The Constant Social Disruption

You’re probably tired, at this point, of hearing about brands and social media. There’s just so much of it—like how the top posters on your Facebook feed went from Ben and Sally to Starbucks and Macy’s. That’s why it’s easy to be complacent when we think about social’s affect on marketing—easy to forget that social media is constantly disruptive. The initial disruption, when brands began embracing social, happened because customers could talk, praise, and complain right back.

Ben Watson, VP of marketing at HootSuite—known for its social media management solutions—says that there will be even more disruption in 2013 that brands will have to address, especially as they further extend into social networks. 

Specifically, there are three areas of particular interest to marketers that will influence the way in which brands invest in and use social media tools: using analytics to better understand social consumers and ROI, geo-location, and greater use of paid social media like Twitter’s Promoted Tweets or Facebook’s Sponsored Stories.

Customer value

Remember this Adobe commercial?

It was released toward the end of 2012 and it’s emblematic of a shift in brand thinking: The value of social media can now be measured.

The issue with measuring ROI in social, Watson argued, is that brands couldn’t understand what the data meant, and didn’t understand how to quantify ROI in terms of social activity. Does ROI mean clicks? Lead generation? Traffic? The ability to improve products via market research?

“Marketers are still looking at likes and followers as those are the foundations of the social environments,” Watson says. These metrics are an easy way to measure how many people are using social to communicate with a brand. “But now we’ve expanded it to look at traffic sources and actual interactions we’re having with customers across platforms.”

This speaks to a maturity in the analytics that enable this sort of insight, as well as marketing departments hiring more tech- and socially-savvy marketers familiar with tools that allow brands to see customer journeys more holistically—many of which begin and end on a social platform. Consider a public complaint about a lobster roll tweeted to @AuBonPain, an emailed apology and voucher, and the customer’s thankful comment on the Au Bon Pain Facebook page.

For brands, the ultimate benefit to having this 360-degree customer view is that they’ll be able to understand customer lifetime value. “Being able to look at the difference of revenue per user from a social customer versus customers on more traditional channels,” Watson explains. “And what impact do clicks really have on the bottom line.”


Geo-targeting is becoming so common in social media, it’s practically table stakes at this point. Global brands have local presence and can optimize campaigns for specific geographies. “I don’t think [this capability] is just coming from Foursquare,” Watson says, “but from mobile ad providers, LinkedIn, Twitter, and it’s an expectation at the ad-network level and publishing-provider level.”

It’s this latter area where geo-targeting has yet to catch on, Watson explains. The way ad networks geo-locate—by a device’s IP address—makes it difficult to implement the capability, especially because there aren’t any industry-wide standards. By contrast, social networks typically geo-locate based on where a user says he or she is, and publishers do the same based on an in-house database that describes where their users are. Both, of course, might have accuracy issues—but at least it avoids the complication of a single user owning three different connected devices and thus, three different IP addresses.

“Geo-targeting should be table stakes,” Watson says. “But until it’s fully integrated into the ad networks, and multiple ad purchases [under] one set of geo-targeting rules can be deployed across multiple publishers, it’s still a work in progress.”

Paid social media

Watson also notes a sharp uptick in paid social media buys—sponsored posts and content distributed on social media and, hopefully, shared by followers.

“More than 50% of spend in our paid media goes through social channels versus traditional channels,” Watson says, using his own company as an example. This is compared to 10% the same time last year.

Driving this increase is that as social matures, messaging has become more refined. Messages aren’t simply about direct demand generation—say supplementary material alongside a paid search or display ad to augment traffic to landing pages—but are designed to inspire interaction higher up in the sales funnel. It’s essentially a shift from demand generation toward content marketing.

“We use [paid social media] in a more diverse way,” Watson explains. “Whether that’s driving traffic or increasing views to video or increasing lead gen. The diversity of messaging and how we break up that spend is much more selective and targeted than traditional media buys of the past.”

Bringing it together

ROI analytics, geo-targeting, and paid social media spend may all seem like disparate categories, but they’re all cogs in a brand’s marketing strategy—one that extends beyond social and crosses all channels. Refining these three areas can help brands do what they’ve always wanted to do: better understand and engage their customers. “Marketers will get better at the messaging and adding value,” Watson says.

All of these factors, he continues, will be influential in the “orchestrated marketing mix”—one that includes paid video, mobile campaigns, social retargeting. “Where I’m using these elements intelligently as part of an overall [marketing] scheme to bolster the effect of messages in other channels,” Watson says.

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