iMedia Connection

Can social media deliver BT results?

Marissa Gluck

As mentioned previously, social media and behavioral targeting are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, social media should be a significant component of the range of behaviors catalogued by behavioral targeting vendors. Social activities are part of the universe of networks such as Tacoda and Revenue Science, but they are one part of the larger tapestry that inform patterns of consumer behavior.

There are companies, such as Lotame, that understand the need to overlay behavioral attributes and social media activities to create a compelling marketing solution. Traditional behavioral targeting tends to track passive consumption of media -- it's based on what consumers are looking at. A more comprehensive behavioral targeting solution will need to gather new types of data sets that track participation, engagement and involvement in ways that are unique to social media.

Similarly, the metrics used to evaluate success will need to evolve. For years now, the industry has been clamoring for better metrics than clickthrough and conversion rates. At the same time, engagement metrics are trumpeted as more relevant to marketers. The unique advertising environment of social media means marketers need to gauge success based on consumer intensity, interest level and duration, particularly as ads become richer.

Can social media deliver BT results? - BT created expressly as marketing platform

There is a chicken-and-egg component to social media. Marketers and publishers have a vague sense that there is value to be mined from the information that can be gleaned from blogs, personal profiles, consumer-generated media, comments, product reviews, podcasts, social bookmarking and wikis. But no one has moved beyond that to convincingly productize that information.

Unlike social media, behavioral targeting is a marketing platform created expressly for advertisers. It is a solution generated to solve a problem and meet a market demand. Essentially, consumers do not generate enough premium contextual targeting opportunities. As a result, behavioral targeting is able to exploit additional inventory that might have been deemed less valuable to advertisers. In comparison to social media and consumer-generated content, behavioral targeting is a relatively mature marketplace.

Can social media deliver BT results? - Publishers are not selling social media effectively

The problem with monetizing social media doesn't just rest with advertisers' lack of demand. Part of the problem is that there simply isn't a compelling social media marketing solution available yet. Social media, as a consumer-generated platform, doesn't have a sales force or a repping firm; at least not in the same way that behavioral targeting does with TACODA or Revenue Science. The world of social media consists essentially of an enormous scatter market. It is huge, unwieldy and difficult to productize as an advertising platform. 

The large media companies with vast reserves of social media inventory, such as FOX Interactive Media, are still selling social media by channel or vertical, or by run-of-site or by dumping the remnant inventory into ad networks. For a company possibly valued at $10 billion, Facebook's revenue is still estimated to be just $150 million for 2007. Google, with social media properties such as YouTube and Blogger, could potentially mine social media as a marketing platform, yet the company is still selling most of its inventory as contextually targeted.

Can social media deliver BT results? - Social media's success is also its downfall

In some ways, social media is grappling with the same issues free web-based email and chat sites faced a decade ago. Sites such as Hotmail also had registration data, an almost unlimited number of impressions, significant reach and a strong brand name. Yet the value of the inventory was questionable. No one was signing up to refinance their mortgage while they were reading their email. Similarly, advertisers on social media sites today face the quandary of reaching a highly dedicated, highly desirable audience that generally refuses to be distracted by advertiser entreaties. Social media sites were created to meet the social, cultural and intellectual needs of consumers, not to meet the demands of marketers. The very thing that makes social media a success is the same thing that hampers it from becoming an effective marketing platform.

Social media are not commerce plays from the consumer perspective, and only a small part of the spectrum of social media is directed toward purchasing research. There is no natural affinity between advertiser and content on most social media sites, (and this is particularly true for social networks) since consumers, quite simply, are busy doing other things. Additionally, advertising on these platforms tends to be justifiably non-intrusive. The solution to this problem is behavioral targeting.

Can social media deliver BT results? - Advertisers are averse to new marketing platforms

It's no secret that social media holds potential as an advertising platform but is also fraught with difficulty. Social media such as blogs, social networking sites, social news and bookmarking sites have struggled to find a successful advertising-supported model. Much of the problem is related to advertiser reluctance to relinquish control. If most (or all) social media is consumer-generated, advertisers fear abdicating control to consumers, lest they appear with "offensive" content or, even worse, brand critics. Until advertisers become more comfortable with less control, or believe the assurances social media companies are making, demand for social media impressions will remain anemic. The biggest barrier to transforming social media into a marketing platform is its newness. Put simply, advertisers are risk-averse with new marketing platforms.

Can social media deliver BT results?

Not long ago, MySpace announced it was going to use the personal details in members' profile pages and blogs to better target advertising on the social networking site. The information culled was in addition to users' registration data, potentially offering a powerful combination of demographic data and personal preferences, interests, likes and dislikes. But the promise of targeting advertising to brand advocates and potential customers based on social media consumption (and more importantly, production and participation) remains largely unfulfilled.

In theory, this type of targeting should be both highly effective and highly desirable to advertisers; yet, the reality is social media marketing is driven more by publishers' need to de-commodify their inventory and less by advertiser demand. Participation in social media remains unproven as a targeting metric. While the two are not mutually exclusive, behavioral targeting provides a more compelling solution to advertisers for finding consumers in non-contextually related inventory, at least for today.

Why does behavioral targeting trump social media? What are the barriers to a larger marketplace for social media as an advertising platform? Will marketer demand increase?

Author notes: Marissa Gluck is co-founder and managing partner at Radar Research. Read full bio.