Social Advertising Industry: Present and Future

Last Monday, members of the social advertising industry gathered in New York City at the first-of-its-kind Social Ad Summit. The summit brought together social advertising solutions providers, advertisers, agencies, applications developers, and venture capitalists. The coinciding news of the Lehman Brothers collapse certainly affected the mood and the degree of optimism I’m sure event producers had hoped to generate. Nevertheless, that the event attracted a healthy-sized crowd speaks to the growing interest in the social advertising industry. Here are some relevant highlights.

Media Buying on Social Networks

This panel, made up of agency media buyers, confessed that currently advertiser interest in social advertising is driven more by curiosity than urgency. One panelist remarked that the degree of familiarity with and possibly the personal use of social media by a brand’s decision maker affects their interest in social advertising. “Beverage and entertainment brands look at being part of the social networking space like a retailer looks at belonging in a mall.”

CMOs feel pressure to figure out social media, and particularly how to measure it, so the industry itself is scrambling to assist brands in doing so. Most panelists cautioned against thinking of social advertising as a direct-response play and instead to consider measurement in terms of engagement, awareness, and intelligence (data collection) and to remind advertisers that, just like when someone does a search for a brand name, a lot of work and dollars go into promoting the brand before someone ever searches for it. Attributing marketing success only to search is shortsighted.

When asked how to prepare and convince the advertiser to test social advertising, panelists advised sending case studies and asking a lot of questions to really understand the background and position of the company and if its offering is even right for social media.

Creative challenges originate from advertisers trying to repurpose existing creative, like television spots, and reuse it for social advertising. Social ads need to be engaging and creative in a whole different way, but a completely separate ad concept and campaign may be a tough sell to advertisers.

Social Ad Network Solutions’ Perspective

A lively panel discussion by various social ad network solution providers certainly got everyone out of their post-lunch haze. Moderated by Allen Stern of CenterNetworks, representatives of Social Cash, SocialMedia, Offerpal, Lookery, and appssavvy debated several issues, like the life expectancy of certain social networks, pricing, measurement criteria, market growth, and through what kind of ad solution to best engage the consumer. All agreed that the space is too new to expect too much from it or to be able to accurately predict where it’s going. Many felt, however, that by 2010 big-brand dollars will be spent here. Stern believes for dollars to shift to social advertising “there has to be clear metrics for the brands to point to. Brands stick with traditional online advertising because they can report to upper management on [known], reliable stats…But most social ads are using engagement as their metric, which is very difficult to quantify.”

“The media and sponsorships are probably going to come from the ad agency, while custom strategies could potentially come directly from the brand,” postures appsavvy’s Chris Cunningham. “Right now, the big secret is that social ad impressions are pretty cheap. But they won’t stay that way for long once the quality of targeting can be shown.”

Of course, the thorny question of how quality targeting comes about meant the panelists doing a lot of dancing around the answer. Scott Rafer of Lookery admits that they get outside data and append it to their own; SocialMedia has built a “Friend Rank” solution to track friend interactions to help better understand those interactions in context. Everyone acknowledged that privacy concerns are huge.

Advertising Unsexy Brands

In an earlier panel, moderator Brian Morrissey of “AdWeek” asked, “Could social ads work for unsexy brands?” I loved this question and the follow through with the solutions providers, all of whom came up with examples of how to adapt social advertising for pedestrian brands. Seth Goldstein of SocialMedia believes, “Every brand is sexy to someone. There are people out there who are passionate about the most mundane of brands. Companies [need to] tap into the already excited base and leverage [this] advocacy to drive results. Brands shouldn’t try to figure out how to advertise to people, but instead how to advertise between people.”

I’m more keenly aware than ever of the kinds of ads I’m served in my social communities. Are you?

Join us for a new Webcast, High-Touch Personalization, The Successful Marketer’s Secret Ingredient, September 29 at 2 p.m. EDT.

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