The limits of social advertising.

What is up with all of the poorly targeted advertising on my social newsfeeds? Some days it feels like I am seeing more ads than posts from my friends and colleagues!

I had such high hopes for digital advertising. You would think that the digital environment with participatory engagement, democratization of video content and non-linear narrative opportunities would not have us simply repeating the same advertising tactics from print and television – with more commercials to skip with ‘Tivo-like’ tools. But here we are placing commercials within digital content as if it were TV or print. We have such an opportunity and we are blowing it.

We know broadcast quality content costs a lot of money and we we are willing to watch a few commercials for access to that programming, but social networks need to be handled differently. For one thing, most of the content is generated from our friends, families and colleagues not from broadcast networks or publishing houses. That alone justifies a value driven vs. disruptive marketing approach.

One of the issues is that traditional media buyers would like digital to ‘behave’ in the same way that tradional media does. This is a mistake given the fundamental and key difference within digital is the audiences ability to connect, participate, share and influence the direction of the content itself. While traditional buyers focus on the reach that their paid network distribution partners provide, the digital media community evaluate success via engagement and the performance of the content across the network’s owned channels. They know that a view that originated from the social graph has greater value than if it came from a paid referral.

As Facebook launched a new video advertising product, and an expensive one at that, I’m worried about it. With shareholder pressure to increase ad revenue, especially against mobile I’m not sure if I am ready to trade a few messages from family and friends for full-blown commercials. I’m hoping the leadership (Mark) at Facebook have not traded one set of value rules (serving the community) for another (shareholders).

Twitter also extended its ad product with better targeting based upon keyword vs. simple demographic information. That means that if I tweet how much I appreciate good design, I could now be bombarded by brands that are advertising products with good design solutions. It only works if the brand and the marketing partners creating the content of those posts look at it as value ad for the community vs. advertising.

Social marketing is only limited by it’s ability to pollute vs. bringing value to the community. It’s a huge opportunity for all of us with unlimited potential if we as marketers operate with an eye and ear towards being a valued community member vs. a marketer. We have played a part as individuals in creating new platforms and reinventing how we communicate with others. Lets not blow it by inheriting messaging techniques created for another platform.

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