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Report: The Rise of the Social Advertising

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We are entering the beginning of the end of the destination web as we have known it. Consumers increasingly spend time in social networks and less in their email inboxes and visiting traditional websites. As such, brands continue to race to social media sites in the hopes of connecting with consumers when their attention is focused on conversations relevant to those brands. Part of the challenge however, is earning the attention of consumers not just once, but also building a relationship with them over time.

Many brands are, of course, developing a presence within customer networks of relevance such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While some are finding initial success, most are looking for ways to grow the size of their networks and and the depth and endurance of their engagement. In social media, a new wave of digital advertising services and products offer brands the ability to reach beyond their existing communities. Twitter’s Promoted Products suite, Facebooks contextual, friend-based banners and “Sponsored Stories” program, and YouTube’s Promoted Videos, for example, help brands extend their reach by tapping into the social and interest graphs of consumers. The hope is that businesses can attract attention, find relevance, and build more effective communities through a more engaging social advertising program.

The Pivot team set out to learn more about the state of social advertising and its opportunities by conducting an industry survey of 230 brand managers, executives, and marketing professionals.

Is Social Advertising the Cure for Banner Blindness?

Digital advertising, such as banners and keyword buys, has long provided businesses with products to generate opportunities for clickthroughs, but these products are proving ineffective in social networks. In a phenomenon dubbed “banner blindness,” consumers are learning to ignore many forms of digital advertising in favor of the desired content within their area of focus. Usability guru Jakob Nielsen demonstrated through heat maps where our eyes are focused on a website screen. As you can see, consumer attention zeroes in on text and not the banners around it.

On the social web, banner blindness is even more prevalent. In social networks, content populates the social streams of consumer profiles. If we apply the heat map model to social streams, we can visualize how attention may mirror the behavior in traditional web sites. Advertising blindness is a real threat within social networks, but at the same time, represents a new opportunity to rethink paid media. Therefore, social networks are creating products and services to offer brands the ability to earn the attention of the consumers they hope to reach.

For social advertising, the new opportunity for engagement lies in and around the new attention dashboard—the social stream.

Facebook offers managed brand and self-service models. Its Ads and Sponsored Stories sell against interests and people connected to consumers as well as what consumers say or reveal about themselves. Businesses can buy Ads against keywords (interests), languages, geographies, and reach. Additionally, Sponsored Stories turns Page updates, Places check-ins, Likes, and application activity by consumers into advertisements.

Twitter sells Promoted Products that appear within the line of sight of consumers, mostly in close proximity to the social stream. However, that will soon change as Promoted Products are expected to be placed within the social stream itself in mid-2011.

Twitter’s monetization strategy lies more in the ability to reach interest graphs rather than social graphs. The difference is that in a social graph, it’s all about who you know. On the contrary, interest graphs are based on what people share or what they say.

Twitter’s advertising products are designed to reach the right people, in real-time, at the point of attention and intention (P.A.I.). This means that if you search for keywords, you may see a relevant Promoted vehicle in the results. Soon, when you Tweet a relevant keyword or follow a particular business, an ad may show up within the social stream. With Twitter’s Promoted Accounts and Trends products, paid inventory is located just to the right of the stream, but still within immediate view and located strategically to areas where consumer attention also focuses.

Twitter is expected to also introduce self-service products for smaller businesses later in 2011.

As reported, YouTube is the Web’s second largest search engine. YouTube’s Promoted Videos help brands attract customers, viewers and subscribers by displaying video ads against relevant search results and related video content on YouTube. This self-service model complements managed brand services on You Tube that continue to offer traditional digital advertising units such as banners.

Truth in Social Advertising

The Trends in Social Advertising survey was conducted by the Pivot team to measure the interest in and utilization of social advertising. An invitation to the online survey was extended to marketers and agency professionals via email, blogs,Twitter and Facebook. Responses were received between May 18th and May 26th, 2011.

Optimism is rife regarding social advertising. Of those businesses that responded, 60% anticipate that social advertising will be very valuable to them. Another 32% view social advertising as valuable, regardless of the level of satisfaction with past efforts.

Of the respondents in the 2011 Pivot social advertising survey, 85% were either currently experimenting with social advertising or planned to do so within the next 12 months.

Businesses appear to find social advertising successful or worthy of investment. 54% are satisfied or very satisfied with their experiences within social advertising to date.

