Dean of Columbia Journalism School, and long-time New Yorker journalist, wrote an iconic piece last year about why he left Facebook, “Leaving Facebookistan.”

Tracking Drawing Fire

“Tracking” especially is drawing fire from social media users as being just too intrusive, and more than a little creepy. We have already discussed how if  Facebook is open on any device an individual may own, Facebook can track every Google search an individual conducts.  Thus, if you had done a search for “chandeliers,” on Google one day, the next, ads for lighting showrooms would appear in your Facebook newsfeed, as well as sidebar ads.

This may seem benign, but what about when you need to look up cancer or heart disease? When posts on hospitals, nursing homes, cemetery plots, and wigs start to show up not just on Google and Facebook, but on other social media sites, and even as online magazine ads, it may seem much more sinister. And very uncool.

(Caution to business leaders and marketers: it may be algorithms that cause inappropriate ad connections to pop up on social media, but you can have input into those formulas. You can look into them, and demand that they, “first, do no harm.” You could quell a lot of angry sentiment with just that move.)

Google, Facebook and a growing lineup of sites are also taking possession of our “like” history, in order to advertise to our friends that we have “endorsed” a product or service, simply by “liking” it. And, unless we block the function, they will use our photos that we have posted for other purposes, on friends’ feeds to accompany our endorsement. No wonder folks are dropping off of social media at a rapid rate.

The CMO Study reports that “40 percent of companies use customer information collected online for targeting purposes and 88.5 percent of chief marketing officers expect this practice to increase over time.” While the Pew Internet & American Life Project  found that 86% of internet users have “taken steps to remove or mask their digital footprints — ranging from clearing cookies to encrypting their email, and 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government.”

Looks like we may be on a collision course, even though younger people have less of an expectation of privacy, and are therefore somewhat less bothered by its loss…

The Answer: Native Creativity and Added Value

Clearly some kind of synthesis is evolving. Social media sites are still going to need to make money, advertisers still need to market their goods and services, and the Big Data available to today’s marketers simply cannot be overlooked.

The answer is emerging through a whole new breed of inventiveness. The best advertisers are leveraging the interactivity, visual and video capabilities, and multi-platform availability of social media with some powerfully effective – and often amazingly entertaining – advertising. These ads “nudge”   us toward products, services, and actions through the power of their unique take on life, as in this classic video of the “piano stairs.” They leverage brands through association with a whole new array of cool ideas and events.

And the public does seem to accept ads on social media with open arms that demonstrate real creative quality, and the ability to amuse, entertain, or add value to our lives.

These ads do not need to be “native ads” that don’t let on they are ads. Instead they can harness “native creativity” that is available because of the medium, but they can do so openly. And in this way they can add to their brand value, while adding value to those who view or interact with the ads.

A whole new advertising art form is arising, and that is where the future really lies.

Following are some of the best examples and genres we have seen of these new ads, for your consideration:

Unique, Serial-Story Content

Telling a story is an optimal way to engage constituents on social media. The very heart of social networking comes from the idea of sharing, and storytelling is probably the most ancient form of passing along information.

Some ads have become almost movie-like in quality. Some offer the viewer a serial experience – a series of ads that the viewer can follow over time. For example, Toshiba released a 6-episode ad series called “The Power Inside,” which catches viewers up in an actively unfolding science fiction tale about a teenager fighting off an alien invasion. The only real connection with Toshiba is that the ad has the same title as Toshiba’s brand slogan, “The Power Inside,” but that is enough to reinforce the brand over social media.

In the same vein, the lead up to the release of video game Halo 4 came alongside a fully produced, live-action series depicting a new story within the game’s world – released on YouTube.

Tumblr is a particularly good site to house this kind of content. The website lets you “follow” a user or brand, and their posts are forwarded directly to your timeline. Young people love it, even after it has been acquired by Yahoo! Many fashion brands, like J. Crew, Calvin Klein, and ADIDAS Originals have discovered Tumblr’s potential to tell stories and create trends. Other industries are engaging, too, as the growing galaxy of users becomes more and more sophisticated.

Movies are also starting to campaign on Tumblr, as they recognize the number of blogs devoted to “fandom,” and the potential of Tumblr’s ‘tags’ and ‘reblogs’ to create viral posts that reach millions of avid users. The Obama campaign (now administration), which pioneered political campaigns’ use social media during the 2012 election, has a Tumblr account that saw, and continues to see, great success.


Use of Hashtags

Brands often find success latching onto the latest trends. One of the ways that they have been successful on Twitter is through the use of branded hashtags. For example, Hershey’s “#CookieHQ” hashtag helped the brand connect with consumers by using their own baking experts to field audience questions. Hershey’s also proactively found users who were tweeting about baking cookies and suggested recipes and tips to address their baking concerns during the holidays. The hashtag was used 14,875 times by 898 people, and reached the timelines of over 34.6 million people.

Another success story is the “#1yeartogo” campaign, which raised awareness about the London Olympic Games. It created a contest in which users from different countries could use a three-letter country hashtag in a race to see who could tweet their country’s hashtag the most. The contest was tracked with a live counter on the London Olympics website. Twitter users from 153 countries posted over 165,000 tweets.

Audi’s #WantAnR8 twitter campaign – which eventually gave away a total of 6 Audi R8’s to lucky winners – engaged 50,000 people in the conversation in the first 24 hours.

The power of hashtags is so great that the “Shorty Industry Awards” – which honor the best campaigns and social media leaders each year – recognize hashtags as a standalone category (the most recent victor being Charlie Sheen, who gained more than a million followers in a day, with one tweet. But we’re not commenting on the caliber of the subject matter…).

