Social media advertising demonstrates success in various forms, including increased brand popularity and lucrative benefits for companies who choose to funnel their budgets and resources into social media’s many channels. As a result, social media outlets prove the most cost-effective and in-touch platforms for advertisers of products, services, and campaigns, and the continued growth of this digitized marketing suggests its transcendence over old media marketing.
In this research, I will consider three general forms of online marketing: paid (referring to independent advertisements placed on social media pages), earned (free publicity through user involvement) and owned (a website), and the financial and reputational success of this multichannel approach (Stephen and Galak, 2012). These three forms allow for the deconstruction of social media marketing and its many facets through which financial and reputational success are most easily achieved.
(table from Stephen and Galak 2012 data)
Advertisers utilize the accessibility of the Internet, the hub of communication and niche groups on digital forums, and bloggers and influencers for product placement and guerilla advertising, which Brooke Erin Duffy, author and media researcher, describes as marketing which aims to achieve its promotion through organic modes of production, like embedded ads in a celebrity’s Instagram photo (Duffy, 2017). These various methodologies each speak to advertising’s larger goal of eliminating emotional and temporal distance with their audience, and its erasure is manifested in the high rates of interactivity between advertiser and consumer, especially seen in the form of politician-to-voter or influencer-to-follower relationships.
(photos taken from Instagram)
It is my hypothesis that this form of advertising achieves intimacy and appearance of authenticity through its unique use of specificity, narrowcasting, and close attention to consumption patterns and preferences. Marketing is malleable and reflective of changing communication and connection methods. Social media outlets have conditioned users and followers to participate in earned marketing to its fullest potential, but also, by structure and nature, encourages participation in paid and owned marketing platforms as well.
(photo from Worshiphouse Media)
Social media pages function as expressive platforms meant for personal connections and entertainment, and because of this context, companies can use these networks to to locate and manipulate specific niches. This performance of product placement or self-endorsement performs in a much more compelling way than the stationary pages and sweepingly general messages of traditional advertisements. In this paper, I refer to traditional advertising outlets to convey those media which existed before the explosion of digital culture, and persist to be leaders in much of advertising success, though lack the flexibility and permeation of social media advertising. For these purposes, that includes television and radio commercials, and all print ads, excluding those which are digitized and presented on social media platforms.
(photos from Pinterest and stretchingabuck Blog)
Although traditional media outlets quantifiably reach larger audiences than social media outlets for the time being, reach doesn’t equate to sales, and social media outlets often attain higher engagement with users because of the interactive characteristics of their presentation (Stephen and Galak, 2012). Janet Murray describes agency offered through digital media as similar to a spectacle, which “tends to [move] toward participatory narrative in order to retain our attention, to lengthen the immersive experience” (Murray, 2016).
This same attention-retaining exploration and control is the bedrock attraction of social media networks, and therefore, advertisements which exist within their constructs extract a sense of agency from viewers that isn’t achieved with traditional media advertising. An advertisement which you can click on, locate, and purchase the product instantly, or read hundreds of reviews of in the comments section is far more user-controlled than the unaccessible 30 and 60 second advertisements of traditional media, which require a non participatory audience.
(photo taken from Yelp)
In a study conducted on microlending in the digital marketplace, The American Marketing Association discovered that traditional media outlets provided fewer but larger per-event impacts on sales, as advertisements released during a television program or through a monthly issue of a magazine are fleeting and less frequently executed than social media advertising, whether on a mass or drip schedule (Stephen and Galak, 2012).
However, social media outlets demonstrate small per-event impacts on sales which lead to long-term increase in sales. This can be explained by social media outlets’ abilities to track their consumer’s activity on the web and discharge more, smaller scale, specified advertisements designed to draw in many particular groups of people. Furthermore, because of social media users’ active engagement levels, they provide output which allows advertisers to gauge popularity of a product based on shares and discussions.
(photo taken from Wired)
In terms of guerilla advertising, and social media advertising as a whole, the role of bloggers, influencers, and ambassadors cannot be dismissed. In research on the labor of social media production, Brooke Erin Duffy found that companies prefer employing brand ambassadors for their ability to organically introduce products to already-established community of followers (Duffy, 2017). The relationship between influencers, who perform as minor celebrities with just enough relatability with their audiences, is one sought after by advertisers for its increase of sales and nearly guaranteed positivity associated with the product.
Advertisers save on the funds they otherwise spend on research, production, distribution by simply using a “real” person to act as their own creative director and tell their followers, who are closer to friends than fans, about the thing being advertised (Duffy, 2017). Duffy describes this as commercial authenticity, which places a strong emphasis on financial and social normalcy, like streetwear blog posts in contrast to ads placed in high fashion magazines.
(photo from Global Blue)
This technique would not be as lucrative and critically studied by social theorists if it did not demonstrate consumers’ cravings of intimacy and relatability from those who sell them their tastes. This is just as much about control and conceptualization on the consumer’s part as it is on the advertiser’s.
Although often criticized as unpaid labor and manipulation of digital users as advocators, earned marketing techniques still prevail as a frequently used methodology. In 2007, Dove employed a consumer-generated marketing campaign, which spawned controversy in its execution, but also ingeniously worked (Slate, 2007) (Duffy, 2017). The soap company asked women online to create their own advertisements for the company, allowing total artistic freedom, and then one video reel was selected to be shown during the annual Academy Awards. Of the thousands of videos recorded and posted, Dove not only gained national recognition for the winning video, but also attained free marketing from every single participant who posted online.
