Marketers Cautious Over Social Media Spend
Social media marketing has been high on the agenda for many communications experts. Most marketers can see how the Internet has revolutionised the way the general public communicates, but many are still unsure whether they can leverage this technology to push brand messages.
A recent study by JupiterResearch found that marketers are still unwilling to invest their budgets into social media marketing despite the hype surrounding the medium.
According to the report, around half of all advertisers are spending less than 5 per cent of their online budgets on social marketing in 2008. This is in comparison to search, which will account for an estimated 40 per cent of the total Internet advertising spend, according to another study by eMarketer.
Lack of evidence
Emily Riley, an analyst focused on online advertising at Jupiter blamed the lack of case studies in which to compare the success of social media marketing campaigns.
Nearly a third of social marketers were unsure as to which tactics would work best for which campaigns.
"Each social network site offers a wide variety of tactics to choose from, and in such a new market, social marketers have little or no performance history to rely on," wrote Riley.
Social networking sites are still struggling with their own business models and in recognition of the lack of understanding on the part of marketers, these sites are providing support.
MySpace in particular was singled out for taking "a very consultative role" in advising how marketers could make the best use of its site.
Facebook too, has created a easy to use tools to allow marketers to create more bespoke brand pages and easily measure the impact any social media marketing activity.
Made to measure?
Measurement continues to be a key issue for marketers in the social media space. While there is debate about whether social media campaigns should or should not be measured, the report highlights how having better ways of measuring ROI and brand metrics would have the biggest impact on future spend in this area.
"Marketers could then use 'scores' to compare relative site performance," according to the report. "If the level of engagement on an advertiser's site resulting from a game widget scored low, the publisher could provide guidance as to how to increase the score based on its knowledge of its own audience."
The uncertainty of spend in the social media space coincides with the overall decline in Internet ad spend and the broader economic downturn.
Earlier this year, eMarketer revised its predictions for Internet advertising spend, reducing the estimated figure by almost $2 billion. According to the report at the time, eMarketer predicted this drop in Internet ad spend growth would continue until 2012 where a boom in online video advertising would see the industry's fortunes reversed.
Marketers don't get it
The traditional method of pushing out brand messages is redundant on social networking sites according to Rob Kelly, senior publisher sales manager at TradeDoubler. The problem marketers have is that they do not the general consumer uses social media platforms differently to other web sites and is a much more personal interaction.
"The biggest problem for advertisers is that the likes of Facebook, MySpace, etc provide the user with an extension of their personal lives and a proactive approach by advertisers can be seen as an intrusion into their own space. Now consumers aren't always so choosy about sharing information, and where they are receiving something back, as in loyalty and rewards sites they can be more than happy handing over details in the expectation of getting something in return.
"The challenge therefore for advertisers is to make their links seem to be a natural part of the environment, this is one of the reasons for the proliferation of applications on Facebook," said Kelly.
Duncan Parry of digital agency, Steak Media warns marketers to only incorporate social media activities if it is right for the objectives of the business. For this reason, some social media tactics can appear tagged on and unsuccessful.
"Marketers are cautious of social media because, in a digital environment where results can be transparently reported, they need to feel confident social media will deliver tangible results.
"Social media certainly is not right for every single brand - and getting it right takes understanding of the target audience and what interests them; they need to be engaged with. In some ways it is similar to viral campaign - it needs to push the target market audiences buttons for the right reasons, and deliver results that justify the time and money involved - whether it's brand recall, interaction with a widget or application, or direct sales," said Parry.
Social media like 'an online bar'
James Whatley, prominent blogger and Product Marketing and Digital Manager for voice to text software, SpinVox also highlighted the lack of understanding from marketers when it comes to social media. Whatley likens social media interaction as "like being in an online pub", an idea which marketers can not always accept.
"Many people believe it's about broadcasting your own 'me, me, me' channel to your immediate circle, but also more broadly across the World Wide Web. Some say, on the flip-side, that it is just another form of voyeurism: watching people advertise themselves to all and sundry. In a sense they're both right - one can't exist without the other," said Whatley.
"Social networking is not necessarily about self-advertising. Have something to say and let people know who you are, but treat your network like an advertising space and you will lose your place at the bar. If advertisers understood these rules properly (even as just a first step) then they would be make massive headway in engaging consumers on a social level," he continued.