Where do you think the future of social media lies? Is it in the world of branding, or is it the world of direct response, lead gen, cost per acquisition-type marketing?
The bigger picture of the future of online media frames my answer. The future of online media is most definitely rooted in brand marketing. To date, digital media and specifically online, has been an action-based marketing vehicle, driving activity such as clicks and conversions, but for the business to mature and evolve it HAS to be able to deliver brand metrics and apply them successfully. We already see the transition in mobile and online video, where marketers realize that it’s not about clicks, but it’s about targeted exposure, awareness, consideration and intent. That understanding of how to use these aspects of digital media is starting to influence traditional digital banners and ad units. Brands are seeing that its about building frequency in the eyes of the target audience, and eliminating wasted impressions against those people you are not interested in speaking to. These metrics, reach and frequency, are coupled with impact and engagement to create metrics that brands can apply to all their marketing campaigns, regardless of vehicle, and generate understanding of how consumers become customers.
If this is the case, and there’s definitely lots of data that support my points, then it’s logical to think that social media is going to quickly become a valuable branding tool. Currently marketers are mixed on how to use social, with too many people not valuing the impressions because they don’t have the proper evaluation metrics in place to create an apples to apples comparison. Social media impressions, or conversational media impressions, are difficult to value vs. traditional TV impressions, print impressions or even standard online impressions. The missing factor in this comparison is an industry standard for impact and engagement. How engaging are TV, print or traditional online vs. social media impressions? How engaging are consumer-to-consumer impressions in social media vs. the brand-to-consumer impressions that take place on Facebook’s news feed or in a standard eCRM effort? What metrics can we put in place that will create an industry standard for measuring and comparing these vehicles?
These questions are ones that will absolutely be answered over the next 2-3 years, as the business matures. Unfortunately, my prediction is the answers will be categorical in nature, with very little cross-industry standard capable of being put in place. For example, one of the most important questions to be asked in the industry so far is what is the value of a social media fan or follower? That question has not been answered to any comfort level, with the response ranging from $3 to $113, depending on the source. The true answer, I suspect, is “it depends”. It depends on the category of product or service, and it depends on the depth of engagement that takes place between the brand and their fans. If the brand utilizes their social platform in an economical, engagement-driven manner, then the value can be high. If a brand uses their social platform in an excessive, broadcast-centric manner with no true value exchange to take place, then the value is low. It’s not dissimilar to the way that a brand uses eCRM and email; if you blitz your audience then they become numb or disinterested and the value declines. If you hit them economically and offer something of value, the return can be high!
So the long-winded answer to the question, in my eyes, is that social will definitely be considered a branding vehicle as it moves ahead. There are certainly some marketers and agencies looking at it now as a lead gen or response-driven medium, but that view is short sighted and doesn’t place a value on the word-of-mouth component that social can provide, nor does it take into account the targeted nature of the self-selected audience it reaches.
Do you agree? Let me know on the Spin Board!