Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The thing with Social Media...

I think the reason for why advertisers can’t reliably use social media as a channel is the fact that social media is too individualized and too customized for advertisers to create one broad strategy for.  Take Facebook, for example, more than 200 million active users.  That’s a large audience pool, and with the Facebook Advertising program, you can theoretically reach your target.  However, what I use Facebook for is different from what my friend uses Facebook for.  I am acutely aware that anything on there is public property, therefore, I am careful about what I am linked to.  I personally know and am friends with a majority of the 359 people I am Facebook friends with.  I delete inappropriate wall posts, and I keep my profile very grandma friendly.  However, a large percentage of my friends’ profiles are a lot more open.  While I am uncomfortable sharing anything personal on Facebook, they put anything and everything on there.  I think of Facebook as a tool to connect with people, they think of Facebook as an open diary.  People who use Facebook have vastly different views on exactly what it is, half the time, they don’t really know what it is.  For traditional outlets such as TV and Magazines, we know why people use them, and we can use this knowledge to reach them.  For example, by saying that someone reads US Weekly religiously, you can probably guess the demographic and psychographic characteristics of that person.  However, by saying that someone uses Facebook religiously, you can’t reliably say anything about that person.  There are so many levels you have to go through to figure out who that person is and how to target that person.  You have to look at what groups they are in, what applications they installed, what their interests are, etc.  And even then, you can’t be certain that they are interested at all in what you’re selling.  Today an LSAT ad popped up on my profile, I’m guessing that’s because I’m a college-age student and am a Political Science major and an a Fan of Obama and am in a group vaguely related to Justice and Law.  However, I’m going into Advertising, I have absolutely no interest in law whatsoever.  The ability to truly customize your own Facebook is precisely why marketers haven’t really penetrated the medium. 

Another thing that makes social media hard to crack is the fact that it’s always being updated.  Let’s stick with the Facebook example -- just a month ago, Facebook underwent a major structural change, the second in a year.  Its new design is a lot more Twitter-like, and hasn’t exactly been popular with its users.  Facebook, and social media in general, is constantly updating itself because at the core of it, it is technology, and is not meant to be fixed.  Social media’s instability in format doesn’t allow marketers to truly use it as a trusted channel with expectations of ROI.  Televisions may change its pixel depth and the thickness of the screen, but that doesn’t affect the way you use it – however, with each interface redesign, Facebook redefines the way it is used – the focus on feeds in its latest redesign is meant to encourage users to update their statuses more often. Therefore, it is hard for marketers to develop a solid campaign centered around an ever-changing platform.

While it is hard to effectively use social media as an advertising outlet, it isn’t impossible.  I think social media further pushes marketers towards engaging the consumer rather than just throwing stuff at the consumer.  The popular “whopper sacrifice” campaign successfully broke 233,906 friendships on Facebook before it was banned.  That’s more than a third of McCain fans on Facebook.  Even more amazing, the BK campaign only lasted a week.  This is just one example out of many that highlights the importance of the content and level of creativity of advertising rather than the superficial reach of it.  Also, perhaps shorter, more explosive campaigns are the way to go with social media. That way, you don’t have to deal with the constant facelifts, and you can invest less dollars for possible high returns.

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