(photo from Dove Real Beauty marketing campaign)
Similarly, all kinds of brands send out free samples and products to influencers on their PR lists, which the recipient may later broadcast across their personal social media channels, providing this same earned marketing impact.
The ways in which brands can utilize the digital landscape to attract, employ, and win over users ranges from sending public relations packages to using tracking cookies to watch Internet users and categorize tastes. This is simply a more immersive and specific type of classification which advertising has always used, but now it can be done on a microscale. Once classifications have been determined, advertisements selected for users blend straight into the structure of the platforms they use.
The image above has been captured directly from my personal Facebook page. The advertisement appears in the structure of a post, informing me of specific friends by name who “like” the brand attempting to sell a product. The advertisement is for laptop cases, which stems from my digital activity yesterday, where I messaged a friend about needing a new laptop case, and then googled “laptop cases macbook A1502.” This image exhibits the exactness of social media advertising’s infiltration techniques.
By analyzing a study conducted by Tetronix, Neal Rodriguez, an online marketer specializing in marketing tactics on a digital basis, concluded that choosing social platforms like Facebook can maximize users’ time on site and increase percentages conversion rate percentages (Forbes, 2016). A few years ago, Tetronix, an electronic test manufacturer, assisted a company called Aimclear to operate using social media ads to increase incoming traffic and raise conversion rates, or how many users visiting your page take desired action (in this case, purchase the product).
The company found that while using Facebook, they experienced a 6% conversion rate rise and increased time on site, or users who organically visit their website, to three minutes and 27 seconds from an average of only two minutes. Not only this, but paid Facebook posts awarded the company nearly 10,000 more visits than unpaid posts.
The relationship between advertisers and platforms is a mutually beneficial one, as it increases revenue for sites while providing a medium for advertisers, and therefore the more this type of marketing occurs, the more success it could potentially gain (The Economist, 2015). In other words, the more advertisers give, the more they get from these sites.
This dissection of data testifies to the hypothesis that advertising on social media achieves a closer connection with consumers, and statistically, companies like Aimclear have experienced long lasting relationships with these users by encouraging them to sign up for email lists and “like” LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
(photo from Pinterest)
Like other promotions, political advertising plays an imperative role in this participatory success of social media outlets, and the procedures for engaging consumers prove equally as advantageous for those seeking voters. In 2014, a journal called Political Behavior conducted a study to exemplify how political advertisement on social media platforms distributed by the candidates themselves influences the outcome of the elections (Spierings and Jacobs, 2014). The study followed nearly 500 candidates of the biggest parties during the 2010 election seasons in the Netherlands and closely monitored their digital activity, the activity of their followers on social media, and how many preferential voters they obtained.
This analysis discovered that digitally active candidates yielded roughly eleven extra votes per 1,000 followers (Spierings and Jacobs, 2014). The message of a campaign is one that is both multiplicative and resembles the methodology of earned social media advertising: as people share and retweet posts from a candidate, they influence those with whom they are digitally connected. This entirely cost-effective means of obtaining preferential voters and general support, however, relies on the politicians’ increased levels of engagement online (Spierings and Jacobs, 2014).
According to eMarketer, a digital research company, social media advertisements are up to 20 billion dollars in spending annually as of 2015, and that although it’s a new market, it’s one that cannot be overlooked when considering the future of product promotion online (The Economist, 2015). Digital marketing alone allows for hypertext clicks and links which take the user straight to the product with minimal effort and unprecedented speed in distribution. Social media marketing embodies and exercises these accessibilities and enhances them, making aesthetic and elocution choices which appear nothing like advertisements at all, but instead, relevant suggestions for users, niche blog posts, and integral parts of people’s’ everyday lives.
(photo from Yale University Press Blog)
“A Brand New Game.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 27 Aug. 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/business/21662543-people-spend-more-time-social-media-advertisers-are-following-them-brand-new-game.
“And Now a Word From Our Sponsor: Attracting Advertisers, Building Brands, and Leveraging (Free Labor).” (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, by Brooke Erin Duffy, Yale University Press, 2017.
“Branding the Authentic Self: The Commercial Appeal of Being Real.” (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, by Brooke Erin Duffy, Yale University Press, 2017.
H., Murray Janet. Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. The MIT Press, 2017.
“(Not) Just for the Fun of It: The Labor of Social Media Production.” (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love: Gender, Social Media, and Aspirational Work, by Brooke Erin Duffy, Yale University Press, 2017.
Rodriguez, Neal. “How To Triple Your Success Using Social Media Advertising Platforms.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.forbes.com/sites/groupthink/2013/05/01/how-to-triple-your-success-using-social-media-advertising-platforms/2/#435cdd5e5a15.
Spierings, Niels, and Kristof Jacobs. “Getting Personal? The Impact of Social Media on Preferential Voting.” Political Behavior, vol. 36, no. 1, 2014, pp. 215–234., http://www.jstor.org/stable/43653399.
Stephen, Andrew T., and Jeff Galak. “The Effects of Traditional and Social Earned Media on Sales: A Study of a Microlending Marketplace.” American Marketing Association, 2012. JSTOR [JSTOR], doi:10.2139/ssrn.1480088.