Nielsen's Q3 "State of the Media: The Social Media Report" highlights the growth of time spent on social networks, but it has also spurred some knee-jerk and sweeping conclusions, such as "social has overtaken search." Statements like this might lead a person to believe that search and social are mutually exclusive channels for gaining human attention in advertising campaigns. Bound by the important similarity of auction-based pricing, search ads and social ads are otherwise two very different animals that require different types of nurturing, creative support, and management.
True success in social media advertising requires campaigns that marry the channel's granular segmentation capabilities with strong creative that caters to many small segments. While that sounds like what typical search teams offer, there's a difference in how the targeting and creative strategy are executed between search and social. Although the fine-tuned skills of a veteran paid search team can bring tremendous value to social media campaigns, injecting strong creative and participant experiences can take relevance and engagement to new heights.
Blended skill sets are best
According to the Nielsen report, social networks and blogs now account for nearly a quarter of total time spent on the internet in the U.S. Nearly four in five active internet users visit social networks and blogs. Tallying in at more than 53 billion total minutes in May, Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other U.S. website. These findings illustrate nothing less than a tremendous opportunity for advertisers that tackle the channel correctly, but doing so requires the right blend of analytic and creative skills.
While search marketers master statistical analyses, bid strategies, and click-through rates, these analytical skills alone aren't enough to drive superior results in social media. In fact, most of today's large-scale social media ad campaigns vastly underutilize available targeting capabilities. Digital marketing software platforms like Marin and Kenshoo only strengthen the notion that search marketers by default ought to also manage social campaigns, and that it's only a matter of having the right technology to enable it.
Whether advertisers are planning to hand off social media advertising to a search team or not, they should keep two fundamental rules of thumb in mind to govern their social campaigns.
Design and deliver a complete experience appropriate for each participant's intent and surroundings
The search engine experience and the social network experience are night and day different. People visit a search engine to satisfy some sort of need. It may be a need for a product, an address, song lyrics, or any number of things, but people are actively seeking out some sort of information.
People tend to visit social networks for different reasons. Social networkers browse topics, issues, or celebrities to inform themselves. They hang out with friends and interact within communities of interest. If they seek out a product, they'll visit the company page or ask friends for opinions -- not rely on ads being served. However, they do see ads, and they do click on social ads that interest them.
Chances are, they're not going to leap from their social experience into a "buy now" experience, but they might be compelled to engage in something interesting. Ad managers who can employ more than just a standard promo-and-landing-page experience stand to benefit more when they can utilize all the experiences in a brand's toolkit, not just the ones directly related to purchase. For example, contests and games are compelling and interesting ways to engage, as are interactive applications and entertainment or video. Because this activity is further from a purchase act, search agencies should work with clients to design additional measures of brand success such as intent or preference metrics. Attribution studies and surveys can help further track influence on eventual purchase or recommendation behaviors.
Savvy marketers encourage meaningful dialogue with all of their agencies to help create connected experiences and allow the teams managing Facebook ads to test various metrics and experiences to more fully leverage the opportunity.
Target ads, not just ad delivery
In search, it's all about the keyword (the "what"). In social, it's all about the participant segmentation (the "who"). Social advertising has to be about more than directing ads. Indeed, success awaits the advertisers who cater to individuals and give them what they care about or want. Advanced search marketers do this today, too, serving different ads to an iPad user versus an Android user, for example. But because of the context of the interaction, this is even more critical in social advertising.
At the most basic level, advertisers should establish a two-pronged approach to targeting. Don't just target for ad delivery, also target segments of people for ad development, creative, messaging, and more. If your product appeals to all people ages 18 to 50, don't simply create one ad and target that ad to all people within the age range.
Instead, leverage the ability to further segment groups by gender, interests, location, and other factors, and create compelling ads that speak to each group independently. Cater to each of these micro-segments, speak to their unique interests, and leverage attributes they will likely embrace.
Targeting alone won't always deliver better results, which further outlines the need to test and optimize. For a retailer, we tested general catalogue pages (e.g. category pages) against a single product page and further created gender-specific pages. Using ad targeting for gender, the resulting conversion rate was almost twice as high for the more general catalogue pages than the specific product pages, across both genders.
It is imperative to regularly test and measure -- whether two, five, or even hundreds of ad versions and landing experiences -- to find the optimal response outcome. In that respect, search agencies definitely have an advantage in managing social to scale. Social ads respond to the test-and-measure discipline we refined in billions of keyword campaigns and will only get better as we learn to embrace the nuances of managing to people rather than queries.
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