Social advertising invokes peer pressure

Posted on May 4, 2012

Do social media ads even work?

CALGARY, AB, Apr. 30, 2012/ Troy MediaQuestion: When is an ad not an ad? Answer: When it’s a story, maybe even one shared by a friend.

A promoted tweet example

"Call of Duty" game maker warns of zombies in Promoted Tweet

In the ever-changing world of digital advertising, and the never-ending quest for business models for online publishers, “social advertising” is suddenly all the rage.

In part this stuff resembles what we called “advertorial” back in my print days. The rule then was we had to clearly mark advertorial so it wouldn’t be confused with properly vetted editorial content. On the social web those lines are somewhat blurry to non-existent.

A case of banner blindness

It’s natural, even predictable this would happen. I’ve written in this space before about the ineffectiveness of banner ads. Publishers need to find other mechanisms to generate revenue. Brian Solis, principle at the Altimeter Group, a California-based technology advisory firm, put it succinctly:

In a phenomenon dubbed ‘banner blindness,’ consumers are learning to ignore many forms of digital advertising in favor of the desired content within their area of focus.”

The solution to banner blindness? Turn the ads into content. You know, the part of the page where people are looking. Then add an element of peer endorsement, maybe even slight pressure.

That’s why Facebook is experimenting more and more with sponsored stories. Though the mammoth social network has been testing variations on this theme since 2006, it has recently accelerated those efforts, as reported on

“Sponsored Stories are uniquely structured ads in that an advertiser does not have control over the creative and an advertiser cannot pay to show the unit to whomever they want. In order for a user to see a Sponsored Story, one of the user’s friends has to have taken a particular action. For example, if a user does not have a single friend that plays a particular social game, that user will never see a Sponsored Story from that game, even if the user otherwise fits the demographic a developer wants to reach.”

Twitter, not to be left behind (and sorely in need of revenue), is in the midst of launching (re-launching?) Promoted Tweets and Promoted Accounts. As Aidan Hijleh wrote on

Both Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets have been available for a while now. However, they were not exactly easily accessible . . . With the new ad platform, all they need is an Internet connection and a credit card. Small businesses now have the ability to choose how much they want to spend per day, how much they want to spend per follower or engagement, and even the location they want their ads to be targeted in.”

Twitter’s self-serve ad ordering system, currently limited to invited businesses only, will bring their purchase process closer to that of Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.

Do social media ads even work?

With all this experimentation and feverish beta testing, do social ads even work? Preliminary data from Nielsen Research indicates they just might be effective.

While prior Nielsen research showed that online ads tend to be noticed and remembered overall, this analysis further demonstrates that social ads do provide an advantage. On average, social ads generate a 55 per cent greater lift in ad recall than non-social ads, though individual cases may vary.”

When you’re booking your next ad campaign, maybe pause to ask yourself “what’s our story, and how can we get it in front of the right people, through their friends?”

Doug Lacombe is a social media speaker and strategist with social media agency communicatto. Find him on Twitter at @dblacombe.

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