Will SMA Beat Out SEM?

That's the question I addressed... er, danced around, in my keynote at the Social Media Optimization Conference in San Francisco last week.  

While I certainly won't try and recreate my social media rap, my rendition of "Greatest Love of All" (no link, thank you very much), or my rapping Q&A session, I thought I'd share some key takeaways from my presentation with the Search Insider crowd.  

I expect a much different response from this audience than the one I got from a room full of social media experts. (Yes, I chose that description intentionally.)

What's in a Name 

Let's start with the acronym. Social Media Advertising. SMA. Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, aye?  

Alas, I had intended on going in with SAM (Social Advertising & Marketing) to keep us all on a first-name basis but changed course following Day 1 of the show after everyone kept talking about SMO (Social Media Optimization). Duh, Goldman. Hence the name, SMOC.  

I suppose it's just as well because, while there are certainly parallels between SEM and SMA, they're more like the uneven bars and should be approached with very different techniques. Not unlike SEM and SEO, for that matter.

So, to recap: SMO = Social Media Optimization. This refers to the fashionable buzzwords "earned" and "owned" media that cover assets like Facebook pages and the viral effect that spreads through news feeds and retweets. SMA = Social Media Advertising. This refers to "paid" media like Facebook ads or Promoted Tweets.

How do you Search?

Before we go any deeper into the underswings of SMA relative to SEM, let's take a step back and look at why we even need to mount the apparatus in the first place. (OK, no more gymnastics analogies -- too obscure even for my blood.)

At the last Search Insider Summit, John Yi from Facebook waxed poetic about how the web is "being rebuilt around people." John -- like his brethren at Zuck U -- points to the 1990s as the decade of Web browsing, the 2000s as the decade of searching, and the 2010s as the dawn of discovery.

To back this up, the FB flock is quick to reference comScore data showing that in the last six months time spent online with portals was down about 20%, search flat, and social up over 50%.

Lest you suspect sarcasm in my summation, I should succinctly share that I'm sipping the same spritzer -- aka drinking the Kool-Aid.

I know from personal experience that, beyond just spending more time engaged with social media, people are turning more and more to their social networks for information that used to be obtaining by searching.

What video should I watch? What car should I buy? What should I eat for dinner tonight?

The answer used to be, "Google it." More and more, though, it's become, "Ask your friends." Or, "Ask your followers."

How do you SEM?

It's no secret that people spend very little time actually searching. When I was writing my book, the stat I came across from the OPA was 5% of total time online -- less than one hour per month -- spent searching.

But, as we all know, that 5% is the most valuable time to reach a customer or prospect because it's the moment of commercial truth. The moment of capital intent. The moment of critical mindset.

It's the time when someone is in-between activities on the Web and actively seeking the next destination. And, in many cases, that destination is a place to spend money.

As an advertiser, what better time to reach someone? Not to mention the fact that you know exactly what he or she is looking for. 

With that in mind, here are the five basic steps of managing SEM campaigns:

1. Keywords

2. Ad Copy

3. Bids

4. Landing Pages

5. Repeat

I bucket these tactics into the following five categories:

1. Precise Audience Definition

2. Mass Message Customization

3. Real-time Valuation

4. Point-of-Need Destination

5. Continuous Optimization

So, How Do You SMA?

Methinks the same five principles of SEM apply to SMA, but present distinct opportunities:

1. Precise Audience Definition = Social Graph Targets. Social is more about targeting interests than intent, but the opportunity to finely carve out who you want to reach is akin to search. In social you can target based on geo, language, age, relationships, likes, interests, workplaces, education, connections, etc. And -- like SEM, where the keyword is a signal of expressed intent -- in SMA, targeting is based on expressed interests, not inferred interests like the cookie-based targeting of standard display ads.

2. Mass Message Customization = Ad Permutations. In SEM, you can show a different ad to each searcher based on what they're looking for. In SMA, you can show a different ad to each target based on what you know about the profile. Beyond driving better response, customized ads will lower your cost per click. Looking at six months of data for one of our retail customers showed a direct correlation between click-through rate and CPC -- the higher the CTR, the lower the CPC. Critical to success here is leveraging advanced platforms that allow you to build ad groups -- again similar to SEM -- into the campaign hierarchy.

3. Real-time Valuation = Bid Management. Facebook Marketplace Ads can be bought on an auction basis just like search. But don't make the mistake of using similar bid rules or expecting the same performance as SEM with SMA. SMA is all about demand generation. SEM is about demand fulfillment. Use attribution weighting to capture the entire path to conversion and deploy SMA bid algorithms customized for FB.

4. Point of Need Destination = Brand Assets. Yes, you can drive people from Facebook ads to your website, but you'll drive more engagement by keeping them within the FB walls to interact with your brand page or app.

5. Continuous Optimization = Rinse, Lather, Repeat. Same as SEM... never stop testing and tweaking. And, for chrissakes, step away from the spreadsheet and take a shower, willya?!

So Who Will Win?

In my keynote at SMOC, I threw out a few more data points before leaving the remainder of the proof as an exercise to the reader (one of my favorite Esther Dyson quips) and busting out my harmonica.

678%: Growth (2012 vs. 2009) in Facebook ad revenue. Source: eMarketer.

47.6%: Projected Google net US ad revenue in 2012 as a percent of total online ad spending with top five companies. (FB is projected at 8.8%.) Source: eMarketer.

150%: Growth in page views for Facebook month-over-month in 2010. Source: comScore via TechCrunch.

80%: Growth in time spent on Facebook year-over-year in 2010. Source: comScore via TechCrunch.

In my book, I cite a Brian Morrissey article from 2002 on that quotes Eric Schmidt as saying, "The mistake we always make is we assume the success in the next 10 years will be the same as the success in the last 10 years. The dominant players always get it wrong."

Facebook is saying the next 10 years are all about discovery. Facebook is a dominant player. Something's gotta give.

2 comments about "Will SMA Beat Out SEM?".
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  1. Lee Odden from TopRank Marketing, June 1, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.

    Great position on relating SEM to SMA Aaron.

    Being more of a content marketing guy, I think of SMA as "social media acquisition", which reflects the most common marketing & advertising objective - whether it's organic social or social ads.

    While social engagement and customer retention KPIs can be useful, the end goal for most accountable social media marketing programs is related to business outcomes like new customers and recurring sales. There must be an acronym for that, right?

    Maybe SMBO? ASMM? Or how about this revolutionary concept: "marketing" :)

  2. Aaron Goldman from Mediaocean, June 3, 2011 at 1:02 a.m.

    Amen, Lee.

    Scott Brinker reached the same conclusion at the Search Insider Summit after 80 slides and over 100 different forms of marketing (all of which he fit on a t-shirt btw).

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