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Social media today is simply online media that facilitates social interaction. There are numerous websites, channels and resources that allow advertisements to be distributed reaching millions of people worldwide. Sites such as ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’, ‘MySpace’, ‘YouTube’ and ‘Bebo’ all contain users that have identities or profiles that display demographic and social information about themselves. These users can create connections with one another by ‘following’ one another or by becoming ‘friends’. This social media interaction and communication with one another has provided advertisers with a new opportunity to infiltrate and display their messages to a vast online audience. For example, ‘Facebook’ has over 400 million members (‘Facebook’ 2010) and 50% of active users log on to ‘Facebook’ in any given day. It also boasts over 80 million unique users each month and people spend over 500 billion minutes per month on ‘Facebook’. The reality is that social media delivers the Holy Grail for advertisers on the Internet: a mass-concentrated audience reaches similar levels to television. However, successful advertising to this environment is not necessarily straight forward and without problems. There are several concerns regarding some advertisements that invade privacy and publish users identities making the adverts intrusive on peoples online social lives. Furthermore there are cultural concerns related to social media advertising and these will be explored in greater detail later in this essay. Nevertheless, social media advertising is considered to be central to marketing, as the Internet has become a powerful platform for advertisers to reach mass audiences.
Social media has become an integral part of modern society. Astonishingly, there are some social network sites with user bases larger than the populations of most world countries. It was therefore only a matter of time before advertisers began to permeate the online social media environment. These adverts could be based specifically on user demographics and interests and this focused selling point appealed to many advertisers. Social networking sites have developed over the past decade and are frequently changing to accommodate new advertising campaigns. However this social medium is still a relatively new environment for advertisers. Dating sites are often considered to be the first social networks, as they seemed to appear around the same time people first started going online. These sites allowed users to create profiles and to contact other users, often sharing photographs. Social media has come a long way since those days and social media advertising has developed into a platform that is becoming central to modern marketing campaigns. Nowadays there are social and user-generated sites for numerous different activities and purposes. Social shopping sites, social financial planning sites, sites for people to share their goals and ambitions aswell as sites to meet like minded people. Over the past decade, social media has developed and become an enormous influence on the lives of millions of people worldwide. Whether people need something as simple as a film review or seek answers to personal problems or major life decision, there are social sites out there to provide people with the information they require. Accompanying these sites, in dedicated web space (often within a page), advertisers have ideal opportunities to target new products based on specific user searches or necessities. Social media advertisements continue to evolve on a daily basis. With advertising on major social networks and social media sites making changes and improvements on an almost daily basis, it’s sure to keep evolving over the coming years.
“Advertising is concerned to urge consumers to buy the commodities (or services) that will satisfy existing wants more adequately or that will satisfy new ones” (Harris, Seldon 1962)
As advertisers seek to promote their products based on popular culture and emotive desires, social media sites provide a perfect vehicle to access a wider range of consumer. Social media advertising is becoming more important to marketing campaigns as the levels of people reached online can often surpass peak television advertising viewership figures (Ord 2008). One way to advertise products on social media sites is to create dedicated pages or profiles where customers and potential customers can become ‘friends’ or ‘fans’ of the actual business or brand. These profile pages are like miniature Web pages within social medial sites and can include information about businesses such as locations, official websites, lists of services and how to contact the business directly. Furthermore businesses often include dynamic content, for instance, comments left by customers or ‘fans’, an RSS feed, an up-to-date blog and even special offers or sale details. Other adverts include Pay-per-click (PPC) ads where advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. However advertising on social media is not only about clicks or click rate, it’s about reaching a huge worldwide audience. Social media advertising is becoming so central to advertisers nowadays as this is a great way to reach mass audiences and in terms of audience size, there are several ‘Super Bowls’ every day on ‘Facebook’, ‘MySpace’ and ‘YouTube’. Click rates offer an indication to page views and social media sites have a ‘large overlapping audience that hang around them all day, every day. Television would have a low click rate too if an ad campaign were measured over the course of a months worth of programs on the same network, assuming you could click the screen”(Ord 2008). People also flick between social media adverts much like tuning in and out of TV adverts.
‘Twitter’ grew more than 1500% in mid-2009 and ‘Facebook’ has almost caught up with ‘Google’ in web traffic (Sav 2010). In April 2010, the company Nielsen (audience measurement firm that tracks TV, internet, and radio usage worldwide) published results of a 6-month research campaign into usage patterns of users on ‘Facebook’. Nielsen found that Engagement ads (see figure 1.1) on average generated a 10% increase in ad recall, a 4% increase in brand awareness and a 2% increase in purchase intent among users who saw them compared with a control group with similar demographics or characteristics who didn’t (Wauters 2010).
