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The most intrusive ads in social media

The most intrusive ads in social media Thomas Moyer
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Traditionally, the most successful social media advertisements have been those that truly integrate into the social experience. This experience must translate to every user touch point along with ads that translate across desktop, mobile, and tablet interfaces. The best examples of social advertising done right tend to take the form of Facebook's sponsored stories or Twitter's promoted tweets as they are deeply incorporated into the user's news feed or timeline. Embedded ads like these are less disruptive, with many users unaware that they are ads at first glance.


The most intrusive ads in social media


Agency media executive Greg Pomaro, EVP of T3, said it best at this year's OMMA conference: "Instead of jumping up and yelling at someone...it's much better to walk up to them and invite them in and give them a sense of who you are as a brand (via) that experience."


In the not too distant future, Facebook will be looking to monetize its billion dollar acquisition of Instagram by opening the door to sponsored advertisements on the photo/video platform. As marketers patiently wait for the opportunity to capitalize on Instagram's success, the move inevitably raises the question as to whether this move could backfire on the social network's success by intruding on user's experience. When interviewed in a June 18, 2013 Ad Age article regarding future advertising on Instagram, Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions said:


"Instagram's growth is incredibly impressive -- it's a 100 million-plus users now per month, and over 40 million photos are being uploaded now per month... In terms of what marketers are doing, a lot of them are on Instagram now. Their brands are represented, they're taking photos. You have Burberry, Nike, GoPro, Red Bull, a lot of brands that are probably the usual suspects...So you can start to imagine what we might do down the road because of that."

In a recent study by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), it found 27 percent of Facebook users, 23 percent of LinkedIn users, and 12 percent of Twitter users said ads interfere with the experience on those sites. Responses like this reinforce the fact that these social networks need to be amenable to these concerns while balancing that with the needs of marketers who are paying the bills. For social juggernauts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, etc., integrating their advertisements into the user experience is an incredibly challenging task when considering the user implications of modifying their site real estate. Creating a far too intrusive ad environment can turn users off while the inverse may not engage potential customers enough for marketers to hit their campaign's return on investment. 


Contrary to the survey's findings, the success of these social network's advertising efforts have been moving forward at full steam. Facebook has been beating analyst expectations on the street, surpassed one million active advertisers (as reported on their Q2 earnings report), and is still the No. 1 trafficked site in the world (No. 2 behind Google in the U.S.).  Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been the most profitable advertisers thus far, but they are closely followed by competing social networks jockeying for new users. 


This suggests that the value these social networks provide has outweighed any negative user experience issues so far, but these sites are still going to figure out the best approach to monetize their services. LinkedIn has captured most of the professional B2B crowd with recent ventures into college and university pages to attract a younger audience. Up-and-comers like Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Tumblr, and others have grown hugely successful in a relatively short amount of time with inroads into most every demographic, especially with Millennials. 


Although marketers can rarely control how a social media network decides to offer up its social experience, a marketer can improve their social advertisements by being aware of these potential pitfalls.

Environmental incongruity


Marketers work tirelessly to come up with the next marketing concept, message, and ad copy before passing it through quality control to assure that the advertisements are displayed as expected. Relay the right message and the real estate where the ads are published does not conflict with the brand. In social media, there is a lot of room for error due to the fact that these ad placements are tethered to, well, social media. Whether running ads on Facebook, Twitter, or potentially Instagram, marketers should not only be mindful of their own ad copy, but also be mindful of what kind of user-generated content may get tied to their brand. Here are a few examples of how this might happen:



  • Facebook allows users to generate sponsored stories based on those that have commented on a particular page post. This could pose an issue if a marketer decides to promote "the wrong commenter" with their brand attached to it.


  • Tumblr is a terrific social vessel to target a younger audience; however, a well-intentioned ad placement on the site may very well show up next to questionable content or content not in line with a brand's values. Tumblr allows its users to post photos, videos, site links, audio and text (largely unfiltered), which means that brands need to be cognizant of this fact and be strategic about what messaging is used.  Luckily for advertisers, much of this content is starting to get filtered due to the Yahoo acquisition and will likely be less of an issue in near future.


