Growth of Social Media Advertising

Social media advertising is growing rapidly, but the key to success remains in having vital social media sites featuring compelling original content.Social media ads are becoming a staple of integrated marketing campaigns as marketers look for ways to surround their target audiences. And people are taking notice of more ad traffic on their social media streams.

A survey by Vizu confirms advertisers are embracing social media ads as a way to drive traffic to their websites. A report by BIA/Kelsey predicts native social media ads will grow from $1.5 billion this year to $3.9 billion in 2016.

But marketers aren't abandoning other tactics, such as online display, TV and print ads. Instead, social media ads seem to be the latest great idea to take their place as just another outreach tool to audiences, much like mobile apps.

Social media ads are proliferating, explains Ryan Holmes, CEO at HootSuite, because they produce results — at least better results as measured by numbers of clicks than stale ideas such as online banner ads. 

Advertisers, he adds, like social media ads because they can be created and pushed to global audiences almost immediately and at minimal cost, in sharp contrast to spendy print and electronic media campaigns.

Patricia Redsicker, in a blog post for Social Media Examiner, says the success of social media ads depends on the vitality of a company's social media presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, increasingly, Pinterest and Instagram — neither of which, to date, allows for promoted posts, but those probably loom in the near future. It is hard to promote on social media sites that are duds, she says.

Redsicker advises taking advantage of free social media tools to measure and promote engagement before plunging into social media advertising. But Holmes notes that social media ads have their own "crowd-approved" engagement index — how much they are vetted and shared by your social media friends or followers.

Another advantage of social media ads, Holmes says, is the ability to "micro-target users based on literally hundreds of different interests, so the ads you see are for stuff you're actually interested in."

Redsicker insists the key to social media engagement, promoted or not, is original content — giving viewers valuable information, unique offers or entertainment. Quality posts will always get far more engagement, with or without ads to promote them. 

The boomlet in social media ads hasn't occurred without some dust-ups. Earlier this year, Facebook introduced its Promoted Post feature, which has since been renamed Boost Post. The feature gave page administrators the opportunity to share posts with a wider audience — for a price. Many page administrators who had paid for advertising to attract fans, were outraged at the idea of having to pay again to continue to reach those fans. 

One major hindrance to using Facebook advertising is lack of customer service. For advertisers with small budgets, personalized customer service is virtually non-existent. If Facebook hopes to develop this into a major revenue source, it needs to increase its ability to respond to customer questions and concerns.

Another concern for marketers is that current social media ad metrics leave something to be desired. Improving metrics to demonstrate solid return on investment will be essential to long-term business viability.

Online and offline advertising are both valid ways to direct audiences to original content. The emerging consensus is that online and offline advertising need to be integrated, Just as important, marketing PR and advertising efforts need to be integrated, providing a seamless and ubiquitous invitation to check out your content.

It may seem like throwing mud at the wall to see what sticks. But in today's highly segmented, swiftly migrating marketplace, the try-everything approach is the best assurance you have of hitting the mark.