Social media is user generated content - effectively consumers creating, sharing in two-way discussions about their interests, experiences and frustrations. Social media advertising plays out almost before the buying cycle where the consumer might be thinking indirectly about a product or brand - and therefore is quite a way off from the consideration or purchase decision. Social media advertising is incredibly influential and therefore is invaluable before the search journey for assisting in the creation and shaping of a brand.
Social media for search can play out in three ways, the first 'sharing the experience' - whether it be positive or negative. Very much like brands such as Trip Advisor or Reevoo who provide open consumer feedback and scoring on products and brands. The second 'thought of mind placement' - similar to contextual search, e.g. Google AdSense, display or even offline advertising - mass media advertising but targeted to a particular demographic. And third 'integrated social and search strategies' - actually using the same or similar messaging in copy across both mediums for consistent branding. Using all of these methods is advisory but analysing the results and the search behavior is pivotal to finding the right customers at the right time.
Social media advertising very similar to display activity has found a companion in search marketing - where the two appear to work hand in hand - allowing seamless messaging across a multitude of channels.
Social media advertising is massively influential and interactive (real-time in some instances) this also offering an advantage to search marketing through complementing the strategy - especially if integrated well. It also allows for another but effective outlet to online marketing. Looking at the example of Facebook's placement targeting - over the last 12 months ,we have seen increased investment from advertisers wanting to appear across programme. The 'new improved' demographic breakdown launched in November 2009 - allowing an advertiser to target a specific group of consumers - has actually delivered some very promising results. While social media advertising has been seen very much as a branding tool - it is positive to note that affordable cost-per-acquisitions can be acquired if used effectively.
With the introduction of social media and the related advertising, consumers are finding themselves in control of what they see, where and when. Allowing brands to identify and interact with them. Such learning's doesn't have to be restricted to just search - in fact using the data shared from social media advertising can have a positive influence on other channels such as display or search, especially if testing contextual search whereby you have the option of targeting your audience down to geography and demographic.
Social media advertising does have its challenges though, the two major ones including tracking performance and controlling the 'free spirit' in social media.
With consumers creating and shaping your brand via social media - an advertiser will need to ensure it's in control of what is getting out there (buzz monitoring). Monitoring and taking part in discussions is essential - whether it be blogs, forums. Ensure your brand has a voice, especially if the subject matter becomes negative. Ensure you target the correct demographics if using social media for text or image advertising - being in the right neighborhood is key. Use the results of your advertising to understand more about your consumer, therefore allowing you to get closer and retarget your message if necessary.
Tracking the effectiveness of social media advertising is also critical. While most outlets will not have a tangible return on investment - understanding the relationship between how social media influences your other channels, for example, Client A (retailer) - initially saw a massive increase in 'branded search terms' as a result of advertising banner ads in Facebook's placement targeting. Allowing us to quantify the investment and align the two channels into one overall online strategy. Client A (retailer) also used Facebook's placement targeting to change the way in which their consumer search - by incorporating their own brand/product terminology, e.g. 'hair styler' instead of 'hair straightener'. Within weeks of going live with the Facebook's placement targeting campaign, we saw an increase in searches on the brand/product terminology ('hair styler) - as fewer competitors were bidding on these keywords, the costs per clicks paid were marginal in comparison - delivering more cost efficiencies . Client B (international mobile operator) - used Facebook to advertise (again via banner ads) their 'free SIM' card products at a very cost effective acquisition, in fact, the returns delivered, were to the same value as their Google AdWords programme. Not only is the performance measured down to placement type, but also cross channel - allowing us to see how Facebook influences their PPC and SEO strategies as well.
All this said, without sufficient tracking in place (3rd party sources only - Facebook for example doesn't offer any conversion data) advertisers will quickly pull away from the social phenomenon as it may somewhat still feel like an extravagant investment if the return cannot be measured.