Advertisers Get More Social

SWAT summit

SAN FRANCISCO — Ads are an integral part of social media, but advertisers don’t know what works or how to tell.

That was the bottom line from panelists at the SWAT Summit, a conference about advertising on social networking sites held in San Francisco on Thursday. IDC says ad spending will total more than $1 billion in 2008, as advertisers try to connect with the 48 percent of Americans who enjoy some kind of social media at least once a month.

These consumers are less likely to respond to ads during this activity, but they’re more likely to click through to a purchase online than their less social peers, according to IDC’s Consumer Online Attitudes Survey.

IDC research analyst Caroline Dangson told the SWAT audience that, despite its somewhat dodgy reputation, “MySpace for U.S. online consumers still ranks tops.” While Facebook was not as popular as MySpace overall, more people liked and trusted Facebook. YouTube was the most-trusted site, at 52 percent, with Facebook gaining the trust of 51 percent; just 36 percent trusted MySpace.

They may not be spending a lot of money, nor devoting huge portions of ad budgets to social media, but big brands have moved strongly into social media. Panel members described a wide variety of endeavors from some of the world’s most notable brands.

For example, to launch the Acura TSX, designed to appeal to men aged 25 to 29, Acura worked with imeem, a social networking site specializing in music and video. Three up and coming artists were featured in the promotion that let fans join communities, post photos and video, comment, and read exclusive editorial features covering the songwriting process or behind the scenes on tour for 75 live concerts. The Get Connected theme related not only to the artists but also to the car’s features.

Microsoft spent most of its launch budget for Zune on MySpace, because that’s where 85 percent of its audience is. The Zune group lets members download a player, participate in forums and comment on music. The brand now has 222,000 friends. Most of the promotion of the group also ran on MySpace.

Anna Banks, vice president of digital strategy for McCann Worldgroup, Microsoft’s ad agency for Zune, said marketers should not approach social media from a campaign perspective. “We have a lot of clients who put money into whiz-bang things. Once people sign up, they leave it hanging.” It’s not only a missed opportunity but a liability, she said. “Consumers are going to continue the conversation without you and say negative things.”

Instead, they should look at it as a new way of doing business, according to Kim Kochaver, director of marketing for blog advertising network Federated Media. The most innovative companies will tie social media into their other marketing channels.

What’s still missing from much of the social networking ad landscape is metrics. A SWAT panel on metrics and measurement made it clear that most advertisers are accepting the fuzzy concept of “brand awareness” as the end result of social media plays.

“Clients are used to thinking of online media as direct response. But as we move into application development, it’s going to come back to brand lift,” said Misha Comes, group director of strategy for digital agency Organic.

Widgets and other pass-along applications do provide a way to track usage; maybe that’s why the sector is booming. But developers need to learn how to work within agency norms.

Comes said, “We’re looking for the kinds of partnerships we’d get from more traditional publishers,” that is, coming to the table with ideas, not just inventory.

And Sonya Chawla, senior advertising director for Slide, a publisher of social entertainment applications, advised them, “You have to fit into the media ecosystem. Otherwise, you get bucketed into ‘innovation’, and you have a hard time getting part of the regular media budget.”

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