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Who owns social?

We are all very well acquainted with the three traditional seats of advertising -- radio, TV and print -- and the arrival of digital in the past decade as the fourth has been embraced along with its advanced trackable merits, the appearance of social to the mix raises some fascinating questions about its position in the ad world.

The evolution of social media and the resulting emergence of social as a potential fifth seat has caused the lines to become blurred when figuring where to site it within a business and how to go about positioning its metrics.

Social is, beyond doubt, a digital vehicle, occupying itself in the overarching web and mobile space. However, it ignores most concepts with which digital was born. It takes in traditional metrics like clicks, impressions and CTR, but simultaneously represents new concepts around conversation, dialogue and response metrics -- creating value in an Owned and Earned media sense.

Whereas digital advertising is concerned with the consumer's immediate action and behaviour, social focuses on consumer engagement and continuous interaction with the brand. To effectively advertise across social networks, marketers need to create a strategy to engage the consumer and continue the discussion. Social advertising can be viewed as a two-way conversation between the consumer and the brand; an ongoing dialogue with constant feedback from all sides.

Conversely, digital advertising is akin to a one-way street of information – supply with no room for consumer feedback. Therefore, social is its own separate advertising entity and should be seen as and treated as such – in fact, figures for the first half of 2011 revealed that UK online ad spend pushed past broadcast for the first time to £2.26bn, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau. Further figures from Strata in the US reveal Facebook as the most popular publisher, with 89 per cent of agencies planning to spend with the site this year.

The fact is social has turned everything on its head, making effective advertising not solely about distribution, but distribution and engagement combined.

Much debate has been given to the ownership of social within agencies and, owing to the separation of social from digital, various teams from digital, PR, branding and offline are now all spending on social. This can lead to problems as each group has a different take on the space.

Back when the social space was still developing, it appeared to look like biddable media with a campaign-to-ad-unit structure. SEO platforms were actually first to lay claim to the space, viewing social (namely Facebook) as an extension of direct response inventory and mapping it back to direct response metrics -- following a similar model to search. It therefore became straightforward for agency search groups to incorporate and mask their social ad purchases with search.

Since then the whole environment has evolved. Startups have ceased attempting to penetrate offline budgets and have stopped being constrained by the set of metrics that are available to work with. We have also seen that the likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as publishers have made the necessary changes at supply level.

Methodology, tactics and thought processes also need to adapt as KPIs shift from DR to conversation. CTR is no longer the gold standard measure for optimisation and we need to begin to optimise for engagement.

Owned and Earned are emerging as two new forms of media and within these, engagement is identified as any activity consumers can perform on a social platform – this takes in everything from tweeting to stumbling, liking to sharing and posting to commenting.

These individual metrics are establishing themselves as part of the varied mix of metrics that Paid media on social should report and optimise towards. Above all, we should recognise and remember that social is not search and requires a whole new method of planning, executing and reporting. 

Nikhil Sethi is co-founder and CEO at Adaptly.


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