How Social Media Is Changing Media Planning

I hereby promise that I’ m making the following statement with a great deal of respect and affection: talking to Mike Hess is hard.

Mike is currently the EVP of research, marketing science, and consumer insights over at Carat, in New York. (Disclaimer: He works within the same network of companies that I do.) A ridiculously smart dude, he’s fully capable of engaging in a deep discussion about the statistics and models that underpin advertising, really, at a moment’s notice. That’s why it is hard to talk to Mike. You have to be ready to pay attention. He’s worth seeking out, but if you’ve been hitting the open bar at some conference party for a few hours, you should be forewarned.

Mike recently gave a speech to the American Marketing Association recently that was (rather intriguingly) called “Social Media and Research,” which explored some compelling ways that the massive changes in the way that our media consumption patterns have changed not only the buying of media, but the underlying planning of media.

A few of the most salient points:

  • The economy has displaced the war and terrorism as the number one concern among people in the United States. Among other things, this has led them to cut back on household costs and spend more entertainment time and dollars at home.

  • That cost cutting, by the way, does not mean that households are cutting back spending on cable, satellite, or Internet service.
  • The networks that matter today are less CBS, NBC, and ABC, but Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace: 72 percent of Americans online are currently using social media.
  • And, brands have followed consumers. Agencies report that social media is the second most popular media to buy, far ahead of radio, magazines and even online display.
  • Money is flowing to social media. By 2011, expect to see nearly $1.5 billion spent on social media advertising.

Clearly, the world is changing. But this shift is not simply “we used to buy on TV, now we buy on Twitter.” The shift is happening farther up the planning stream, and we need to think differently if we want to execute properly.

Said differently: We have to not just follow the consumer. We have to understand how the consumer has changed.

Targeting People as Receivers and Senders

Mike puts this best when he says: “Social media has totally changed media planning because marketers now have to realize that, more than ever, the receiver of the message can now also quickly become the Sender.”

Think about that for a second. All of media planning has been built upon the concept of the impression: how many, how frequently, and how recently. We saw the receiver to impression as the end of the game and never put anything into either the models or the measurements the action that person may perform (besides, of course, making a purchase). We focused on reach and we tried to make the number as big as the budget would allow.

But now, we need a model where reach is just the beginning of the real reach — what we might end up calling “effective reach.” The problem, however, isn’t merely a numbers game. We can create a plan for basic reach, then simply throw in a multiplier at the end, and benefit from some magically created pass along. We have to have a model and a planning methodology that figures in the potential that a receiver may become a sender…of a modified message. Mike, again, points out: “However we might want to position our brand with our advertising through bought media, social networkers can ‘reposition’ it for us through what they themselves say about it in their networks.”

In past models, the value generated through an ad campaign assumed that CBS would not re-spin the contents of our television spot before they placed it out on the network they control. But any given consumer, with the network of friends that they control, today can do whatever they like.

‘A Scary Thought, and an Exciting One’

This, ultimately, is the big change that social media introduces to media planning: the notion that, because receivers can immediately transform to senders, we must consider the potential fluidity of our message. Not only must a plan be in place that properly estimates this potential for critical value shift, but we also have to ensure that our creative is rock solid — because it might get changed.

Mike Hess, ultimately, calls all of this a “scary thought and an exciting one.” I agree. But the only really scary thing is that we may build a model and take actions (potentially with our clients brands and money) based on a model that is no longer reflective of reality.

(BTW: You can view the slides from Mike’s presentation here.

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