Figure 1.1 Different ‘Facebook’ adverts with varying levels of success (c/o Nielsen)
According to Nielsen, the increase in recall rose to 16% when adverts displayed friends who were ‘fans’ (Adverts with social context – figure 1.1), and this jumped to 30% when these ads appeared in other friends’ newsfeeds (Organic advert impression – figure 1.1). This is an example of how advertisements are being modified and adapted to generate maximum interest from the target audience. In spite of this, there also remains the belief that users will subconsciously continue to ignore attempts to intrude into private social media environments.
‘Many critics maintain that advertising exists primarily to create demand among consumers. People have certain types of wants and needs, and they are perfectly capable of discovering for themselves what they are’ (Leiss, Botterill, Jhally, Kline, 2005)
The consumer now appears to have the power of communication and the traditional business to consumer marketing model is replaced with consumer-to-consumer conversations over social media sites. The problem for advertisers nowadays is how to insert their own brands into those conversations.
The Internet has become a powerful platform for advertisers to reach mass audiences via user-generated video too. According to data collected by comScore, online video views from U.K. users grew 37% in 12 months. The measurement firm estimates users streamed a total of 5.5 billion videos in February 2010, up from an estimated 4 billion in February 2009. This is another reason why social media advertisement is considered so important in modern marketing. Advertisers envisage short commercials with each video streamed, thus creating a platform for the Internet to compete with broadcast TV in delivering commercial views. Additionally on the advertising sub-page for ‘YouTube’, companies are provided useful tips and pointers to create a successful advertising campaign on the massive ad-sharing network. According to a ‘Google’ spokesperson, there is tremendous scope for capturing the attention of an audience that surpasses America’s Super Bowl, the most watched TV event in that country each year. As ‘Google’ owns ‘YouTube’ it can feature in-video advertisements that appear at the bottom of certain videos (often popular videos with over 5000 hits). These adverts are not only content-specific but also location-specific aswell. This has great financial ramifications as online video advertising has risen 9% to $7.9 billion over a 12-month period (Skepys 2010). Furthermore search-based advertising through ‘Google’ reached $11.4 billion, an annual rise of just under 6%. With well over 13 billion ‘YouTube’ views in March 2010 alone (Skepys 2010), advertisers could well be reaping the rewards of these in-video promotions as a result of augmented online video views. This is another example of how social media advertising has become so important to marketing schemes today as the potential financial rewards are substantial. However the future success of social media advertisements is threatened by potential social and cultural problems that need to be properly addressed.
A general concern with advertising on social networking sites is that people that use these sites are only interested in interaction with the people who they care about and their attention lies in communication with friends and family. People rarely pay attention to advertisements, as they are not relevant to what people are doing at that specific time. This is where Google ad-words are most successful, as people searching for products are inundated with places to buy that product as a result of optimised advertisement placement on ‘Google’. In contrast ‘Facebook’s average click through rate on their social advertisements is just 0.08% (Agishtein 2010), this means that for every 10,000 times an advert is shown, it will only be clicked 8 times. It can be assumed that social network users are ignoring these advertisements on mass. These social advertisements are publicised by demographics and target the specific user based on interests and information provided in their own profile. Despite this focused advertising, the products or services promoted are ultimately not related to the social activities people participate in during online social-networking sessions. Other social advertisements create additional ‘ad messages’ based on purchases or interests that are viewable to the public and friends (see ‘Organic ad impressions’ figure 1.1). However many people are uncomfortable with this as it violates users privacy and control which is critical for social network users to feel safe online.
Consequently, advertising must be injected into online conversations. For advertisements to be successful, the users ideally should want to talk about and share advertising messages with their social network friends. If advertisers hijack those conversations by not respecting the users desire for privacy and control, the adverts will backfire. This is ultimately bad for the advertiser, the social network and the user. The question remains, how do advertisers insert their messages into the conversation between friends on social network sites and social environments? According to Seth Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of Social Media Networks (an ad consultancy firm focused on monetizing the social web), “Social media is killing Internet advertisingâ€¦the problem is, a few years ago, people started to become more interested in each other and less interested in the ads”. This view is supported by the relatively low click through rates on social networking sites like ‘Facebook’ and explains usage patterns whereby users visit social network sites to primarily interact with friends and rarely pay attention to advertisements. There is a danger that social advertisements will follow similar patterns to Internet banner ads that show an even lower click through rate on social media sites of 0.04%(Corbin 2008). Banner ads fail because social network users are accustomed to seeing them, and ignoring them has become a reflex. Advertisers have therefore aimed to try new innovations and marketing schemes to try and generate greater interest in this enormous ‘window’ for consumers. One such scheme is the integration of advertising within social network applications.
