In a great Mashable article about how news organizations are exploring social advertising, Vadim Lavrusik captures the entire promise of social advertising in two succinct statements:

"Social media, which effectively has infiltrated all corners of the web, has great potential in not only bringing in revenue but also making ads more useful to readers while also satisfying the needs of advertisers aiming to effectively reach the public. The social web can change the way we think about ads, by making them social and personalized to create utility for the user."

"Doctor (Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics) said he sees social media optimization as a driver of audience and engagement, and that engagement getting monetized through targeting, rather than blasting social marketing pushes. Being able to get more sophisticated in targeting individuals and specific communities will make monetization efforts easier."

Guiding principles for social ads

In other words: 

A. Ads that are useful - because we design them to serve the need of the user vs. repetitive "impressions"

B. Ads that are relevant - because we have successfully delivered them to the people who will value them most (i.e. properly targeted)

Social advertising as my colleague, Sean Muzzy at Neo@Ogilvy, would say is either defined by the environment, the quality of the advertisement or how it is targeted. 

  1. On social platforms/streams: We can deliver via a social platform like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter thuis reaching people where they are increasingly spending time. 
  2. Include social content or functions: We can make the ad itself somehow more social by including social content from the brand or consumers or by integrating social features like Open Graph connectivity from Facebook (i.e. social sharing)
  3. Target delivery via social data: We can deliver based upon interests and affinities (I like contemporary literature like Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee) or based upon our social graph (who our friends are)

WaPo-Promoted-V2

Examples
Realistically, we should combine all or some of these to produce even more impactful advertising. We would rarely just drop advertising in Facebook or YouTube without targeting it in some way. Here are three interesting examples of social advertising:

Promoted Trend on Twitter - The Washington Post "bought" the hashtag #elections during the recent elections. That means there tweets appeared at the top of the search stack for the hashtag. I would have found that useful. It all depends on the content of the tweet and the alignment of the brand to the trend. IBM buying #cloud (i.e. cloud computing) makes perfect sense presuming they are tweeting useful content. 

Real Time Ads - we are big fans of designing social ads such that we can change the content at will. Whether swapping in a new consumer generated piece fo content or a timely offer, dynamic publishing can help us make the ad units more relevant and useful. Vadim points to the Minnpost's RealTimeAds as a great example. Companies like Alchemy Social are building systems to deliver highly dynamic ad streams

Social targeting - The biggest difference I find in the concept of social targeting vs. how we used to place advertising is in our ability to target based upon stated interests. InsideFacebook has a great summary of the ten ways to target in Facebook. 

  • Location
  • Keyword
  • Connection
  • Relationship
  • Age
  • Birthday
  • Education
  • Sex 
  • Workplace
  • Language

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IMPACT 

Think about these key points  that clarify the impact and potential of social advertising (and of social media, in general):

  • From Vadim's article: "For many, social sites like Facebook and Twitter account for 10% to 15% of their overall referrals, but are number one in growth. The results are even more heavy on social for news startups like CapitalNY, Doctor said, who get 40% or more of their traffic from social. And of course, the quality of these referrals is often better than those readers who come from search. They yield better conversation and are more likely to become regular users of the site, he said."
  • We have found a compound effect when combining advertising with earned media content significantly improving the ad performance
  • The social environment begs for a new definition of "advertising" which is far more important and useful to people today. If we can offer customers solutions when and where they most need them, then advertising becomes useful and is not seen as purely interruptive.

 

(WaPo Twitter image borrowed with respect from Mashable article)