Use of Contests and Gamification

The #1yeartogo and #wantanR8 twitter campaigns share a common element – gamification. These promotions worked much like a competition – challenging users to play a kind of game while promoting the brand.  However, hashtags aren’t the only way to make campaigns into contests. For example, Heineken Brazil filled its offices with one green balloon for every new ‘like’ it got on its Facebook fan page, then made a video of their office filled to the rafters with green balloons, and read off the names of selected users who had pressed ‘like’ on Facebook.

Others have run promotions with Facebook applications (custom, coded tools that run programs within Facebook – these are often games or contests, and function as add-ons to brand pages), like Dove’s “Real Beauty Should Be Shared.” This series mixed a promotional Facebook app on Dove’s page with the ‘friending’ capability of Facebook. The campaign let users team up into pairs and describe the best characteristics of their partner, with the best entries winning the chance to become Dove’s lead models in their “Real Beauty” advertisements.

Campaigns such as these can revitalize an old brand, or gain traction for a new one. For example P&G’s Old Spice brand, which was introduced in the 1930’s, has engaged in a highly successful campaign on social media to radically refresh its brand. First, it featured a series of edgy social media spots featuring Isaiah Mustafa as “The Old Spice Man”. More recently, it teamed up with popular actor Terry Crews to create a new art form called “muscle music” (videos made when electrodes are hooked from Terry’s muscles to musical instruments – and each time he flexes his muscles, it creates a musical note!)

A bit more tamely, Nike created a virtual barbershop to let its fans see what they would look like sporting the hairstyle of their favorite soccer player. But wild or tame, these are all new and successful ways to engage consumers with the brand. Over 50,000 people used Nike’s “Barber Shop.” And, Old Spice attracted nearly 10 million plays, 17.8 thousand “Likes,” and 580 comments with its “Muscle Music” series.

Use of Mobile-Optimized content

The importance of mobile has been touted in marketing circles for a long time. Time spent on mobile is still increasing, something that cannot be said about any other kind of medium. Companies have developed apps to engage mobile users, like IKEA’s “Catalog App” (which allows users to explore a virtual catalog complete with 360-degree room designs and interactive video), L’Oreal’s Colour Capture App (which gave prizes to users for capturing virtual ‘color bubbles’ on their mobile device), or LG’s Ticket Hunter (which informed users of real-life scavenger hunts in which the winners would use a code and navigational skills to find LG employees with free tickets); and optimized their websites for mobile browsing. For example, Chipotle’s “scarecrow” campaign, consisting of a video and companion game, is considered one of the year’s most viral and engaging advertisements. It combines story-telling, viral video, and mobile-optimization to create a massively successful piece of branding for Chipotle.

Mobile use of social media is still growing. As one of the largest, but least-explored mediums, mobile marketing will present increasing opportunities for creativity and brand engagement in the near future. And, as wearable tech becomes more innovative, the way marketing interacts with the real world and what we see in real time will change exponentially.

Use of Viral Content

This category includes memes, videos, and other pieces of content that go viral and attract huge numbers of likes, views, comments, and shares. For example, brands such as HBO that leverage Facebook features such as Timeline and its “share” and “subscribe” buttons, have seen success with viral content (often controversial) such as  this Game of Thrones meme.

Others, like Red Bull, have taken to creating videos. Red Bull has built its brand around its YouTube channel, dedicated to extreme sports, which has been running for years and has an avid following of over 3 million subscribers. These pieces of content tap into the interests of their customers and followers, and help create loyalty by associating the brand with a positive, interesting experience.

Others have found success by mixing different media. For example, Telenet, a Belgian TV station, set up a live drama in a town square in Belgium that turned into a viral video sensation. This kind of campaign crosses social networks, and can produce even better results than using a single network. Each social network has a different role to play, and the best campaigns take advantage of as many media as possible in order to reach the widest possible audience.

Real-Time Content

Social media also provides real-time opportunities for brands. A perfect example of a virtual ad with impeccable timing is Oreo’s Super Bowl blackout tweet. In the tweet, which read “Power Out? No Problem,” Oreo sent out an image with the caption “You can still dunk in the dark,” that caught on almost immediately. By jumping on the trending topic (the blackout at this year’s Super Bowl) in real time with such a clever tweet, Oreo created a massively popular and viral social media moment (over 15,000 retweets). The tweet was arguably the biggest ad moment of the entire 2013 Super Bowl – besting companies that spent massive sums for TV advertising. This creative use of social media combined a real-time tweet with a photo – widely recognized as one of the most viral kinds of content – in order to fully leverage the moment.

Making Your Campaigns Smarter, More Original

In order to begin evaluate how good social media advertising campaigns are, tools for advertising analytics like those offered by Facebook (supposedly more are on the way) and Google are available. Other companies have important tools as well that can track the progress of campaigns and show you what it takes to get your company’s products to go viral.

One terrific campaign that leveraged social media and kept advertising costs down was  for the movie The Hunger Games, which drew in massive revenues and was projected to offset its own cost in the first weekend. The campaign ignored many traditional advertising mediums, and primarily used social-media marketing initiatives.

Social media’s biggest question has always been about tangible ROI. Now that companies are honing their expectations, and metrics are getting more and more accurate, it is more important than ever for companies and advertisers to focus on the kinds of advertising and content that really matter to their social communities.

Creating better, stronger, and smarter campaigns can aid companies in differentiating themselves through social media. This will involve not only a careful content strategy, but investment in that content. Understanding how, why, when, and where to use content marketing, branded content, thought leadership, certain forms of native advertising, and even straight online marketing, will help companies begin to hone their voice on social media and truly communicate with their constituents.

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