  • On Twitter, social ad incongruity can also be a result of a marketers placing content somewhere it does not make sense. Marketers out there that have tried to insert their brand into conversations (via hashtags) where their brand has nothing to do with that conversation or the target audience. That is to say that a male focused sports marketing retailer should focus on sports related conversations over "political commentary" or "expecting mother" type conversations. It can make people in the Twitter conversation think that the brand is just hijacking the conversation and may start to build resentment toward the brand.

National news piggybacking


The "real-time" nature of social media is the source of its greatest asset as well as source of its greatest liability. Social media allows marketers to get in front of their target audience and communicate with them any time, any place, on any device. This means that marketers can include their brand into a conversation surrounding athletes, sports news, national news, or international event in real time. With that said, there have been a few nationally covered mishaps in social media where marketers attempted to capitalize on national news that turned for the worst. 


The most publicized mishap was during the Hurricane Sandy storm last year. Representatives from brands like Urban Outfitters and Canadian brand President's Choice posted creative tweets that referenced Hurricane Sandy in an attempt to connect with consumers. The problem here is that the perceived capitalization on a natural disaster ended up creating a backlash from consumers. Consumers started tweeting negative comments about the brands which ended up getting covered by the mainstream media. The escalation of this negative sentiment prompted these companies to make quick retractions and apologies for the comments. 


Similarly, American Apparel participated in the Sandy disaster by sending out a promotional email blast which ultimately ended up going viral on Twitter without the company ever posting anything themselves. Consumers who received the American Apparel email took screenshots of the email and started sharing their disdain across the web.


The most intrusive ads in social media



This isn't to say that marketers should not piggyback on breaking news, it just means that they should be careful when tying their brand to national disasters -- especially when there have been lives lost. Marketers looking to participate in a national disaster conversation would be better served to simply offer condolences, safety tips, charity, organizational assistance, or kind words. Not only will consumers yield positive sentiment toward a brand's thoughtfulness, but it can also show consumers that the brand cares about the community.

Creative and targeting clean up


Intrusive advertising can take many forms with varying levels of acceptance from users. When someone thinks about an intrusive ad, they might think about pop ups ads or email spam, but intrusive advertising in social can take a similar form in social spam. On Facebook, there are many tools available to marketers that allow them to target their audience ranging from robust marketplace advertisements -- FBX and custom audiences. Based on actions users take on or offline, marketers are able to create and execute very targeted messaging based on audiences interests, products they have viewed, as well as past customers. Unfortunately, for some marketers who do not mind their campaigns, they will start creating their own form of spam. The two biggest issues that come to mind are Facebook marketers that one, don't create enough ad permutations to vary their message and secondly, don't clean up their targeting list.


Marketers that are new to Facebook may be unaware that a best practice on the site is to create many ad permutations that are rotated in/out. Those ad units must also be optimized throughout the campaign much more frequently than someone who comes from the display advertising world might think. A marketer that shows the same piece over and over again will not only begin to spam the audience, but consumers will generate creative fatigue and not engage with the ad unit. A good answer to combat ad fatigue is to leverage tools like Facebook's Power Editor (free) or consider investing in a Facebook ads PMD partner


Secondly, the matter gets worse if a marketer continues to message a user that has already converted on a brand offer. Delivering acquisition ads to users who have already purchased a product is not only a nuisance to the consumer but it is also a waste of media budget. This budget would be better spent upselling complementary products to past converters or cutting them out of the targeting mix all together.  Two ways of updating this is either through the use of negative cookie targeting through a FBX vendor -- such as Triggit or Adroll -- or via a custom audience that is negatively targeted. This negative targeting is not always possible or 100 percent accurate -- as some CRM data can have a low match rate -- but it is a good step to minimizing waste and ad spoilage. 


Thomas Moyer is the technical media planner at T3.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


"Loud bearded man on phone annoys the audience in theater" image via Shuttertock.

Overview: In my career, I have touched every aspect of the digital marketing ecosystem as well as every digital marketing vertical. Although my titles don't always reflect the full breadth of my responsibilities, I have had experience in Account...

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