Social Advertising: Worth a Thousand Words

In May, Yahoo revealed that it was buying Tumblr for $1.1 billion. Shortly before that announcement, reports had started to emerge that Facebook was losing thousands of users in some of its key markets.

Analysts and industry experts have been falling over each other to discuss what the Yahoo-Tumblr deal and the alleged plateauing of Facebook will mean for advertisers, particularly when you match it against the growth of other social networks such as Pinterest and Instagram. The former now has millions of users in the U.S. who are mostly female.

It’s a no-brainer to say that social media has become the hot new battleground for digital advertisers, because that’s been obvious to everyone in the sector for the past couple of years. In fact, research suggests that social marketing spend will hit $7.7 billion by 2014 and that social ad spend will reach 19.5 percent of advertisers’ total marketing budget by 2017.

But what’s beginning to emerge is that the weapon of choice in this new social media arena is the image rather than the printed word. Social networks like those mentioned above, and of course Tumblr, are even more reliant on imagery than Mr. Zuckerberg’s baby. Although Facebook and Twitter both make great use of pictures, advertising campaigns on those platforms can be (and often are) primarily copy-based.

In the first place, this means that brands should be thinking of more than just Facebook and Twitter when it comes to building a social media presence. And in addition, those looking to achieve great things with their social advertising – to move from the “paid media” of ads to the vastly expanded “earned media” of shares, pins, retweets, and likes – need to understand that this sought-after social amplification is likely to be based on how effectively and creatively they can use their brand images.

Those images are how advertisers are going to get themselves noticed – and more importantly, shared and engaged with – on sites like Tumblr and Pinterest. And, let’s not forget, on Facebook as well. The key is to offer something that will inspire a greater response than the “one click, one user, one time only” model associated with traditional display advertising.

The ideal, perhaps, is to dynamically base the creative in an online ad on those brand campaign creatives that have already been repeatedly shared and amplified through social media: the more engagement an image is already generating, the more likely it is to appeal to future customers and brand followers when used in an advert.

That, as you might expect, means data. Metrics exist that will allow brands to see which images are trending in real time and are therefore more likely to resonate effectively among their social audiences – and they can then use those more impactful images in their creative executions.

In fact, one of the benefits of using social media to advertise is that it provides easy access to a wide range of brand analytics over and above the standard click conversion analytics data normally used for display advertising. Advertisers can track how frequently images are shared and by whom (through re-pins, retweets, and the like), as well as gain insights into viewability, mouse-overs, and, of course, the ROI and conversion rates.

Because so much online advertising is now tailored and targeted, the more levels of audience and engagement data available to brands, the better. This applies equally to creative executions that have been curated from social media. For example, Viewer X, being a male aged 25 to 35 from the South with an interest in football, will probably engage with different pictures for the same food brand than those shared by Viewer Y, who’s a woman aged 35 to 45 who shops at high-end fashion stores. And it’s not just the images that should vary depending on who’s looking: it’s the color scheme, placement, and timing of the ad as well.

Just as digital display advertising reshaped the ad sector with its unprecedented focus on targeting and data, the growth of social advertising is forcing brands to rethink and redefine their approach yet again. Ads need to be more dynamic and flexible than ever before, with social sharing buttons embedded within the creative and personalized executions based not only on what the viewer wants to see, but what other people with similar interests have engaged with already.

And at the heart of it all is an understanding that the majority of social sharing comes from images within the campaign creative. It’s pretty clear that the importance of the visual in online creative has never been greater – and perhaps a picture may now be worth 1,300 words or so.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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