To many business marketers, social media is a big question mark. Some are unsure if social media constitutes a new, largely untested advertising medium, or if it's simply a variation of traditional online advertising. Others question how a serious brand would work in the sometimes unpredictable environments of popularized consumer-oriented online communities. And some are uncertain about creating campaigns for social media, perhaps mistakenly believing that it requires a radical change from their current online advertising approach.
As a result, some marketers are not capitalizing on social media and the opportunities it provides for making high-quality connections with business consumers. Regardless, social media has a real impact on consumers' purchasing decisions. According to a recent report by market research firm Compete, Inc., more than 71 percent of consumers who use social media are more influenced by user-generated content when making purchasing decisions than by information from brand advertisers and marketers.
Join the conversation
Marketers can leverage the unique aspects of social media to achieve their goals by becoming part of the conversations taking place within online communities. This doesn't mean actively participating in the dialogue but engaging in the context of the community's interactions. At the same time, marketing messages must be highly relevant and placed so that they appear at the critical moment when community members are considering a purchase.
While some marketers have been experimenting with social media via MySpace and other online communities, business marketers are finding it more difficult to reach relevant audiences through these mass market environments. Enter professional or business-oriented communities such as ITtoolbox and LinkedIn. These communities provide marketers with the opportunity to reach consumers in the workplace as they seek experience-based peer advice to make important decisions and stay current. Users typically visit their professional community of choice several times a day to access knowledge and request feedback from other professionals. To them, the community is a utility; a desktop tool that is part of their daily workflow.
Next: Getting granular
User-driven media is particularly valuable to advertisers because community members care a great deal about the content they create. They participate in these communities to find or provide specific information that is highly valuable to them and their peers. Therefore, professional and business-oriented sites are teeming with super-engaged users who are telling advertisers what is important to them right now. The content they create is dynamic and highly granular, which presents business marketers with myriad of hyper-targeting opportunities, and better targeting improves ad performance.
But how can you determine if a social media site will deliver this kind of performance? Here are four questions a business marketer should ask a site operator:
- What proportion of the site's content is community generated versus content generated by the site operator or third parties?
It's easy to get confused about what constitutes user-generated content. For instance, editorial content, such as a blog or article written by a full-time or freelance journalist, is not user-generated content. Even comments from readers to an editorially produced blog or article do not result in highly granular content on a wide range of topics, which are the key ingredients for hyper-targeting. In its purest sense, it does include original content that community members develop from scratch based on their own interests. They alone are choosing what to talk about and are conducting those conversations from start to finish through various publishing tools, such as blogs, groups, wikis, social networking profiles and messaging.
A community that dictates site content becomes an "active" versus "passive" audience that provides a much clearer indication of what is of interest to them, and as a result provides advertisers with the ability to hyper target prospects. In general, sites driven by user-generated content produce significantly more material than an editorial staff is able to produce, and the more user-generated content, the more opportunities for advertisers to connect with consumers in a meaningful, targeted way.
- Does the community create quality content and how is that quality guaranteed?
If the site is professional and fact-finding in nature, then high-quality, user-generated content will abound. Inquire about the site's policies. At ITtoolbox, for example, we moderate all content according to a clearly articulated, publicly posted policy that outlines what is considered unacceptable behavior within the community. With professional communities, the accepted standard of behavior is understood and championed by members. They know that the moderation process is there to help them receive the most value and improve their experience.
- Will my existing online campaigns work on a social media site?
On most social media sites, you will be able to run the same campaigns using the same creatives you run on editorial-based sites, and you will receive the same or even higher performance. As discussed in a previous article, standard advertising options on social media sites offer opportunities to tap into the hyper-targeted, super-engaged users of online communities. Ask social media site operators if they have the ability to contextually target ads based on the conversations taking place.
For example, by targeting IMUs both contextually and by topic area, ITtoolbox has been able to increase click-through rates by more than 50 percent over IMUs targeted only by topic area. These high-performing IMUs demonstrate the power of matching advertising content with granular community-generated content.
Social media sites may also offer opportunities to extend beyond standard online advertising campaigns, and these may require the use of new ad creatives. Blogcast sponsorships, wiki sponsorships, and a host of other out-of-the-box opportunities, may help you reach your target audiences; so ask the site operator what capabilities they provide.
- What technologies or services does the site offer to help marketers target specific demographics or sub-groups?
It's important to know if and how an operator can help you connect with consumers at a highly granular level. Ask about demographic targeting capabilities. For users to participate meaningfully in a community and find like-minded members, they usually must create a personal profile. This can provide a wealth of demographic information that can be maximized by advertisers.