By adaptive - October 29th, 2014

Social advertising can be the most powerful weapon in the enterprise arsenal

Over the past few weeks we have looked at social media advertising and how it can be used to build a brand and deliver a rich message to market. In this, the final part of this series, we are looking to the future of social media platforms and how their advertising solutions could potentially evolve to deliver better conversions and returns for brands.
Social networks are organic and reactive, evolving quickly in response to user behaviour, and consistently testing what works, what doesn’t and what factors alienate or engage their audiences. Social advertising has followed the same pathways. 
“Anyone who has been using the main social networks over the past several years will have noticed a major rise in the advertising that appears in their feeds and this trend isn’t halting any time soon,” says Euan McTear, Marketing Manager at Davidson Asset Management. “With money a prime concern now for the likes of Facebook and Twitter following their IPOs, expect advertising to become more common and win more space on news feeds and timelines.”
The major social platforms have all had their fair share of outrage when it comes to changes in social advertising structure, visibility and design. It is clear that there has to be a balance between advertising and social. Brands need to be honest in their positioning and consumers need to feel like they have a choice.
“It will have to evolve to meet user’s demands,” says Ben Williams, Head of Operations at Adblock Plus. “Our users seem most annoyed by some of the more intrusive types of social media ads, but completely unbothered by others. The ads they don’t like are those that jump right in the middle of their social feeds or use their personal information to serve ads beyond the networks.”
Changing the way social advertising interacts with users is one facet; the other is asking how many people actually see the ads and how they can be made into more effective tools on social so brands can frolic in that all important ROI.
Joel Windels, Marketing Manager Brandwatch EMEA, thinks that the ROI is already there and that the social platforms have done their share of the hard work. “It’s not a TV broadcaster’s job to make sure brands are producing entertaining, compelling commercials that can be measured in real money any more than it’s Twitter’s to do the same with ROI in its network,” she says. “It’s measuring the ROI that brands find difficult. It’s a case of analysing the relationship between social media metrics and other more traditional key performance indicators to place an actual value on their social initiatives.”
It’s easy to say that the platforms should change, but as Joel points out above, the brands need to watch their content. Boring, bland and too “salesy” is unlikely to win much consumer attention no matter how in-depth the social platform’s offering goes – and it is about to go very deep indeed.
Path to Purchase

A tailored approach

Data, reams and streams of the stuff, is a crucial component of social. The ability to use this information to create compelling and individually targeted adverts smacks of scenes from the Minority Report, and it’s already here.
“Social networks understand the value of the data they have on their users and I think there will be a major push from the social networks for users to enter even more data so advertisers have more options to choose from,” says McTear. “The main selling point of social platforms is their ability to target ads to the users and to make that work more effectively; social needs more data to target the right people.”
What makes this field so fascinating is that structuring and measuring social content and advertising is an extremely fluid process. It needs all the elements to work together seamlessly in order to be a success.
“Social content builds consideration and may drive intent, but it is not the final step before a purchase,” says Alexei Lee, Head of Social and Promotion at Strategy Digital. “Social ads should be used as a way to promote relevant content, driving interest and engagement with the brand and educating an audience. The savvy brands who are already integrating social ads into their strategy generally understand this and aren’t necessarily looking for a direct return or conversion. Rather, it is a way of reaching a hyper-targeted audience and driving engagement with a broader, multi-channel marking campaign.”
How Social Media Changed the Ad Game
Lee believes that there will always be an audience that will tolerate ads in return for a free service, just as they do for television, print and radio, but in social it is about getting the formula right. Platforms that focus on quality and relevant content will be the most successful. 
Tegan Denwood, Social Media Specialist at GNT Media adds: “It boils down to correct usage. If the majority of your target audience is middle-aged business owners and you’re targeting them via Twitter, you aren’t going to see the same levels of success you’d expect from LinkedIn. The failures of the various platforms come down to lack of understanding – users and audience – and more comprehensive guides could solve that problem.”
The overarching consensus is that social media ad platforms will evolve to become far more targeted to consumer needs and hand brands the tools they need to really drill down into the core of their target market and create ads that drive engagement. 
“Social advertising may even change to the point where it will provide multiple options based on device, time and type of interaction and become more intuitive,” says Anna Woolliscroft, Social Media Expert, Staffordshire Marketing Academy. “It would be useful to understand in greater detail the interaction, frequency and advocacy levels for individual users and I’m particularly excited by developments such as the Buy Now button on Twitter and how this conversion metric will evolve on other channels.”
Woolliscroft does point out one very interesting issue that is likely to come about as social advertising becomes even more reliant on personal data – privacy and account settings. It is likely that the platforms will develop these even further so users are given more choice on what is seen, and what is not.
“We know an ad network that was doing some A/B testing on a site, and their experience is instructive here: they started out with three ads on a page and tested that page against the same page with only two,” says Williams. “The one with three performed better. But when they reduced the number to one ad, that page got more conversions than the others. The moral of the story is that user-friendly ads can also be profitable ones."
Brands may need to adapt what they expect from social ads and ensure that the content and methodology they use are in line with their market in order to achieve the ROI they want. 
Certainly the consensus from corporations, experts and analysts is that the platforms will evolve by providing an increasingly rich array of targeting options and capabilities. The next step is for the brand to follow suit, using the data provided to ensure they have greater control over their ad spend and reach, as well as structuring their content more effectively. They need to talk to their users and listen to what they want.
[Image Source: Freedigitalphotos]
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