How to manage the changing social ad landscape

Beyond the overwhelming dominance of Facebook, the social media landscape seems to change every year, as well as the ability to connect to customers on those platforms.

Look at any marketing site and you’ll find posts on concerns about sustaining engagement. From Twitter’s survival to fewer posting on Facebook, advocates have long debated on which social media platforms has kept people engaged. But to marketers the debates can be too academic. Marketers can use social ads to get past the debates and reach the intended customers.  Let’s look at how those ads can be best managed, especially in light of a key media have become well established.   

History: Paid Search to Social Ads

The basic premise behind social ads is similar to that of paid search.  In many cases both mediums share a URL that can be tagged. More importantly, social ads and paid search ads were designed to extend exposure of a post beyond a listing, as in a search engine query page, or a fleeting appearance, like a tweet or Facebook post.  Paid search was intended to improve exposure on search query results through advertisers bidding on query keywords that appear in the results.

But the strategy was designed for a world in which people conducted their search mainly on a desktop computer.   That world has changed, as Google reminded marketers with its decision to remove advertising from the right side of the search query results pages.   The change makes the desktop and mobile views of the search engine results page seem more alike.

In the interim, more advertising options came into the market, with many aimed at social media as people began to incorporate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest into their digital lives. One driver has been the rise of social commerce–consumers who arrive at an eCommerce site via a social media platform.  Consumers have become very comfortable with making purchases online.  Social commerce has further evolved with the availability of buy buttons and other digital enablers.

A second driver is that today’s consumers are increasingly sharing their discoveries through using mobile devices.   Whether snapping a pic of a dress or sharing a video of a new car purchase, shares further brand appeal, eopecially when the sharing is a natural part of the conversation.

The advent of virtual reality sets, and IoT devices such as Amazon Echo, provides a differing network access point for consumers, and in many case, another avenue to share their experiences.  All these factors show how valuable social ads have become in the context of digital marketing strategies.


The Value of a Social Ads Strategy

So how valuable are social ads? Very.

Social ads are essential because of the nature of the current state of social media.  From Twitter mentions to blog posts on products, social media has been able to keep users engaged long enough to make ads more discoverable.

Those users are forming sophisticated audience segments.  Audience usage of hashtags on Twitter, heightened further with overlapping shares from Instagram and livestreams from Periscope, create networks that require a message tailored to that segmented audience.

Social ads also offer a hedge against changing algorithms that impact post views on a given social media platform. Because users have come to perceive posting a message repeatedly as passé, unsophisticated, and in some instances, an unwanted nuisance, social media platforms have periodically changed algorithms, affecting the frequency with which a post appears in a user’s profile. This doesn’t affect ads.

Creating Effective Social Ads 

Here are a few tips that can help your social advertising spend be truly effective:

  1. Don’t worry about which platforms will survive or thrive in the future. View your platform choice objectively. Doing so permits a clear view of a platform’s performance, based on analytics reporting. For example Twitter’s future has been hotly debated recently, but your analytics reports can show whether Twitter provides you with the highest conversion rates.
  2. Take advantage of the platform differences and tailor your message accordingly.  Instagram offers a way to tailor ads to appear by demographic and interest, as does Facebook.  While Tweets vanish fast, Twitter ads create extra views, that can also be multiplied through a remarketing setting. If you are unsure of where to start with an ad, consider using ads for specific outcomes rather than for more exposure.  The links for the ads can be classified in the same way as paid search, using labels in the link tags. 
  3. Decide how to mix your paid search and social ad usage among customers.  The customer journey on a purchase decision may involve a mix of paid search and social ads. To gain some hints on which mix works best, use the Google Customer Journey tool, a free online solution that shows the likely order of media that a given customer might choose. The results are based on business size, industry, and country, with data based on Google Analytics accounts that volunteered their metrics to support the algorithms behind the tool.  Users can currently select from 19 industries, eight countries, and three business size categories. The tool can highlight if search ads and organic search are typically viewed earlier in the sale cycle compared to social media posts, or vise versa.  This knowledge can help plan messages to better match a customer’s journey.  Ads that appear in paid search can be created to draw interest, while social media can serve as reminders of product or service benefits.

Marketers should remember that both Google and Bing offer features in paid search that can be complementary to an organization’s social media platforms.  Bing, for example, announced a beta to test Bing ads social extensions–a link in Bing search ads to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.  The feature promotes an advertising organization’s social channels within the search ads.

Considering how to mix of social ads can spark ideas for configuring analytic reports that in turn can highlight the ads that are leading to conversion.  With analytics, and an approach like the one sketched here, marketers can develop a data-based social ad strategy that fits within the campaign budget.

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