I had the pleasure of reading Stephen Baker’s “Can Social Media Sell Soap?” in The New York Times. If you haven’t read the article yet, I highly recommend it. Baker shares his perspective on the value and future of social media with respect to advertising, highlighting the vast amount of data generated, along with the evolving role of the quant, in the industry today. I particularly enjoyed the commentary that the “impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.” Marketers are still overwhelmed by “knowing what to count” – clicks and conversions; or the living, breathing interactivity of social media and the benefit to brands, agencies, and users in a more humanist way.
Yes, the quants may not have it fully right – particularly when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of social as an advertising medium. That’s because social networks offer such a wide variety of interaction mechanisms, but we don’t yet, as an industry, fully understand how each of those interactions matter (i.e., how valuable is a “retweet” vs. a “like” as an indication of a user’s preference?). That being said, there are a lot of other things that social – and specifically social data – can offer. Social media creates the world’s largest focus group, providing a window into user preferences and brand performance. It’s possible for market analysts and researchers to learn what 25-to-35-year-old mothers, who are environmentally conscious, feel about Tide vs. its competitor. Or whether Samsung’s selection of LeBron James as its spokesperson is resonating with customers.
The value of the focus group is quantifiable, but it often takes humans along with machines to analyze social data. Brands in the social space need to “listen” to their audiences, to determine what it is they want. While they’ll often come out and say it directly, the data can show us what they like and don’t like, and that can create a virtual roadmap for marketers. Kmart shoppers love Carrie Underwood. Xbox players buy online at Amazon. On the flipside, a super-premium pet food maker discovered they had a passionate ancillary audience in body builders, who eat their 100-percent protein treats as in-between-meal snacks. This story isn’t unique – brands frequently discover new, untapped audiences with intelligence gleaned from Facebook and other social networks. In addition to uncovering new customers, social data can point marketers to trends that can help them make advertisements and offers that may be relevant, helpful, and welcome. This doesn’t fully answer the “what to count” question, but it does signify the value of social intelligence – and the fact that we’re heading in the right direction with the questions that we are asking.
In fact, this data is the glue between quants and humanists. Humanists can use this trove of data to better understand users, to learn about them at a more granular level, so that they can come up with more informed creative ideas. And quants can leverage such insights to better engage customers or to acquire the right new ones. The possibilities, like the social data stream, are endless.
Soap image on home page via Shutterstock.