The Pivot study learned that the major social platforms dominate social advertising plans. 93%, 78%, and 61% of those surveyed have already deployed campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube respectively. Within the next 12 months, businesses will explore social advertising programs beyond these networks to include Foursquare (26%), LinkedIn (21%) and YouTube (20%.) Despite its popularity in media and on Wall Street, brands aren’t ready to advertise on Zynga. Only 2% use Zynga, with 49% stating they’ve no plans to so. However, 13% of respondents do plan to advertise on Zynga within the next 12 months.

For brands to experiment in social advertising, they must find the available products make sense to them. Facebook ranks at the top for the services it offers, with 31% and 38% of surveyed professionals stating that Facebook’s paid program offerings are excellent and good respectively. YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare do not fair as well, however. Marketing professionals, executives and brand managers state that social advertising products on these services are mostly just good and fair as opposed to excellent.

The perceived or realized advantages of social advertising are broadly shared among survey respondents. 54% strongly agree and another 37% agree that social advertising is gaining momentum. 51% strongly believe and 39% agree that social advertising can enhance the investment in other forms of marketing. Intelligence is the name of the game in social media and 37% and 35% strongly agree and agree respectively that social advertising provides more information about prospects and customers than any other form of marketing.

Objectives for social advertising appeared all over the map in the survey, as brands evaluate various outcomes. At 17%, a brand using social advertising to support product introductions or other announcements is the current most common outcome. 13% are seeking to engage existing customers. Tied at 12%, deploying social ads to increase the size of the community or drive traffic to outside destinations. 11% of respondents designed social ads to build brand awareness.

At the bottom half of the objectives, there was an interesting three-way draw at 9% between selling products, gaining feedback and intelligence, and generating leads. At the bottom with 4%, businesses tested social ads for shifting sentiment and generating video views.

When asked how frequently they integrate social media functionality into their advertising campaigns, 38% stated always, 34% did so frequently, and another 21% responded sometimes.

Social advertising is mostly integrated into campaign planning, with 70% stating that their social advertising planning is done at the same time as the rest of the campaign. Planning social advertising before or after the broader campaigns were planned each had 12% response.

Among the group planning to experiment within the next 12 months, Pivot asked which methods they consider “social advertising.” An astounding 83% considered blogging and Tweeting on behalf of a company, product, or brand a form of social ads. Paid placements through social network advertising inventory followed with 69%.

Responses also included:

Viral videos: 67%
Contests: 64%
Promoted Tweets, Trends: 63%
Social media optimization (SMO) 62%
Tweet/Like to Win: 55%
Paid Tweets and Posts: 49%
Advocacy/Ambassador programs: 43%
Influence programs: 38%

Among those businesses currently conducting social advertising, a whopping 67% that engage bloggers and influencers to blog and Tweets on behalf of the company plan to increase this activity. 42% that are seeing success with SMO view it as an opportunity to increase the reach of the brand. 30% will boost investments in viral video creation. 27% that currently advertise in social networks will up their spending and 21% that use Twitter Promoted products specifically plan to expand experimentation. On the contrary, 30% of businesses surveyed do not use Twitter’s Promoted products and do not plan to do so. 41% also do not pay for Tweets and posts and will not invest in this strategy in the coming future. However, 12% do pay for Tweets and posts and will increase their spending on this front while 11% use employ this activity now and will keep it the same.

We were surprised at the low level of advocacy/ambassador programs across the board. While 20% run these programs and plan to escalate these activities, only another 10% are managing these initiatives and will keep them as is. But, 8% plan to decrease the investment, 13% do not plan to use, and 10% aren’t aware of these programs or they do not apply. On the bright side, 25% do not use them today, but they do plan to host advocacy/ambassador programs.

If you’ve run a branded social network address in a traditional advertisement, you’re not alone: 70% of respondents use traditional media to drive engagement in social advertising.

Companies see social advertising as a way to encourage user involvement. 58% seek users to become involved with the brand. Another 16% hope consumers will endorse products or the company within their social streams.

Each network boasts its own culture, defined by how people communicate, discover, and share. As as result, what works in Facebook will differ from what works in Twitter, and what’s effective in YouTube may prove ineffective in Facebook. Social advertising will perform as designed within each platform, forcing an elimination of a “one size fits all” strategy. To that end, 56% are customizing their campaigns significantly for each platform. 19% claim to only customize social advertising campaigns for the major platforms and another 17% only slightly customize the program based on the network.

In social media, engagement doesn’t operate with an on/off switch. Consumers are always-on and expect the same from those with whom they connect. 75% of businesses agree, claiming that social advertising is an ongoing program.

