Get What You Paid For: Add Social Media

Suppose your budget provided one of two choices for your next online campaign: double the number of impressions or add referral capability and tracking to the existing buy.

Which would you choose?

If you’re like most online marketers, the answer’s simple. Unless saturation is an issue, double the impressions. We all need sales and we need them today. If x is good, then other all things being equal, 2x must be better. Buy after buy, campaign after campaign, this is how most marketers respond, almost by habit. Naturally, we’d take the time to test the creative, ensure the message is on point, the offer is compelling, and that we’ve targeted correctly. Then, we’d push our message as far as possible. No sense leaving eyeballs on the table, right?

Not so fast. Eyes are important, but so are mouths, ears, and typing fingers.

Connected consumers who frequent social networks and make good use of personal ad avoidance technology are changing the stock answers. Well in excess of two thirds of viewers now actively avoid TV advertising. The majority of 18-49 year olds use multiple information sources, with the average person now spending about a quarter of her personal time online. As social networks rise in both use and utility, what better place to talk about purchases — past or future — than with friends online? Social media’s potential contribution to your campaigns is growing.

The big lever for brands, particularly the ones people actively think about, isn’t pure exposure but something more akin to mental penetration. It helps to think of this as the product of “Do I know about it?” and “Do I care about it right now?”

Social interactions can impact both, in a big way. Because referrals, for example, are viewed as highly credible, a referral can significantly affect your message. Recognizing this cuts both ways, and assuming your brand has a decent reputation and the offer is solid, social media can improve the effectiveness of your message more than simply increasing the number of impressions. When a positive product review or advice from someone who has expertise in what you’re buying is added to the mix, your media spend’s impact rises.

Measurement is part of social channel use, too. Unless you’re measuring results (something only about half of all marketers actively do), it will be hard to gauge the impact of any campaign effort and improve over time. This is especially true for channels as dynamic as the new social ones. It may be less comfortable and may even require inventing your own methods. Yet the basic quantitative practice of creating a baseline and working from it holds. Need help with this? Firms like Cymfony, Nielsen BuzzMetrics, and Umbria can show you the way.

Next time you’ve got a choice between more impressions and a message that gets passed around, make sure you cover “passed around” first. Be sure you’ve thought through why your message would be passed on. For starters, it should contain more than an otherwise empty brand claim. Make sure, too, you know how it will get passed around. Don’t assume your customer will cut, paste, and compose just to get your message out. She won’t. She’s busy. Instead, provide something worth passing along and an obvious mechanism to do it with.

The message must exist, and traditional tools help with this. But it also has to reach your audience with some credibility. Interruptive ads and paid endorsements just don’t cut it the way they used to, whereas a friend who knows me most definitely does. The new social media channels are the places where this is happening. Be part of it.

As you go to market, make sure tell a friend is part of everything you do. Whether through a video that can be picked up and placed anywhere (e.g., YouTube), an RSS feed that provides ongoing information, or the ultra-simple “forward this item,” the new big lever for your campaign is what the Word of Mouth Marketing Association calls “spread.” How many people will get your message because someone else sends it to them? The larger the spread, the more leverage for your campaign and the more likely the recipient will actually act on the offer.

At the end of the day, it’s about sales. Ads may drive awareness, which in turn may (and often does) lead to sales. But referrals drive sales directly. It goes back to the core of the consideration cycle that links word of mouth and the classic purchase funnel. When Bob has information Sally wants and he shares it with her, the chance that Sally will act on it goes up. Way up. Before you crank up the spend knob, make sure Bob has an easy time sharing the messages you already paid for.

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