Advertisers must look beyond social media

By Rupert Staines on October 29th, 2012

Advertising was founded on three pillars: frequency (how many times you displayed your ad), recency (how long you left it between displaying each ad) and environment (where you placed it). But online advertising undermined these foundations, and with new developments in social media, relying solely on tried and tested techniques is no longer enough.

Over the past few years, the internet has morphed from a search destination to a social environment. It’s no longer used solely for locating information. We now log on to share content with like-minded people and become involved in a conversation. Coupled with the explosive growth in smartphones and tablets, the sharing phenomenon has become so important that brands and advertisers have had to respond.

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg said: “Every year we are sharing twice the amount that we shared the year before.” That’s extraordinary. At the same time, he noted that four billion things were being shared daily on his own social network. If that’s right, Facebook is likely to be executing some eight billion shares a day.

Bearing in mind that Facebook accounts for only a limited percentage of online activity, and assuming for the sake of simplicity that Zuckerberg’s maxim stretches to the wider internet as well, that’s an awful lot of data available to evaluate what people are truly interested in.

And shared content goes way beyond the written word. Our hunger to share means we are constantly seeding photos, audio and video content out to our friends, colleagues and contacts. According to Facebook, over 300 million photos are uploaded to the site every day, while 60 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. These are just two of the many social platforms around, not even considering hugely popular image-based sites like Instagram and Pinterest.

New sharing tools like Via.Me, a social publishing platform that can create, filter and share pictures, videos, audio notes and content across multiple social networks, are also emerging. Because collates all this information from different social networks like Facebook and Twitter in one place, advertisers can use the data it generates to create an implicit interest graph which lets marketers know exactly what potential customers are looking for.

Advertisers are becoming wise to this, and are beginning to embrace the sharing phenomenon wholeheartedly.

But here’s the thing: while recent attempts to leverage social media data have succeeded in raising brand awareness, the majority of marketing efforts have failed to convert eyeballs into sales, thanks to something called “audience intent”. If a consumer is looking to buy a new television, for example, their first port of call is almost always going to be Google or another search engine.

People rarely visit social sites with the intent to purchase. That’s going to be a big hurdle for brands. What advertisers need to do is join the dots and harness all of a consumer’s online connections through the content they share online, to drive sales. After all, according to Nielsen, social media still only accounts for a fifth of time spent online – no doubt a huge number of hours, but an enormous 78 per cent of the internet remains untapped by advertisers focusing only on social platforms.

To achieve real return on investment by advertising in today’s online world, brands need to be monitoring who is sharing what on social channels and apply this insight to the audiences’ closest connections to deliver more relevant content to a more receptive audience.

The current, siloed approach, which separates online display from social platforms, or one that ignores almost 80 per cent of the internet in favour of mere social targeting, is wildly ineffective and barely worth the investment.