As we hear so often these days, the beginning of the end of social media 1.0 is upon us. Experimentation must now give way to measurable business impact. At the top of the list, of course, is ROI. For social advertisers, the greatest obstacle they face is demonstrating ROI, with 42% and 44% claiming it is either a significant or occasional obstacle. Securing budget is next on the list with 34% and 53% reporting it as a notable or periodic challenge. Getting executive sign-off follows, although securing budgets and getting approval could be tied to those social advertising campaigns that can demonstrate business impact.

Measurement is key to proving the effectiveness of any campaign. Demonstrating ROI, securing budget, and earning executive sign-off represent three of the top challenges in adopting social advertising, making measurement an essential element for expansion and scale. Most frequently, survey respondents use social media analytics tools to measure social advertising effectiveness. The list of measurement tools breaks out as follows:

Social Media Analytics: 63%
Monitoring: 43%
Web analytics: 30%

It’s also interesting to note that 16% are not measuring social advertising efforts currently.


Social advertising is evolving and is forcing creative professionals to think outside of a box that may not, in fact, yet exist. In its research, Pivot did not find a magic bullet to replicable success. The guide for best practices in social advertising is being written as we go. Additionally, the culture of each social network behaves uniquely and requires a customized approach. This represents both a challenge and opportunity for brands as they must invest creativity, purpose, and value into each initiative to learn what consumers want or what they tune out.

Whether or not social advertising represents the cure for banner blindness remains to be proven. Based on the results of this report, brands will continue to experiment to find the best formula for attracting attention and driving desirable and measurable performance and outcomes. As revealed in the report, ROI is important for future funding. Additionally, overcoming advertising blindness is essential to success. Without designing metrics or outcomes into the campaign, it will be difficult for marketers to prove value to executives. Without designing personalization and relevance into social advertising programs, it will be difficult to prove value to consumers.

The future of advertising will be largely influenced by consumer behavior in social networks. Those brands that listen, measure, and evolve programs as a result, will push advertising forward—to the benefit of consumers and ultimately the brand.

The Pivot Conference is designed for brands and their agencies and will take place October 17th and 18th in New York. This year’s theme focuses on an important shift in marketing as brands respond to “The Rise of the Social Consumer.”

If you’d like to join us, you can register here. Please use SOLISVIP for a special 20% discount. Contact Mike Edelhart at to inquire about sponsorships.

For more, please read our first report, “Brands Pursue the Social Consumer.”

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+

68 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Report: The Rise of the Social Advertising”

  1. Ivan Walsh says:

    …offer brands the ability to earn the attention

    For me, that’s the takeaway. Brand now have to ‘pay’ for attention using a different currency, one of which is engagement. 

  2. Craig McGill says:

    Can’t fault the research here but reading some of the answers it struck me that we are back to “Yes, half of our advertising works – we just don’t know what half” because when you look at the first graphic, 60% expect social media advertising to be useful. That’s just a polite way of saying “hope”.

    So, despite all the hopes of a paradigm shift away from advertising, what the above tells us is that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I’m with Ivan, engagement is a far better tool but it strikes me that we’ll see many just going for the easy ad route to promote discounts and sales and will call that a success.

  3. Tom Ohle says:

    Great article, Brian… we’re definitely doing our best to tackle this trend at Empire Avenue :). Keep up the good work! 🙂

  4. Social advertising will be huge once people understand how to market to the right demographics

  5. Ianice says:

    Excellent! Bravo! Thanks for your investigations about the impact of the social media in the brands.

  6. Krista Neher says:

    Interesting post! There is no question that social media advertising will grow as attention shifts to social, but I am surprised by some of the survey results. It seems that marketers are excited, but are their efforts really as successful as they think they are? For example, a Facebook ad is pretty effective at driving fans to your fan page, but are those fans actually converting into customers? Especially those that came through advertising vs. a genuine interest. Thanks for sharing the info here!

  7. Jeff Epstein says:

    Great report Brian.  Another key takeaway is the reluctance for consumers to acknowledge traditional internet advertising channels (banner ads).  As consumers become more savvy online, one has to wonder when this will happen to search advertising?

    As consumption flows through our social spheres it will become increasingly valuable for brands penetrate these activity streams.

