Brands And Social Media: Where’s The Beef?

According to IDC, Internet users spend an average of 32.7 hours online each week. That’s nearly half the time they spent with any media (70.6 hours), more than twice the time they spent with TV (16.4 hours) and eight times as much time as they spent reading magazines and newspapers (3.9 hours). Attention is clearly shifting online, and more and more it’s shifting to “social media” properties (Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia, Blogs, YouTube). Despite a slowdown, the ad dollars are following.

The question has become how to invest those dollars. Up until now, online ad spending has meant search and display (2008 est. $10.7 and $4.6 billion respectively). The fastest growing categories, however, are video (81%), social networking (33%), and social media overall.

New Media, Old Metrics

But marketers are having a hard time wrapping their head around the ROI from these new media campaigns. There’s currently a metrics vacuum in the social media space and it’s being filled with traditional metrics pulled from search and display. The only problem is that these metrics don’t make sense for brand campaigns in social media.

Branding campaigns don’t have a conversion event, like search advertising. Click through rates and impression volume used to gauge display campaigns are radically different on social media properties. Blogs average a little over one page view per visit, while social networking properties average in the tens or hundreds. It’s not apples to apples. While impressions do adjust behavior, clicks and conversions also carry a whole different meaning within social media. People click to send messages, make friends, comment, and share.

Perhaps it’s been the past five years of Google AdWords and AdSense, but the focus on clicks and impressions has driven a rather myopic view of ROI in covering social media campaigns. Most recently, it’s been the coverage of P&G’s Crest Whitestrips campaign with Facebook.

The article highlighted a 2006 campaign with P&G that drove 14,000 fans to their fan page. In the article’s words this was really 14,000 clicks because “Becoming a “fan” required nothing more than a single click“. However, the more accurate way to look at it is that P&G found 14,000 people who were interested enough in Crest Whitestrips to stand and be counted. These people are a resource P&G could tap with early product releases or product input.

In marketing terms, the analysis focuses on the reach of the campaign and not the depth of engagement. Display and search don’t have the power to have an ongoing conversation with their audience. Consequently the campaign is under-utilizing the social networking medium.

Where’s the Beef?

When brands and journalists are asking “Where’s the beef” in social media, but measuring by clicks, they’re selling themselves short. Optimizing a brand campaign around clicks is like paying a pianist by the note. You end up with no message, just noise.

More intelligent social media campaigns have to balance reach and engagement. Messages must be appealing and integrated as to drive reach, while at the same time being meaningful enough to build brand equity through engagement. At SocialMedia, our recommendation is a unique blend of both, which we call “positive word of mouth” campaigns. Companies like Context Optional and BuddyMedia approach the problem through social applications. Each have their own metrics for success.

The real “beef” from these campaigns will come when marketing reports come out over the next few months. Then we’ll see how these campaigns deliver on lifting brand recall, loyalty, and adjust purchasing behavior.

This is a guest post by Nick Gonzalez of SocialMedia. You can also find Nick on his blog.