Why editors should be in charge of social media advertising

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The problem

Paid promotion in social media should be something that brands put in the hands of editors, not media buyers. Just because money changes hands, it does not mean that this stuff should be the sole remit of advertising professionals.

Paid social media advertising is often very poor, and mostly ignored. Budget belongs with teams and agencies that are focused on advertising, and treat social media like another channel.

Media is not the centre of a brand’s universe any longer – the customer is. It is insufficient to follow their media “consumption” in a digital age. We need to follow – and anticipate – the attention and needs of the customer.

In social media, advertising is too often an unwelcome guest at the party, a gate-crasher or bore who can’t read the room, wants only to talk about themselves or their pet topics. We track the positive outcomes of these efforts – the sales, the clicks, the conversions – negative impact, from increasing negative perceptions of a brand to developing ever deeper aversion to advertising and brand marketing in general.

The Economist recently highlighted a study by Havas showing the extent of disillusionment with brands.

134,000 consumers in 23 countries were asked what they thought of 700 brands. A majority of those taking part would not care if 73% of them just vanished. In Europe and America 92% would not be missed.

There’s a number of issues wrapped up in this – but fundamentally it is about legacies of advertising-centric marketing: legacy business models, legacy language and legacy thinking.

Paid distribution, not earned media
One set of language that urgently needs to change is the POEM model – paid, owned and earned. While it was – and sometimes still is – useful in opening minds to the possibilities of reaching customers outside of formal media channels, it also limits the possibilities of working in social media.

The division of labour and budgets between paid and earned is a legacy of traditional media that should now fade away. It causes problems because it is media-centric rather than customer-centric.

It’s better to think about paid-supported distribution of content than earned media. Think about the most powerful distribution tools:

  • Paid-supported, promoted-tweets
  • Outbrain, Zemanta et al
  • Promoting Facebook posts
  • Sponsored channels and spaces – e.g. YouTube

Paid is last on the list, if the customer is first

In a content supply chain way of thinking about the world, you need to have strong distribution tools. But they come at the end of a process that starts with the customer journey, an understanding of how to meet their needs with content and experiences and then distributing content and signposts in places that the customer will be looking for them.

Paid media is an essential tool in the box – just not the first tool that anyone should be picking up.

As the content / customer loop is closed with ever richer data, the need for advertising spend should decrease. The more accurate it is, the less you should need to spend on getting there – money that can go back into innovation, product development and customer experience.

Always-on, paid supported content is the best model for customers and brands. An area Brilliant Noise is looking at closely is what the shape of successful online engagement with customers looks like. We have been comparing the use of Twitter by major brands over a few months.

Four types of brand behaviour emerge:

  • Campaign-based social network use – spikes of activity around promotions / marketing pushes
  • Always-on social network use – a consistent level of posting and engagement with customers.
  • Regular posting only – using the standard posting capabilities of a platform.
  • Paid-supported distribution – using paid distribution to boost reach of some posts/profiles/pages.

We’ll be publishing our full findings in a few weeks time, but an early insight is that always-on, paid-supported is the blend of behaviours that gets the best engagement, in terms of reach and sentiment. The data also leads us to conclude that there is a small price in sentiment to pay for paid distribution – small, but noticeable.

Interestingly, this insight brought us back to a model created by Pauline Ores when she was at IBM a few years ago. An early mover in working with content and communities, IBM needed to explain to itself how budgets and resources would be used differently to in advertising campaigns.

The first chart shows a typical 8–12 week campaign, where spend and results spike in the middle and then fall away.

Ember

The second chart shows a consistent approach to developing a community, that can also be applied to larger scale content and social media efforts today. Spend remains constant, while results increase over time as the community/audience grows, plateauing at the point where it has found it natural level.

Ember

Content is still not scaling at (most) large organisations
At least, it isn’t yet. There are a number of elements that need to be in place for a mature approach to using content to engage with customers:
A customer-first mindset.

  • Strategic approach to content.
  • Content supply chain.
  • Metrics connected to business outcomes.
  • Well-resourced, full time editorial teams.
  • A-OPS: Always-On, Paid Supported.

To achieve an A-OPS approach (pronounced, if you like, as you were a Yorkshire caricature) , paid budgets and responsibility need to increasingly be put under the remit of editors, or the equivalent of a Chief Content Officer. Right now, that just isn’t happening as often as should be.