In the early days of static websites and banner ads, digital marketers longed to not only reach key audiences but also engage them with interactive experiences. As bandwidth improved, the browser plug-in Flash became ubiquitous, and ad technology made it easy to buy, “rich media” was born. This was before video was possible at scale, and while rich media started as a small step better than animated GIFs, it quickly grew into expanding ad units that could hover over entire websites, expand into full-screen take-overs, or even split a website into two and run the ad inside the crack.
An entire industry arose to meet the need of advertisers in search of richer and more effective advertising. And while creating expanding units that played video or ran animations was more work, they also turned out to perform better, even though they were even more annoying and intrusive than earlier formats.
Rich media largely remained a tool for brand advertisers. While forms and other interactivity was possible in-unit, traditional rich media never really became widely used for direct response (DR). Maybe this is because search and email grew massively during this time period – driven by their great DR performance.
Then Along Came Social Media…
An inherently interactive and engaging channel, social media is built on “sight, sound, and motion,” the core tenants of rich media. Not only is social already “rich,” but it is more than 75 percent mobile, which presents a slew of new challenges: Flash doesn’t work well (or at all) on a majority of mobile devices, reaching and engaging social mobile consumers is still new, and ad-tech and best practices are still being developed. Because each social network manages its own native ad formats and buying, it’s been difficult for traditional rich media companies to adapt to this massive consumer shift in behavior.
Before we go any further, let’s look a bit deeper at the social mobile context and explore what “rich media” is and could be here.
Fundamentally, rich media is the answer to a marketer’s need to engage key audiences more deeply than just an ad can and within the context that they are reached, instead of driving them away to existing websites or microsites. These are post-click ad experiences meant to drive higher-value brand (and sometimes business) outcomes. In the social mobile context, this framework is the same and the problem still exists.
As many marketers have learned, while native post/ad formats are inherently richer, driving “top-of-the-funnel” engagement like comments, Likes, shares, and retweets, they don’t move the needle on the most important business objectives. They have also found that driving social mobile traffic directly to existing websites or microsites – even if they’re mobile-enabled – doesn’t drive the results they need. This is because delivering ads is only half the solution, and our existing sites are built for the desktop context. It turns out, in the context of a social app on a mobile device, the stream, post/ad, and post-click experience all happen within the app. Additionally, all clicks drive to full-screen experiences with access to all mobile-appropriate interactivity. See the Facebook example below.
Social posts/ads that drive to full-screen interactive takeovers, on mobile, is “rich media,” and as you look across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and even search and email, this framework persists – in-stream ads, search results, emails, etc. – that tap to mobile landing pages.
What’s different – and exciting – about “social rich media” is that Facebook and Twitter are making this combination even more compelling and effective than was ever possible on desktop.
As I’ve shared in past ClickZ articles, two major new ad-tech innovations enabled by both Facebook and Twitter are making social rich media absolutely worth checking out. Conversion tagging enables us to make every key action from ad click to form submit a “signal” that can drive segmentation and ad buying. In other words, every time someone watches a second video in our rich media unit, we can tell Twitter to send us more people like that. Additionally, both networks enable mobile remarketing, which allows advertisers to reach people who, for example, explore a product but don’t add it to cart within the rich media unit. These two technologies, and others, enable advertisers who manage both ad buying and post-click landing experiences the ability to drive high-value results, at scale.
For brand marketers and their media agencies, Facebook and Twitter now have programmatic ad buying opportunities at similar scale to display and with far more detailed targeted for those that want. By adding social rich media, social advertising can now deliver deeper brand engagement actions like multiple video views, product discovery and exploration, and user-generated content aggregation, for example.
For direct response marketers, social rich media turns social into a lucrative advertising channel by enabling mobile-appropriate conversion events from email opt-in to lead generation to mobile coupon claims and even add to cart and product purchase.
Social mobile rich media is exciting because of the intimacy of the context, the ad-tech that connects the user behaviors to the ad buying, and the robustness of a Flash-free, HTML 5 development environment that can easily integrate everything from an Instagram feed to your e-commerce cart technology. And because the mobile context and social news feed are deeply personal experiences, and the ads are “native” and mostly targeted, consumers are less hostile and are more open to click-through and exploration – an ideal situation for marketers, but only as long as we respect our place in each network’s environment.
The idea is the same as it’s ever been, but the sophistication and effectiveness are unparalleled in digital today. If you’re just buying social ads or driving your social audiences to existing sites, you must look deeper into emerging social rich media and “social performance marketing”-focused strategies.