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Advertisers seek more control over unpredictable social media

Tanzina Vega and Leslie Kaufman (via AFR) | June 4, 2013
As social media sites pursue advertising in a bid for new revenue, they are finding that they must simultaneously create a safe space for the advertisers they attract.

While traditional media companies have provided advertisers with more predictable ad positions - during a certain television show, for instance, or in specific pages of a magazine - the level of control marketers have over online display ads is not as precise. Digital ads are often placed using high-speed algorithmic technologies that allow advertisers to aim ads at a certain demographic - for example, men aged 30 to 40.


"You don't have any control, quite honestly," said Audrey Siegel, president of the media agency TargetCast TCM, part of MDC Partners' Maxxcom Global Media Group. "You're never going to know your ad was here or there. It will change every time a user refreshes their browser."

Robert Quigley, a senior lecturer specialising in social media at the University of Texas's journalism school, said it made sense that social media companies would face more pressure from companies as they demanded more ad dollars.

"More and more advertising dollars are moving to non-traditional online forums, that is why there is more pressure to conform. Money is behind it," he said.

Many social media sites are also free for users, so as these companies expand, they must look to advertising for revenue. (Facebook had its initial public offering last year, and there is widespread speculation that Twitter will follow its lead soon, putting additional pressure on these sites to satisfy investors.)

Advertising on social media is also becoming a bigger piece of many digital advertising budgets. According to the research firm eMarketer, revenue from social media advertising in the United States is expected to reach $US6.43 billion by 2015, or 12.2 percent of all digital advertising spending. Revenue from Facebook advertising in the US is expected to reach $US3.87 billion, up from $US2.75 billion in 2013. Revenue from Twitter advertising in the United States is expected to reach $US484 million in 2013 and just over $US1 billion by 2015, eMarketer said.


Matt Britton, founder and chief executive of the advertising agency MRY, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Visa and Sony, said some brands are nervous about advertising on social media. "That sort of controlled environment is slowly going away, and brands are losing control," he said.

Other brands, Britton said, are less reactive. "They trust that Facebook is doing everything they can and they trust that that's where consumers are," he said. Monitoring content, however, is "easier said than done," mainly because of the volume and "because it's coming from consumers," he said.

In April 2010, Twitter started allowing advertisers to post promotional messages, which would be seen by users who searched words like "pizza" or "new black dress." But marketers soon found themselves in discussions where they did not want to be, whether mistakenly posting from a corporate account rather than a personal one or having a promotional hashtag hijacked by critics.


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