The first two chapters of the social marketing story were about "owned" and "earned" media. Building social pages, developing apps and creating compelling content were top priorities. And there was tremendous value in this, as companies like Buddy Media and Vitrue, among others, gave marketers effective ways to host and manage their social network communities.
The mantra of these first two chapters: If you build it, they will come. There was a lot less competition for content across the social Web, so a brand could promote freely to its own audience in fairly uncluttered environments. Marketers could also drive traffic to their social pages by promoting them within their packaging and featuring them in their TV ads. And if a brand had some really compelling content, it would "earn" additional media exposure in the form of "likes" or shares or retweets.
Today, given the increasing competition for attention within social networks and their evolving ad-supported business models, marketers are facing a new set of challenges in achieving the same level of success from owned and earned marketing efforts. It has simply become more difficult to get your message out organically. Brands can't target within these social communities as freely. And it's just not as easy to justify using the real estate in a Super Bowl ad to promote a social page. (Can you recall the number of Super Bowl commercials this year that promoted a brand's social page, versus the prior 2-3 years? Hint: It was a whole lot less.)
We are now starting the third chapter of social marketing, the "paid" chapter. Brands have amassed large and loyal audiences within the social network platforms, which has taken years of effort and significant investment. There's an opportunity now to activate these audiences, but the reality is that continued activation will require further investment, new approaches and a new set of tools.
Over the course of the 13-day show Detroit Auto Show last month, some 24,080 messages posted on Twitter crowed about one car maker's lineup. This was more than triple the tally of the two next most-mentioned auto brands. The underpinnings of this success were paid tweets.
Overall submissions for a consumer product contest entered through Facebook were two times greater this year than last (even though this particular campaign has been running for a total of eight years now). The secret? Facebook's retargeting product.
A measurement study my company did with Datalogix revealed that Facebook ads drove three times the brand lift for a snack food brand.
Paid, owned and earned are no longer a string of disconnected media tactics, but rather are three legs of the social marketing stool. If any one leg is missing, this stool cannot stand. This new chapter in the evolution of social media marketing will consist of a new set of best practices for applying paid social media strategy as a way to link the three legs together.
It is an exciting time for social media marketers. The paid advertising opportunities are as advanced—and in many ways more precise—than what exists in general display advertising. But along with these sophisticated new opportunities are serious complexities. Understanding all of the ways a brand can activate its audiences in social media and managing those activation efforts requires expertise and dedication. In addition to strategic abilities, technology also plays a vital role. But regardless of the individual mix of strategy and technology that a marketer may choose, the most important thing will be to understand and embrace this third chapter, as it will surely be the most defining yet.
Sean O'Neal (@seanoNYC) is president of Adaptly.