A Tipping Point For Social Media Advertising

Last week in "A Tipping Point For Social Media Advertising"  we began to explore the ever-expanding role of the tipping point phenomenon to tomorrow's advertisers. We focused on the need for advertisers to achieve intermediate goals of engineering tipping points for their social media campaigns in order to effectively achieve the end goal: having engineered cultural tipping points for their brands/products. So now that we know what will be required of tomorrow's social media advertisers, it begs the question: When will this industry reach its tipping point?

It's a variation of the question on everyone's mind -- at least those reading MediaPost. When will the avalanche of advertising dollars follow users' attention to social media? It's easy to see why it will require a type of cultural tipping point, given the amount of human behavior (within the advertising industry) that will be required to change before we can possibly see even the beginnings of a balancing of spend and attention between social media and traditional media. Basically, as is often the case, human behavior is the gating factor for change. But, just because people and organizations change their behavior slowly doesn't mean we can't see an acceleration. So what we are looking for are the conditions that would cause social media advertising's tipping point.

An important point is that the tipping point must coincide with brand advertising's increased presence online -- if for no other reason than that there simply aren't enough dollars in the entire world of "direct marketing" to account for all of the attention directed to social media. Of course there are a number of other reasons why branding and social media are the correct solution for each others' pains, but we have explored many of those in other Spins.

The first environmental condition necessary for the tipping point will be the industry's discovery of repeatable methods and best practices that clearly demonstrate the ability to engineer the tipping points necessary to execute social media campaigns. This is pretty basic. Success stories alone do not change behavior, because they don't remove enough of the risk for others to follow. Successes have to leave a blueprint, and we have to eliminate the idea of binary outcomes. That is, we must eliminate the idea that a campaign either goes "viral" or it does not. How can we possibly expect billions of dollars to follow a strategy that seems more like rolling dice in Vegas?

The next sign of social media advertising's tipping point will be online brand advertising's ability to break through the "glass ceiling" that has been set by today's performance advertising norms. We need to admit that physically linking every ad impression to a sale is probably still not possible, won't be possible for some time (if ever) -- and would probably require a kind of privacy elimination most of us would be uncomfortable with. Instead we need to look for new methods to better measure the effect of social media advertising on traditional branding objectives by leveraging social media's unique attributes in order to facilitate the spending of brand dollars within social media.

The most important tipping point for social media advertising will be a clear and present danger to the market share positions of brand leaders. You know what they say: Necessity is the mother of all invention. We will really see the concentrated effort dedicated to spending brand dollars online when smaller, or more dated, or even completely new brands are able to gain a foothold in American culture by buying attention and influence at pennies on the dollar when compared to traditional media outlets. This is only possible because there isn't an efficient market for accessing and leveraging the massive amounts of social media attention, like there is in television. Let me give a perfect example. I was told once by a very high-end luxury brand that they "don't advertise" because their brand speaks for itself. However, I could flip through the pages of any fashion magazine and that same luxury brand is everywhere. I asked someone I really respect to make sense of this for me. His answer was brilliant and simple "They advertise there because if they don't, someone else will."

This brings us to the final sign (that I can get to today) of the tipping point. When social media advertising rivals the quality of magazine advertising, we will be on the verge of a social media advertising tipping point. That is to say -- when advertisements in social media can be as much a part of the content as advertisements are in magazines. It's only a matter of time.

Everyone is asking the question. Facebook and MySpace are reaching "bubble-like" valuations based on it. Investors are betting on it. Agencies are preparing for it. So when will the tipping point occur? What are the signs you would look for? Or will it just not happen before Bubble 2.0 goes pop



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