Social Media Informs Planning and Buying

For most interactive marketers, the phrase “social media planning” has a pretty obvious interpretation: it’s the process by which one decides which social networks, sites, and platforms to employ in a media plan. But there’s another way of looking at social media planning that can be just as essential to an advertiser’s campaign.

Media buyers are forever looking for new ways to identify and locate their target audience online. They run their requirements through planning software and rely on Internet audience measurement tools to come up with a list of publishers with which to potentially partner.

Social media should also play a role in their methodology. It’s a direct link to the consumers they seek to connect with and holds a treasure trove of information about where and how their customers spend their time online.

To understand what social media can offer us, we have to see it for what it is at its core: a form of CGM (define). Beginning with the rise in popularity of corporate blogs five years or so ago, marketers have been increasingly aware of the relationship between CGM and an honest, legitimate, and trustworthy Web presence.

Consumers look to social sites and online communities for an honest portrayal of their peers’ lives and experiences and expect the same from corporations that deliver their experiences through a CGM channel like a consumer-facing blog. Where Internet users expect marketing-speak from corporate and brand sites, they anticipate those same organizations will be straight with them when the medium is a social site.

We sometimes forget this phenomenon goes both ways. Just as consumers expect us to communicate frankly with them, so too can we assume they’re being frank with us in return.

This creates an incredible opportunity in CGM and social media for marketers to mine the conversations that are taking place on these sites for deep and valuable insight into their target users’ Web usage patterns, preferences, and all other manner of online behavior. Here’s how.

Go Where Your Brand Already Exists

Using social media to guide your media buying decisions can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. There are thousands of potential sites to choose from, and no guarantees about which will be most successful at drawing the audience you seek.

Initially, the solution is to seek out the conversations your audience is having about your brand. Find the positive references to your company and products, and you’ll find the loyal customers and brand advocates who care about them.

Social sites are invaluable tools for measuring brand buzz and intensity. Spend some time on the search engines (and save some by setting up Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts), and you’ll be surprised by some of the places conversations about your brand are originating.

You can use your search data — along with domain information gleaned from the Web analytics tools you already work with — to compile a list of the social networks, blogs, discussion boards, and forums that are most often the source of key online discussions surrounding your brand. Buys with these sites might be smaller than what you’re accustomed to, but these types of niche properties often yield the best results.

Scope Out Opportunities (and the Competition) With Twitter

You’re probably already using Twitter Search to monitor the public’s perception of your brand, but have you considered tapping it to locate potential media partners as well? A combination of brand search terms, generic keywords related to your products, and competitor terms (the same list you already use in your paid search campaigns) can unearth content that references your business — and where there are articles about your products, there’s an audience reading them.

These searches can also reveal what your competition is up to, and open your eyes to interesting sites you wouldn’t otherwise be familiar with. With its up-to-the-minute reports, many from industry insiders, Twitter has what it takes to become an essential part of your competitive analysis strategy.

The information agencies and creative shops post about their new client work, and tweets directly from those clients, can prove to be useful in determining where they consider their target audience, and yours, to be. As an added benefit to your overall campaign, you might rethink your existing media plan when you find out your competition has just launched a similar microsite or rich media ad.

The best media plans are strategic documents that take into consideration every possible aspect of your client’s needs and matches them to the most appropriate and engaging sites, ad units, pricing models, and volume of impressions. It’s a precarious piece of work, but social media can help elevate something from simply adequate to supremely comprehensive and current. It’s just a matter of following the consumer’s lead.

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