Since 2007, Facebook has effectively played the role of "laboratory" for social marketers looking to promote their products via social channels. Five years on, the landscape has evolved considerably. Facebook changed its walls to tabs to timelines, and a whole new crop of channels for social product promotion has exploded on the scene -- notably, Pinterest, Fab, Fancy, Tumblr, and Instagram.
The lessons that social marketers learned about what works (and doesn't) in the "lab" of Facebook are now playing out everywhere. And the central lesson is this: In social marketing, unlike traditional or even digital marketing, there is a symbiotic relationship between awareness and engagement.
Put more simply, in social channels, marketers must first get customers' attention and then give them something to do.
This unique relationship between ads and engagement has a number of implications, which are playing out in the way social advertising is targeted, executed, and measured.
Targeting social customers
When a company targets traditional or digital advertising, they typically pose the question, "Who do I want to buy my product?"
However, when they target social advertising, the question should instead be, "Who do I want to engage with my product?"
This is a much more nuanced question because engagement can take many forms (whereas "buying" is just, well, "buying"). And the answer depends on how marketers hope to engage their audience. Is it to create social momentum as an advocate for the product? Provide insight about the product (e.g. a rating or review)? Guide their discovery and consideration of the product, which could lead to purchase?
In many cases, the answer might be "all of the above," which impacts not only the customers a brand should target, but also the channels through which they are best addressed and the "engagement experiences" required. Marketers must think differently about whose attention they want to get when leveraging social channels.
Executing on engagement
Engagement is an experience, and creating effective product "engagement experiences" for social customers has become a key part of social marketing.
Until fairly recently, creating an experience that worked across Facebook, web, and mobile was nearly impossible. The adoption of HTML5 and responsive design has changed that, and today's marketers are increasingly able to create portable engagement experiences ("social micro-sites") that can work on nearly any browser, phone, or tablet.
Notwithstanding technology hurdles however, creating compelling engagement experiences remains a nuanced and artful endeavor. Social is a participatory medium, and marketers must design and implement an experience that addresses their target customers and gives them something to do.
An even closer look at the symbiotic relationship between ads and experiences in social channels reveals another vital lesson from the "lab" of Facebook marketing: The more valuable a customer action is to your brand or product, the more compelling your offer or experience needs to be to elicit that action.
This makes intuitive sense because "permission marketing" has governed digital advertising for a decade. As a result, social marketers need to design engagement experiences with a sliding scale of participation in mind.
Not everyone is going to "do" everything. The goal is to get the most important customers to do the most important things.
Measuring social advertising success
Clearly, the value of social advertising must be measured in more than "clicks," but the relevant metrics vary widely by brand, campaign, and experience.
In general, the effectiveness of an "awareness plus engagement" combination should be evaluated against its ability to drive outcomes in three areas:
- Awareness: Did the campaign reach the target audience? Did they "discover" the product?
- Participation: Did they engage with the experience in a meaningful way?
- Amplification: Did they share or amplify the message, driving earned media?
The good news is that new social advertising and marketing channels are rapidly maturing to enable measurement across these three areas. The bad news is that, until then, these metrics are somewhat less tangible and not as directly connected to a purchase -- as in an old-fashioned "ad-click." This means that, as social marketers, we need to be evaluating our social ads and experiences against a more complex customer decision journey, rather than the traditional marketing funnel.
While social advertising and marketing is still in its adolescence, lessons learned from the "Facebook marketer's lab" provide a valuable foundation -- the foundation from which tomorrow's social marketing best practices will grow.
Kevin Tate is CMO of ShopIgniter.
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