Not having a social media advertising plan in 2009 is going to sound as crazy as not having an SEM plan this year.
In "MySpace Ads and the Big Leap," I wrote about the simple and powerful advertising platforms from MySpace and Facebook.
It caused a riot.
Well, not exactly a riot. No one threw a chair at Geraldo Rivera or anything, but it did certainly cause a few people to ask some questions. In particular, people began to talk to me about the future of the banner, more specifically about the future of the business of making banners.
The current argument for the shrinking of the banner-creation business follows the same logic as nearly every other industry over the last many years: automation will put us out of business. If any kid with a credit card can not only create but also traffic, target, and measure a pretty-good-looking banner, where's the business for the creative director (let alone everyone else)?
Uses and Opportunities
Certainly automation shakes up industries. Generally, though, what automation tends to do is to remove the more tedious (and sometimes dangerous) elements of work but doesn't touch the higher-level tasks. The assembly-line robot may do a better job at spot welds, but real people need to do the fine detail work. What's more, as automation takes on more tasks, the cost of creation tends to go down and efficiency goes up, creating new opportunities for innovation, experimentation, and product growth.
This isn't to say that, on a global level, everyone benefits immediately from automation. But if we recognize that systems are making their way into the processes that we've grown accustomed to, it may be time to consider how we can make the best use of these systems and what new opportunities they may uncover.
Facebook and MySpace now have systems that put ads on their sites, where consumers spend an increasing amount of time. Add to that mix, Google's announcement it is now, finally, really, truly serious about rolling out display advertising, leveraging its system. Those three outlets alone represent an enormous amount of inventory, all targetable and massively trackable. The best advice on using these systems? Use them, by thunder!
And by "use them," I don't mean simply putting ads on them. Clearly you should. Next year, not having a social media advertising plan is going to sound as crazy as not having a search engine marketing plan this year. But you should use them intelligently. Because these ads are so easy to create, offer you such rich targeting options, are so trackable, and can be purchased on a pay-for-performance basis, you should launch a ton of ads. Build a process by which you can keep careful track of the performance and content of each ad and begin to mix it up. Take one set of copy and target it to five different cities. Take those five cities and throw five different copy lines. Watch all of the data that comes in -- not only performance but also on individual clickers -- and begin to optimize your buy. The best-performing search marketers are the ones who have hundreds and sometimes thousands of keywords in play. Your approach to using these systems should be the same.
As for the opportunities that these advanced systems represent, that should be clearly apparent. Just as automation on the assembly line created time to innovate, so too should automation in the media plan. Once you have made use of these systems and established a solid stream of results and revenue, you can begin to experiment, diving more deeply into rich media or video perhaps. Or maybe you can invest more time in considering how you should actually use your company's presence on social networks. Too often, a company page is established, then left to lie. If your work on the social networks is producing real value for you, you may find time and resources to begin really interacting with your consumers on these sites.
Push First, Then Be Pulled
Ultimately, the goal of engaging in social media isn't just to show your ad to a bunch of people. Yes, a huge number of people are using social networks, and they seem to be using them for great stretches of time. That clearly creates an opportunity for reach and frequency.
But if that's all you do, you're ignoring the greater opportunity to build a relationship. And in a harsh business climate like we're beginning to experience, relationships with known customers are a great asset. Don't be concerned that these systems' sophistication creates such an easy path for advertising. Instead, use the sophisticated tools in sophisticated ways. They allow you to be much more efficient, knowledgeable, and precise in pushing your message.
But make sure you know when you're done pushing, and allow your brand to be pulled by consumers more deeply into their lives.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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