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Why advertisers can't ignore social media

Publication Date : 18-10-2012


Social media titan Facebook will have more than one billion users by year's end. Microblog Twitter will have more than half a billion accounts by that time.

Professional networking site LinkedIn has more than 175 million users to date.

They and other social media firms want to make money by advertising. Their promise is that they know who their users are, who they trust, their likes and dislikes and what they do on the Internet. Hence, they say, they can offer targeted advertising which marketers would like.

However, a blog published last month by the International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA) argued that the expectations of advertisers and audiences will never be fulfilled by social media (See column below).

And as more ad targeting tools are introduced, users will get fatigued from seeing more ads on their mobile phones and desktop computers.

They get turned off and they may migrate to other social media sites that are less disruptive due to fewer ads being shown.

Scott Stines, an e-mail marketing specialist, argued in his INMA blog that there is a misalignment between audience delivery and advertising revenue potential. He concluded that social media "faces an uphill battle when it comes to meeting advertiser and audience expectations".

The problem, however, is not so much that there is a misalignment, but the youthfulness of social media as an advertising platform. Its tracking matrix is still rudimentary.

Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored because it is where all the people are gathered.

According to social media marketing agency We Are Social, there are more than 810 million social network users in Asia out of a population of 3.78 billion.

Social media ad effectiveness

Marketers will gravitate to where their customers are congregating. Success for any marketing campaign begins with its objective, and the selection of the right advertising tool.

If the objective is not well-defined, then the wrong tool may be selected which will not lead to a good result for the company.

Today, many advertising specialists consider integrated marketing or what they call 360. This is a combination of traditional tools from print ads and outdoor posters to digital creatives such as e-mail blitz and Facebook ads.

In social media, it is often about the conversation that is key to its success.

If you want to sell shampoo to a social media audience, you will have to join the conversation. And the conversation does not necessarily have to be about shampoo.

For example, if a Facebook user posts about a bad hair day, the marketer should suggest going to the hair salon to get a blow-and-dry during lunch and at the same time get a manicure-pedicure done, said Simon Kemp who heads We Are Social, a social media consulting firm here.

"Somehow, somewhere, where there is relevance, then the topic shampoo comes out and this is where you slip in your two bits' worth on the shampoo."

According to Yean Cheong, head of digital Asia Pacific for advertising firm Universal McCann (UM), marketers must first listen to the existing conversations before jumping in to build a deep relationship.

Once a deep relationship is built, "they won't stop 'friending' you, there's trust and your conversations would carry more weight". The corollary is that conversations must contain gems that are valued or they would be ignored, and the marketing message lost.

The challenge for marketers and advertisers is to make sense of new matrices such as likes or posts and to track if they ultimately ring up sales.

It is easier to measure effectiveness for traditional media such as newspapers and television since they are established media and have tried-and-tested methods to track anything from building awareness to sales generated.

Social media monitoring, on the other hand, is still "primitive", as one senior marketing professional said.

"I've been reading analytics for social media every day for a few months. Good, bad comments, more likes, I don't know whether this has a bearing on our brand because the measurement of effectiveness is unclear," she said.

Social media is still finding its feet. It can target definite demographic segments, but does it mean different customised ads have to be created for the same marketing message to be effective across all customer profiles? How does it drive customers to the shop and ultimately what bearing will it have on the brand's advertising budget?

And we have not even begun to study how social media users think about themselves as a product to be grouped together and sold as an advertising platform. This is an under-researched topic for now.

Stines' argument may be a timely alert on the hype of social media and what it can do for targeted advertising.

Despite this, social media cannot be ignored because users are talking about brands on them. If marketers do not join these conversations, they would not be able to follow what people are talking about, much less influence their thinking or buying habits.

Expect social media advertising to have its hits and misses before it finds a right spot in the marketing industry.


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