Commentary

Beyond Targeting: The Convergence of Social and Advertising

Open your eyes: we are entering a “post-targeting” period of marketing. It’s a new era.

Over the past century, advertising has evolved quickly from roadside billboards to audience-targeted TV commercials to search engines like Google capturing buyer intent. 

Then came Web 2.0, and the only thing marketers and advertisers could think about was accessing users’ personal information -- seemingly the end of the line for targeted advertising. You want to reach people in San Francisco specifically? You’ve got it. Only men under the age of 30? Easy. Recently engaged women between the ages of 24 and 30? You must be a wedding planner.

In the Facebook era, so much data and personalization has finally made advertising as targeted as it could possibly be. You have a product and you know your ideal customer, so you show your ideal customer the product. The end.

But it's not the end. There is something beyond targeting, and it’s already becoming incredibly significant on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. It’s the collapsing of advertising directly into the social experience.

The best example of this emerged most recently from Facebook, which is currently in the process of rolling out to its platform a brand new ad unit that perfectly embodies the convergence of social media and targeted advertising. In a nutshell, the expanded Premium Ad combines a brand's advertising message with the indispensable strength of a true social recommendation.

In a visual example provided by Facebook, the user's friend Jim Squires has "liked" a movie just recently released to theaters. That's the social recommendation. Underneath the recommendation appears the originally sponsored content, a post on the Ides of March Fan Page calling attention to a rave review in Rolling Stone.

While in Facebook's case, this feels like a natural extension of the company's advertising program, Twitter has tread more carefully when interweaving ads with the site's native social experience. It took until the end of August for the site to announce that it would be placing ads in users' time lines, whether or not the user follows the advertiser's Twitter account. The idea is that Twitter can match Promoted Tweets from an advertiser, like Virgin America, with users who share things in common with people who follow Virgin.

These examples prove that Facebook and Twitter already understand that the key to building a robust and innovative ad platform requires combining social with advertising. Knowing so much about your users' interests is valuable only if you apply that data to advertising.

More and more, as Facebook and Twitter flesh out each of their ad platforms, it will be up to brand marketers to recognize the convergence of social and advertising. It's already happening.

A recent study published in eMarketer found that 74% and 47% of social media marketers think it is very important to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, respectively. But they don't just seek to have a social media presence in isolation. They're splitting their budget pretty moderately between attracting new members and posting engaging content (the social aspect) and purchasing paid media (the advertising aspect).

Long gone are the days where brands and businesses could think of their ad and social campaigns as two separate and distinct entities, and social media marketers are realizing this in droves.

In 10 or 20 years, advertising will continue to transform as rapidly (if not more rapidly) than it has over the past two decades. As social media presence further entrenches its role in the art of marketing, we may even see the extinction of all ads that don’t incorporate social bits.

After all, at the end of the day, there is nothing the most creative ad agency in the world could come up with to match the influencing power of a good friend’s recommendation.

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