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The Transformation of Online Advertising To Social Advertising

16 May 2011 Ken Yeung No Comment

Target by yazolay/sxc.huRecently I’ve started to delve into Facebook’s advertising platform. Initially it struck me a bit confusing as I tried to look at setting up a campaign. Normally if you were going to create a campaign, you’d focus on the keywords and your daily price on what you feel comfortable bidding on. But instead, Facebook’s ad platform forces you to choose where your ads would be displayed based on demographics and a specific targeted criteria. Then it struck me, instead of being all about the money spent, Facebook’s strategy was about changing the way online advertising was traditionally perceived and evolve it into being more about the people you’re reaching. In effect, this new form of online advertising has undergone a remarkable transformation to become known as social advertising.

Excuse me? Social Advertising?

Yes, social advertising…while it’s an old concept, it has been recently redefined by Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg and could be defined as thus:

Social Advertising represents ad formats that engage the social context of the user viewing the ad. Whereas in traditional, non-social, advertising the ad is targeted based on what it knows about the individual person or the individual page, in social advertising the ad is targeted based on what it knows about the individual user’s social network.

When I refer to social advertising, I’m not talking about it merely from the standpoint of it being from a specific network or even leveraging the services to reach out for them, but more about the targeting aspect–it’s the socio-graphics that affect how we advertise. Is traditional online advertising still strong? Sure? But with the advent of these social networks like Facebook, MySpace and many others, what’s the sure-fire way to get noticed by the millions of users on the service and also help the network monetize their product? Advertising. And why not? The one thing that social networks can bring to the table instead of what Google (or even Yahoo or Microsoft) can muster right now is key demographics. The social web has helped usher in a fundamental shift in how we are viewing our audience and customers.

And why not? According to a recent study listed on Internet Retailer, Facebook, one of the largest social networks on the Internet, currently claims more than 31% of the entire display ad market. What this means is that in the first quarter of 2011, 1.11 trillion online display ads viewed by US Internet users, nearly one in three were delivered on Facebook. In fact, Jeff Hackett, comScore’s executive vice president says:

The leading social network led all web sites that displayed ads with 346.46 billion impressions, a 96.5% jump from the 176.31 billion impressions it delivered in the same period a year ago. Yahoo Inc. sites came in second with 112.51 billion impressions, followed by Microsoft Corp. (53.59 billion), AOL Inc. (33.45 billion) and Google Inc. sites (27.99 billion).

Targeting the individual, NOT the price point

Imagine that you were to set up an online advertising campaign. If you were to utilize Google AdWords or even Microsoft’s ad platform, chances are that you would start off with looking at what keywords you would want to target. By doing this, you’re going to reach out to an anonymous group of individuals who may or may not be in your focused demographics. Sure, Google AdWords will give you an estimate of people, but how many are truly your target market and would have a high conversion? The Internet is filled with millions of users and Google is one of the top websites, which equates to an enormous amount of visits each day. If you’re not really good with your online advertising, then one way to view this form of advertising is more of a spray and pray approach.

Now, let’s look at Facebook’s advertising platform. Instead of you looking at the campaign from an budgetary standpoint and what keywords you’d like to monopolize to get people to notice you, what Facebook offers is for you to look at the people first who would be interested in your advertisement or topic. If I had to run a campaign for men’s shoes, if I went to Google AdWords, some keywords might be “athletic shoes”, “footwear”, “nike”, “adidas”, “running shoes”, etc.– all of which doesn’t really tell me if the person clicking on it would be truly interested. What Facebook’s platform opens our eyes to is that the social network contains a huge demographic database that will tell us if (using my shoe example) 1 million people on the network qualify under the criteria that they’re between 18-23 years old, currently in college, have interest in sports (Football and Basketball), live in Texas, Florida, New York, and Los Angeles, and have several other qualifications. These are the type of helpful things that would generate better targeting towards your marketing campaign. And for people on Facebook, they’re probably already providing that information to the service so that’s easily accessible and part of the demographic system.

So instead of you looking at the budget you’re willing to spend, this opens up a whole new dialogue on what you want to get out of your advertising program – are you interested in reaching qualified demographics or simply making sure that your keywords match what’s on your site without truly reaching a potential customer, good enough for you?

Search engines should want it to be a fair game, but unfortunately are losing to social

Social advertising should not be the de facto way of conducting our online advertising program. Let’s face it, traditional means through Google AdWords or other platforms is NOT going to go away for many years. And since social media is relatively new and probably not the way that many businesses will feel comfortable undertaking for their programs when more creative and possibly effective means of using social media await them, Google, Yahoo and Bing are the services they’ll turn to. But there’s not a unique login for all three and there’s no profile page that these search engines can use to effectively target the demographics like what we see on Facebook. So what are we to do? Should these search engines leverage their existing email accounts for information? What about if the demographics for Yahoo are generated from the Yahoo email addresses or logins and Google from Gmail or Google Account logins and Bing from Windows Live accounts? Each search engine has their own unique authorization system and that might work…but only as long as the users provide as much information as they would on Facebook or other social networks – and that’s probably not realistic. Also, what about this other thing out there:

Privacy

Yes, the “P” word that seems to have been encroached on as we delve more into becoming more social. Will people feel comfortable and safe providing that information that could potentially be tied back to them and therefore be alarming for some? Social advertising may have a future with search engines, but there are so many different complexities in play here.

Who knows what will lie in store for social advertising or even if online advertising will fade away. But I think that for those interested in online advertising, you should begin to think outside the box and think not only with the search engines, but also with social networks – the results might be comparable and maybe even better.

Photo credit: yazolay / sxc.hu

Ken Yeung is a interactive strategist, project manager, and tech journalist. He's currently a Strategy and Research Content Lead at Orange Silicon Valley. Previously, he was the Bay Area Reporter for The Next Web, the Editor-in-Chief of Bub.blicio.us and a correspondent for Network Solutions' small business blog. These words are his own and not of his employer.