helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

One of my most endearing traits is consistently wanting to annoy the hell out of people, so hopefully the entire time you’re reading this you’ll have the ABBA song floating around your head and with any luck it will stay there of the rest of the day.

Now that’s the pleasantries out of the way… At the IAB we’re always eager to get our heads around the roles of ‘paid for’ and ‘earned’ media, and the relationship (sometimes conflict) between the two. Last year we hosted a debate on whether social media should be paid for, and I’m often asked why as the ‘Internet Advertising Bureau’ we discuss WOM at all. Well the IAB will be keeping its name for now but we’re always at pains to stress that as a trade body for digital marketing, we’re totally format agnostic – if it’s relevant for brands, then it’s relevant for us. In fact, we’ve been banging on about SEO for years and no one’s batted an eyelid, but with social media getting the lion’s share of attention at the moment, it’s a question that’s regularly posed.

With my background in PR, in fact my heart and head lie much more with the earned side of online communications – relationship building, researching, putting the time in to get to know your audience and impressing them with tailored messaging and content relevant to their interests. Getting a namecheck or coverage as a result of all your hard work is the result that PR practitioners yearn for, and I believe that not everyone has the ability to achieve it. But despite my PR snobbery, in this post I’ve decided to talk about the industry’s bread and butter: the advertising dollars that get ploughed into online making it the largest UK marketing medium, and where this dirty cash fits within the social media landscape (do you have THAT song going round your head now as well?)

Advertising was the ‘topic du jour’ at one of the most entertaining panel sessions we’ve hosted here at the IAB – our final seminar of Social Media Week entitled ‘taking social media to the masses.’ Starring the wonderful , , and , the session was chaired by the SMC’s rather exceptional vice chair, . The event was centred around the mass appeal of social media, and how social networks are arguably now more mainstream than the mainstream itself. Spending the big bucks was certainly a prevalent theme and whilst money can’t buy me love, it can sure as hell get me the whole way through this blog post. The presentations from the event can be downloaded by IAB members here, and if you’re not a member you’ll have to pay for them I’m afraid.

What’s included below isn’t an exhaustive summary of the whole two hours, but in my opinion were the hottest things to come out of the speeches and discussion that followed.

Consumers will spend money on stuff that isn’t even real.

Virtual gifts are becoming massive, and it’s not just a select few who are parting with their pocket money to buy them. Habbo’s Phil Guest talked us through the rise of these pretend presents online as a genuine vehicle to reach the masses. Of course many sponsored gifts are free – Phil gave us two great examples of Malibu and Nestle who have engaged tens of thousands of people with a single online cookie and boozy cocktail respectively (77,000 in Malibu’s case).

However, consumers are willing to pay for things that add to their online identity in some way and heighten our sense of self – ‘you may not be able to afford a real Lambhourgini but you can afford a virtual one, and to some people this can look just as good’, was one of my favourite quotes of the day. I should probably recommend this to a couple of IAB men just about to hit their mid-life crisis…

Farmville’s another example. I am repeatedly stunned at who amongst my Facebook friends is quite clearly addicted to this game, which proves that such activities aren’t just for the young, but that folks are willing to hand over money if they’re given enough virtual rewards. Ciaran also gave us the example of Jackie Lawson animated cards (which he receives from family members on most special occasions). For around £20 a year you can send an unlimited amount of virtual cards to send, but that you can never actually touch them.

If you’re going to down the paid route, make sure it’s well money spent.

Kate Box, head of social media sales at Microsoft gave a fantastic presentation on how to make digital advertising more social. Display advertising has been around for a pretty long time now, and let’s face it, the online audience has a tendency to tire of things pretty quickly, so Kate talked us through ways in which you can add to your display by breathing a bit of social life into it. Basically, we need to rethink just doing banner ads and make advertising playful and collaborative and something that people want to share.

There appears to be a certain view that if something’s an ‘ad’ then consumers will be reluctant to share it, because then they’ll be playing straight into the marketer’s greedy hands… but generally that’s not the case. Look at how happily people will share really great TV ads online, manipulate them and comment on them in abundance. Even if it’s advertising, if you’re giving people something of value such as a video launching from an MPU or a widget available to download from a rich media execution, maybe consumers might just appreciate that you’ve gone that extra mile to capture their attention.

Click through rate isn’t the only way to justify a budget.

The internet is fantastic at direct response – fact. But maybe, just maybe, we should think beyond the click-through rate and look at what else advertising’s good for? Particularly advertising in social networks, as argued by Facebook’s head of strategy Trevor Johnson. I’d love to see a research study on the differences in impact between advertising in community-led websites and advertising on the more ‘traditional’ portals, because the consumer mindset will inevitably differ depending on the kind of digital property they’re on. Formats that thrive on publisher sites for example may not necessarily resonate in the same way on social networks, because the reason for being there in the first place is entirely different. (Seriously, if this research does exist and I just haven’t seen it, please let me know!) Trevor recommended to our audience: “If you’re going to advertise in social media, then make it social.’ because the previous tried and tested rules may not apply.” He urged us to avoid thinking in traditional campaigns, to keep it simple and utilise the technology at the tip of our fingers for what it’s best for. Hopefully the next few years will see online become the brand-building medium it’s destined to be, and Trevor gave us a number of examples where CTR probably isn’t the best measure of success – on Facebook for example, RSVPs to events and sending information to a friend builds up a far clearer picture of brand engagement than a simple click.

Nothing goes viral without you paying for it?

So I’ve talked about money at length, but surely the trusty old viral is still a cheap solution if you want to engage with people socially and win hoards of firm followers? The panel session at the end of our event was definitely one of the most interesting I’ve seen at a social media event. Of course everyone knows that it makes little sense for clients to ask for a ‘viral’ because a piece of content is only viral once it’s been passed around… but how can you guarantee success? Ciaran explained the dilemma that probably many agencies face, in that clients all too often want a viral video but don’t want to put any media spend into it, instead hoping to rely on the wit, intelligence or pure shock value of the content produced. But have any of the really successful viral campaigns been launched with absolutely no push in the right direction? Some of our audience believed that it is in fact totally possible to create a viral and let it float gracefully across the world wide web with nothing more than a great idea… it would be great to see some examples.

Ah, the viral. It’s over a year old, but I’m a massive fan of the video below, now I know everything there is to know about the ’science’ of viral videos…

Post a comment