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Is Social Media Advertising Replacing Search?

Written by: Juliana Casale, Director of Marketing

This article was originally published on iMedia Connection.

Media spend on marketing, particularly online, continues to rise in 2014. As CMOs gain confidence in their ability to generate revenue through digital channels — especially mobile — they will continue to invest time and resources into online methods of driving user acquisition and retention. According to the Chief Marketing Officer Council’s eighth annual “State of Marketing” report, 54% of marketers plan to boost their budgets in 2014, focusing on the following approaches:

Chief Marketing Officer Council’s eighth annual “State of Marketing” report

That last percentage may be surprising to most digital advertisers, since Google (71% global search engine market share) has been the online marketing industry standard for the past decade. According to a recent reader survey run by Ad Age, “Respondents ranked the search giant as the best ad platform for ROI, and its video channel, YouTube, fell fourth behind Facebook and Twitter.” So, why wouldn’t a brand invest solely in the digital channel that provided the highest return on investment? Here are a few reasons.

Search and social serve completely different purposes

Search engine marketing is based on intent. A prospect is volunteering information about what they are looking for, and Google matches that information with an ad based on a pre-selected keyword. So, if I’m searching for high-heeled shoes and Macy’s has bid on an ad placement for high-heeled shoes, I will be served up that ad as long as Macy’s is the highest bidder. The likelihood that I will be interested in their high heels is, well, high — there’s a reason why search has been the most popular choice for customer acquisition campaigns.

Social media marketing, however, is based on creating intent within a targeted audience. If I’m logged in to Facebook and my profile says I’m a Boston-based fan of The Beatles, Cirque du Soleil can take an educated guess that I’d be interested in the New England neck of its LOVE tour and bid to show me an ad to purchase tickets. I might be willing to buy one, and I might not — it’s a gamble. Either way, I will at least be made aware that the show is in town.

Social knows who you are — search has to guess

As you can see in the example above, Facebook knows an awful lot about all of us — our gender, age, location, relationship status, place of work — and page likes are just the tip of the targeting iceberg. Search engines, on the other hand, have to base their ideas of who we are on our browsing history, which means if I’ve been shopping online for a Christmas present for my boyfriend, I might be mistaken for a man during future searches. Though a bombardment of Axe body spray ads wouldn’t be the end of the world, it would be a waste of brand money.

Search engine ads lack social context

Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are places where people go to share updates, photos, links and videos. While search is considered a “native” channel because ads mimic the format of search engine results, social media has the added layer of peer approval. When a friend engages with a brand through a “like,” follow or comment, that activity can be tied to an ad (e.g., “Jessica Wilson likes Expedia,”) lending credibility to the product or service being advertised. This is an important differentiator when it comes to targeting millennial shoppers.

Social media ties in with television

Though multiple studies have shown that marketers are shifting ad spend from television advertising to digital channels, TV is not a dead medium by a long shot. The consumer trend of second screen browsing during commercial breaks has been reinforced by social media tie-ins as shows like The Voice, @Midnight, and Survivor have incorporated hashtags into the viewing experience. Recognizing this, Twitter offers a promoted tweets option to “Reach people who engage with specific television programming.” For social media-savvy brands like Snickers, Progressive, and Old Spice, being able to target customers in real-time as they switch from viewing to browsing and back is a huge draw.

Try everything

Digital marketing is like investing on Wall Street — it pays to have a healthy mix of stocks in your portfolio. While paid social media and search advertising methods are taking up a lot of attention in tech journalism, email marketing is still one of the highest performing channels for customer engagement, and content marketing drives a considerable amount of short- and long-term traffic to websites and product pages. Some channels are a great fit for user acquisition and not so much for retention; others are perfect for targeting millennials and ineffective when it comes to the 55+ set. Run side-by-side campaigns using the scientific method and take notes on what works for your brand. You’re likely to find that a combination of search and social advertising is the outcome.

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