Social media has evolved into an increasingly important means of marketing interaction, and nowhere is that more evident than in paid advertising on social sites.
According to a new study by BtoB, "Social Media Marketing: A Surge in Adoption," LinkedIn Corp.—cited as marketers' single favorite social media site—is tied with Facebook Inc. as the most popular advertising site among social channels. LinkedIn is considered a strong lead generator because of its ability to segment professional categories.
That view is supported by BtoB's study: Lead generation is considered the single most important benefit of staging a paid advertising campaign on one or more of the social media sites, cited by 35% of respondents. Branding (24%), website traffic building (16%), community building (7%) and product/event promotions (5%) also are considered key benefits of social ads.
Undoubtedly, a question in many marketers' minds is how to balance this paid social presence with organic, participatory interaction.
"It's a delicate dance," said John Mannion, exec VP and director-client relations with agency Doremus San Francisco. Mannion said the situation reminds him of old radio and TV soap operas that were wholly sponsored by soap manufacturers, often with characters using the sponsor's products in the story line.
"Now companies are developing places for people to interact, but also are trying to figure out how much of their sponsorship is worth disclosing," Mannion said. "It's a delicate balance to be authentic and genuine, and not have what is supposed to be an open social channel become a paid marketing channel."
As they grapple with this, marketers have plenty of new social ad options from which to choose. Last week, Facebook unveiled a redesign of its self-serve ad tool to provide recommendations to smaller companies about what ad types will support specific goals. In the ad creation tool, advertisers are presented with the query, "What do you want to do?" If the user wants to get more Page likes or promote Page posts, for example, the tool will suggest a particular combination of ads and Sponsored Stories to achieve that objective.
LinkedIn recently launched a new feature within its own self-serve LinkedIn Ads tool that allows businesses to better target followers. Targeted Updates allow companies to segment their followers by such categories as company size, job title, seniority, location and industry to better deliver custom status updates. This summer, LinkedIn began testing display ads in its newly introduced app for the iPad. According to LinkedIn, 22% of its users access the site via their mobile devices.
Twitter's newest feature, Expanded Tweets, currently in beta, gives users the option of opening up a tweet to see a variety of embedded content offered by the tweet's sponsor, including a preview of linked content from selected media partners. Twitter also is rolling out its advertising products to 50 new countries, with Latin America and Western Europe the first to get the company's ad lineup of promoted tweets, promoted trends and promoted accounts.
And YouTube recently launched full availability of a paid search service for video that works similarly to text-based paid search ads on parent Google's search engine. Google AdWords for Video allows a company's video ad to appear during related keyword searches on YouTube, or alternately within certain interest or industry categories. Like the pay-per-click model of text-based search ads, companies pay only when a video ad is viewed.
This plethora of new options is spurring marketers to make room in their budgets for social ads. According to BtoB's study, 64% of marketers are allocating some portion of their social media budget to paid advertising on social sites this year.
Nevertheless, social advertising has a ways to go before becoming a fully integrated marketing channel, according to Doug Sechrist, VP-demand marketing at marketing automation company Eloqua Inc.
"Social media offers an opportunity to extend marketing's reach, optimize the value of existing marketing efforts and increase the return of marketing programs," Sechrist said. "We call this social demand.
"[But] while most marketers today are using social media for 'pre-funnel' education and awareness, most have not begun to leverage social sharing, profiling and targeting at more advanced stages of the funnel," he said.
BtoB's study, conducted online in March, garnered 622 respondents.