Applications are becoming central to the social networking experience. The success of these can be measured directly in the number of downloads and monitored by how they are shared between friends and family. A recent example of advertisement integrated into an application was the BMW application intended for ‘Facebook’. The intention of this application was to promote BMW’s new line the ‘1 Series’ and provide the user with an interactive, virtual ‘joyride’ to various worldwide destinations. Furthermore, users could personalise their cars by changing colours and adding modifications. BMW aimed to create an online community with this application, centralised around the brand. This allowed ‘Facebook’ members to interact with the product on an entirely opt-in basis (Corbin 2008). However, this opt-in element has become increasingly critical and has led to cultural problems relating to social media advertising.
On November 6th 2009, ‘Facebook’ launched a service called ‘Beacon’. This was an advertisement system that sent data from external websites to ‘Facebook’, and permitted targeted advertisements with greater accuracy whilst allowing users to share activities with friends and publish these activities on other friends’ newsfeeds. However, this system provoked major uproar when users started complaining that ‘Beacon’ was violating their privacy. Since that incident, the ethical and cultural concerns have been heightened with concerns over profile-based ad targeting. CEO of Social Media Networks, Seth Goldstein states “Beacon was a setback, not just for ‘Facebook’, but for the whole industry.” Engagement with modern social advertising remains difficult to measure but the downloadable application installations are easily tallied up and also whether it has been passed along to friends or not. Additionally these profile-based adverts frequently portray media stereotypes. These stereotypes can be problematic and instigate cultural tensions. Often they reduce a wide range of differences in people to simplistic categorizations and transform assumptions about particular groups of people into ‘realities’. Ultimately this could perpetuate social prejudice and inequality.
“More often than not, the groups being stereotyped have little to say about how they are represented. Furthermore many people would ‘deny that they are being influenced by advertisements and regard them at worst as lies, at best idiot triviality’. People are considered to be sceptical of advertising however, they might find it more difficult to resist the more general social image or message presented with advertising campaigns located in social media channels.”
Specific media stereotypes provide problems for advertisers using social media environments, however it is not just stereotypes where potential issues lie with advertising through this medium. There is a raised level of concern for parents as marketers look to interact with children through the aforementioned social networking sites, online-video sites and gaming sites. Advertising on Television is meticulously regulated with advertising standards, yet the Internet is so far avoiding such regulations making it easier to target children with brand positioning adverts (Finklehorn 2009). Furthermore there are anxieties that children and under-age audiences are engaging with advertising on social networks for alcohol brands. It is evident that new guidelines and regulations are required to protect children aswell as the public’s privacy.
New guidelines for advertising on social networking sites like ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’ are being proposed in the UK. Under these new proposals the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) would control digital marketing to ensure that it is ‘responsible, legal, honest and truthful’ (Bryant 2010). These new regulations are scheduled for implementation later in 2010 and a clear mandate of these new guidelines state that first and foremost consumers and children will be protected. Location will also become more important to social media and the future of social media advertising. According to Debra Willamson, eMarketer senior analyst, brand monitoring “will increase sophistication so that companies can begin to understand the ‘why’ of consumer chatter aswell as the who, what and when”. It can also be expected that companies will strive to provide additional services in social channels that essentially aim to gather greater understanding of the market and grab the attention of mass media audiences.
Social media interaction and communication with one another has provided advertisers with a new opportunity to infiltrate and display their messages to a vast online audience.
“There is some evidence to suggest that advertising plays a part in defining ‘reality’ in a general or anthropological sense. It projects the goals and values that are consistent with and conductive to the consumer economy and socialises us into thinking that we can buy a way of life as well as goods.” (Dyer 1982)
The goals and desires that Dyer refers to here are achievable by purchasing the intended products and services advertised to users of social media sites. However some adverts use media stereotyping to target users and the relatively low click through rate of adverts on social networking sites suggests that these types of intrusive adverts are largely being ignored. This coupled with other privacy issues could potentially leave social media advertisements following in the same fateful path as Internet banner ads. However the enormous scope for mass audiences that could result in substantial financial reward is too great for advertisers to ignore. They consider social media advertising central to marketing as nowadays this is a great way to reach mass audiences and in terms of audience size as there are several ‘Super Bowls’ every day on ‘Facebook’, ‘MySpace’ and ‘YouTube’. With online-video streaming up 37% in the last year and an estimated 5 billion videos being streamed per month, there are multiple opportunities for products to be advertised based on video content and even location. With advertising regulations due to be published later this year, greater control can be seized over online social media advertisements. These guidelines will prevent children viewing inappropriate material and also protect people’s privacy being exploited by intrusive web systems monitoring page history and detailed consumer interests. There are still tremendous opportunities for social media advertising in the future, so long as advertisers adhere to these new guidelines and continue to persevere with new marketing schemes. The development of new initiatives, such as advertising in applications on social network sites in addition to the continued pursuit of subtle advertisements in consumer-to-consumer conversations, will see products reach a wider range of consumer and consequently result in substantial financial profits for advertisers on social media sites.
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