  8. Brian,
    You just saved me a S*^T load of time.
    This is Top Drawer information.
    Today is a Great Day!

  9. Brian, I’m curious to know what you think of the whole publicy-privacy context and how that impacts social advertising. I think the rise of social advertising highlights this conflict even more. A lot of the major social advertising programs use tools that rely and thrive on publicy, where information/content is ‘public by default, private through effort’.

    In effect, we’re living public lives online, but we have diverse selves living in different communities with varying notions of what may be shared or exposed. Moreover, our digital, online and social architectures have affordances that substantially affect shared information (e.g. persistence, replicability, searchability).

    There’s a certain amount of trust we put in our social networks and tools, but this trust is based on an acceptance of the social context / contract wherein networks and technology operate. However, brands and consumers may have different expectations on how the social context is maintained. A ‘sponsored story’ makes for rich, targeted and customised content as seen by a brand, but can be perceived as a privacy fail by a consumer. It seems consumers in general have a negative perception to, if not distrust, for social advertising that are based on publicy (Facebook is famous for this, and just recently there are calls to uncheck LinkedIn’s default social advertising option).

    I think that part of brands’ efforts to “…invest creativity, purpose, and value” into social advertising initiatives should be about creating awareness and understanding among consumers  on how precisely this new form of advertising works and what it requires from them. For example, even just differentiating between PII (“Personally Identifiable Information”) and PEI (“Personally Embarrassing Information) will already be helpful in addressing doubts.

    Likewise, social networks should strive more to thoroughly explain to the public what social advertising is about and how they can benefit from them (and not just convincing brands). While I think publicy will be the default in the future, for a lot of communities now, user consent is still key. Simply defaulting to opt in for social advertising is easily perceived by consumers as arrogance on the part of the owners of a network, and social advertising a crass tool for monetising personal content, all of which in turn, creates wariness and distrust for any updates or initiatives that might follow.

  10. Mark James says:

    Great article.  Shouldn’t we consider the heat map also as it relates to FB and LinkedIn advertising model which, to me, looks alot like Google’s Sponsored links?

  11. Tina Malott says:

    Very helpful post! thanks!

  12. Eplanettravel2 says:

    gimme a break for that man its too high risk to taken off

  13. Brian, as always you put out excellent content.

    I felt I had to comment on this one since the term ‘social advertising’ can take so many meanings these days. You have a very nice table showing some examples that range from promoted tweets to Social Media Optimization. But… I still think that a pre-meditated effort to generate engagement for a specific purpose (brand awareness, product launch, etc…) can be viewed sometimes as advertising. Think of a very well crafted non-promoted tweet or an awesome Facebook update that generates lots of interaction. Are these just ‘conversation’? Can’t they be perceived as a ‘outside the box’ advertising? Where would they fit in your nice table?

    How about RohitBhagava’ concept of ‘likenomics’? – Levi’s attempt to ‘humanize’ the store via Facebook integration?

    I go back and forth on the need to redefine the parameters of advertising when relating it to social media. At times I think I have it down and the limits are very well set, sometimes I feel that they are very blurry and a new definition is strongly recommended.

    I am a fan of yours… unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) a very unsettled fan 😉

  14. Brian, as always you put out excellent content.

    I felt I had to comment on this one since the term ‘social advertising’ can take so many meanings these days. You have a very nice table showing some examples that range from promoted tweets to Social Media Optimization. But… I still think that a pre-meditated effort to generate engagement for a specific purpose (brand awareness, product launch, etc…) can be viewed sometimes as advertising. Think of a very well crafted non-promoted tweet or an awesome Facebook update that generates lots of interaction. Are these just ‘conversation’? Can’t they be perceived as a ‘outside the box’ advertising? Where would they fit in your nice table?

    How about RohitBhagava’ concept of ‘likenomics’? – Levi’s attempt to ‘humanize’ the store via Facebook integration?

    I go back and forth on the need to redefine the parameters of advertising when relating it to social media. At times I think I have it down and the limits are very well set, sometimes I feel that they are very blurry and a new definition is strongly recommended.

    I am a fan of yours… unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) a very unsettled fan 😉

    • Ricky Yean says:

      I feel the same way, but I do laud Brian’s effort to coin some of these terms to mean something specific. SMO, for example, he’s written posts on. While I do think we will keep re-defining his definition of what SMO is as this space matures, this is a good effort.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Now a days social advertising has become essential part of any business organisations. By blogs , articles , conversation and in many ways people advertise their business. And as this article show us that most of the people satisfied with this social advertising. And in coming  days this all social sites would be the business place.
    manual social bookmarking

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