Advertising on social media offers brands the tantalizing prospect of having it all by micro-marketing to a mass audience.
1. Social media advertising
Facebook currently dominates the social advertising landscape, and with 800 million active users and a simple self‑serve system powered by the network’s demographic data, this is no surprise. LinkedIn offers a similar system for B2B marketers, as well as enhanced options for businesses such as company pages and sponsorship of polls and events
But social advertising isn’t just about advertising on social networks. “Ads can tap into viewers’ social graphs, using their friends as endorsers, like Facebook’s social ads and promoted stories,” says Robin Grant, managing director of We Are Social.
Twitter is a relative newcomer in terms of advertising and its model differs from the existing players. Brands buy promoted or sponsored status for their tweets or a hashtag trend and float them to the top of the listings.
With a combined active audience of more than one billion on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, marketers are increasing their social media marketing spend, with a Global Industry Analysts study predicting the worldwide market will reach almost $15bn (£9.6bn) by 2017.
Despite the enormous, easily accessible audience, mass broadcasting is the completely wrong approach to social media advertising according to Total Media director Ashley Bolt. “Advertising on social networks gives you the opportunity to match people’s interests and communicate with relevance,” he says.
Both Facebook and LinkedIn enable marketers to target their ads using the goldmine of demographic data they hold about users. Whether serving ads to users by age, interests or location, or targeting employees of a specific company or fans of a competitor brand.
To make the most of the advertising opportunities on social media marketers must take this targeting to the extreme, says Grant: “Create custom messaging for as many different target groups as feasible, get really granular and test enough variations, ideally thousands, to properly optimize your campaign.”
Click Consult client services director Geoff Parker explains that this targeting is where social media advertising comes into its own. “If you run a B2B offering and you do pay-per-click advertising on Google you can’t target just B2B customers,” he says. “For example, there are lots of companies that do gas and electricity just for businesses, but if they advertise as a supplier on Google they will get everyone, not just business consumers.”
3. Understand your audience
This is great isn’t it? Social networks give marketers access to a huge pool of consumers and enable them to communicate only with those whose interests align with their brand. Surely everyone should be at it?
Not so, according to Christian Gladwell, M&C Saatchi Group head of social research. Knowing your audience is reachable via a social network is not enough. “Everyone is on Facebook,” he says. “Whether you’re the marketing director of the NHS or the marketing director of Nike your audience is on Facebook. So what?”
He says the decision needs to be based on the question of how your audience uses social platforms. “You need to understand why they use them, when they use them and what the frame of mind behind their use is,” he says. “Then I’ll tell you if you should be buying media in that space.”
Gladwell recounts the work he has done with retailer New Look in understanding how its audience behaves online. The result? “They were one of the first to adopt F-commerce (selling on Facebook) and turned off a lot of their other e-commerce sites – they saw an increase in basket size of 22 per cent.” But Gladwell stresses this won’t work for everyone. “One of the banes of my life is that if I tell that story at a conference I get eight companies come up to me afterwards and say ‘great, so we should sell on Facebook’. No. You need to understand your own audience.”
4. Sales v brand awareness
The owned media activity run by most brands on social media, whether a Facebook fan page, LinkedIn group or Twitter account, tends to be about raising brand awareness by engaging with consumers. They are not giving the hard sell.
Is paid-for media the way to directly drive conversions and boost sales with social networks? Or is it more suited to being an added dimension to your brand building campaigns?
Parker is not convinced of the potential for social media advertising to drive conversions. “What we are seeing from Facebook campaigns we have run is that the bounce rate is very high and the conversion rate is on average about 0.1 per cent, which is very low,” he says.
Although acknowledging the relative newness of advertising on Twitter means it is too early to draw firm conclusions, Grant says it appears paid-for Twitter campaigns are most effective at raising brand profile within the platform.
“They seem to work better when the call to action is to do something within the Twitter environment – such as re-tweet a message or follow an account,” says Grant.
“If we are in a sales cycle with a large company there will be multiple decision makers, but our sales rep may only be talking to one of them – the others can be hard to find,” he says. “We might run a Facebook or LinkedIn campaign targeting employees of that company to ensure our brand messages reach everyone involved in the sales cycle.”
5. Start conversations
The secret to making a success of your social advertising investment is to stay true to the principles of your owned media strategy. Total Media’s Ashley Bolt says that rather than using advertising to sell, brands should use it to start conversations and add value. Anything else comes across as intrusive.
“For our travel clients, instead of saying ‘you can get a flight for this amount of money’ or ‘you can get a hotel for this amount’ we would say something like ‘Thinking of going to Barcelona? There is a great bar down here, or the restaurant over here is good’,” he says. “Suddenly the perception of that brand changes.”
And how crucial is an active, owned media presence to the success of a paid-for campaign? “Brands should have an owned social media presence anyway, but if you’re using it for paid media it is essential,” says Grant. “Without it you face the double‑edged sword of people either taking offence at your advertising and you not being there to defend yourself, or of people loving your ads and you not being there to witness and exploit this.”
Chernov says this isn’t always the case. “On Twitter you won’t be using a sponsored tweet to market to your followers – rather to people searching against certain keywords,” he says. “So although you’ll need an account you don’t need a massive following.”