So, according to Nielsen (pdf) the big problem with advertising on social media is:
“The current level of advertising activity on social networks isn’t consummate with the size–and highly engaged levels–of the audience.”
“standard ad models – such as contextual search and standard unit sizes – won’t cut it.”
It’s been obvious to most advertisers for a while that an awful lot of advertising passes by unnoticed these days. An awful lot of content sites have click-thru rates that could be passed over as a rounding error. There are users who install ad-blockers into their browsers, then there are those why have literally become immune to banner ads, skyscrapers and buttons. In studies, content sites that use an ‘advertising style’ for the ads for other sections lose out on traffic because users dismiss these images as ‘just ads’.
The potential efficacy of social network advertising is enormous
Say you’re launching a new pseudo-healthy soft drink in a test market. You could launch it on Facebook using conventional advertising pretty well – you have the ability to demographically target very precisely: Want to advertise to 18-25 year old females living in your target market area? Not a problem. But those adverts in the sidebar on Facebook aren’t going to set the world alight, you’ll need to use old-school Marketing 1.0 tactics to encourage trial – tasting booths at events attended by your targets, in malls, any location that is highly-trafficked by your targets will do.
But if your trial packaging had a ‘become a fan on Facebook/MySpace and win’ splash on it and by becoming a fan and entering a 1-3 word description telling their friends what they thought of the drink, along with the code from the pack, they could win a prize. And every time someone does this, an item about your drink appears in the user’s personal news feed: “Caroline just tried TerriblyBerry Fruit Crush, she says: ‘Yum. Fruitylicious'”, of course this is accompanied by a link back to your page. As long as your product doesn’t suck, people will say nice things, their friends and relatives will be curious and may even want to try it for themselves.
Joining up traditional marketing to an online outpost on a social network you can start some buzz offline then amplify it online. I think we’re going to see a growth in this kind of promotion, driven by the more forward thinking advertising agencies, providing they can get over the fact that encouraging this degree of measurability might not be in their own best interest.