Social Media: A Buyer’s Best Bet

Social media is still the medium of the moment, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Offering the results of a survey of 333 interactive marketers, the study found social networking and blogging to be among the top four interactive media spending categories (along with e-mail and SEO (define)).

The report, which looked at spending plans during this recession, found that 48 percent of those interviewed actually plan to increase their investment in social networks, while 34 percent intend to hold steady with their current media spend. Of particular interest are UGC (define) and blogs and, to a slightly lesser extent, podcasts, RSS, and widgets.

We’re seeing evidence of these figures and the interest of our peers (both large and small) in social media opportunities all around us. Last month, retailer JC Penny, in conjunction with the Teen Choice Awards, launched the Rock Your Look contest, a karaoke online video competition for which the prize is to act as a presenter at the awards show. In January, specialty flooring manufacturer Carlisle Wide Plank Floors introduced a new corporate blog, Surface, primarily to increase brand awareness and improve search rankings by facilitating online discussions about forestry and green building products. And though there’s little financial investment required, more businesses than ever — including Carnival Cruise Lines, Dell, “Fast Company” magazine, Nike, Threadless, and Toyota — are exploring the microblogging application Twitter.

The appeal lies largely in the limited resources required to maintain these kinds of media placements. Through these channels, marketers can enlist the help of consumers to develop interesting content and expand their popularity and reach. Create an engaging Facebook application, and you can rely on consumers to up its exposure and usage for you. Build a microsite-based user-generated media contest, and there’s no need to spend on content development as well; your target audience will take on the task of submitting homegrown content on their own.

Also fueling interest in these media channels is the various ways they can be measured, however much a challenge this task is perceived to be. Those with a Facebook page can measure the number of fans and page views. On YouTube, video views can be tracked, and on social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us businesses can determine how many people have bookmarked their site over time.

The success of a blog, meanwhile, can be measured by its popularity (trackable through tools like Alexa, Compete, Technorati, and Quantcast); its number of users; the traffic it directs to your product site; and the volume of sales it generates there. Each social media channel delivers its own breed of insight into how your target audience responds to your brand online.

There’s even talk of new ways of measuring social media success, like social media velocity. Using this method of tracking social media penetration and growth can provide tangible data on the fluctuating popularity of a Facebook application or widget.

While social media spending rises, it’s interesting to note the Forrester study’s assessment of display advertising. Overall, respondents (40 percent) plan to decrease spending on banners, with just 10 percent expecting to up their investment. This shouldn’t be seen as a setback for the industry, even though display advertising has represented the bulk of marketers’ investment in the Web for many years. Instead, it’s a sign that we’re headed in the right direction — toward a more balanced online media strategy that gives equal billing to traditional banners and social media opportunities.

It’s taken some time, but it seems marketers have finally come around to accepting there’s real value in social media. Their newfound loyalty is reflected in their allocation of clients’ media budgets. Recession or not, social media makes sense as a part of virtually every online media strategy. When the right format is applied to a business, it can deliver the community interest and grassroots exposure every brand seeks.

Meet Tessa at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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