Memo to Publishers—Don’t Wait to Produce Social Content and Ads

By By Matthew Yorke

Almost weekly, reports chronicle the meteoric rise in social media and an increase in ad revenues. A comScore study in June found that more than 20% of all online display ads were viewed in social network sites, mostly MySpace and Facebook. Nonetheless, many people I meet say that Facebook has no revenue, but they are genuinely shocked when I tell them Facebook revenues are reportedly around $400 million today…not bad for a social networking company with an as-yet-undefined business model.

But the real story is in the earned media side of the equation. Indeed, I would argue that earned media challenges for marketers represent huge opportunities for publishers. IDG Research conducted a survey that shows how IT buyers are relying more and more on tools such as blogs, wikis and social networks to find information that allows them to do their jobs better. Outside of IT, eMarketer recently reported that 90% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know and 70% trust opinions posted online. That compares to only 33% who trust content within traditional banners. These are not isolated numbers, and they continue to trend toward social media.

Digital advertising has managed to avoid the worst of the ad recession primarily because it is more accountable than traditional media and can “engage” a user in some form of brand experience, whether that’s a click or whitepaper download. But online ads are still a one-way shouting match from advertiser to reader. What we are seeing within social networking is a whole new form of communication that can scare marketers but can offer so much more value for consumers of information. Media companies are moving from one-to-one communication to a world of one-to-many and many-to-many conversations. These conversations literally ripple across the Web, and Twitter is leading the way.

All of these conversations and interactions with individuals with a brand message, and constant exchange of insights and opinions…they all start with content. That could be a new TV spot posted on YouTube that goes viral, a whitepaper, a Wikipedia entry edited by users, a discussion forum, an article posted on Digg and discussed across blogs and forums. Content allows marketers to attract the attention of their prospects, and then earn their trust and brand empathy. An eMarketer report in August 2009 claims 56% of social network users have become a fan/follower of a company or brand, and 46% said something good about a brand/company.

So what’s going to happen? Marketers will shift more and more emphasis, time and dollars to engaging with prospects where they spend most of their time. A recent survey by the MediaPost Center for Research and Insight Express found that more than 56% of the online respondents realistically plan to include social media in their 2010 marketing plans. The only higher-rated realistic program was email marketing.

The research and statistics about social networking are coming fast and furious, but the general messages are clear. Marketers need to understand, with the help of publishers, that social ads or conversations are different than traditional “shouting” ads. To some extent, advertisers will lose control of messages, and they cannot force somebody into a discussion. By experimenting with social ads, publishers and marketers will learn a great deal. In a future Minsiders column, I will talk about what IDG and our clients have learned about social ads originating within media brands.

Minsider columnist Matthew Yorke is president, Strategic Marketing Services, IDG Communications. And is one of our exclusive Minsiders, veterans from the print, digital, advertising and services industries who contribute columns to minonline.