Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Cracks in the foundation

Posted on | July 30, 2008 | 7 Comments

The hype over online marketing is built on a foundation that an increasingly online audience is easy to target and is influential. Some cracks are starting to appear in that logic as I’ve been trolling more than a dozen research reports about new-media marketing in the past 24 hours.

Emily Riley, writing for Jupiter Research: “Social networkers skew young but are not necessarily influential. Only 9 percent of classic influentials and 17 percent of new influentials visit social networking sites daily. Thirty percent trust their peers’ opinions but only 10 percent trust advertisements.”

It’s not the ad number that gives me pause. Word of mouth is supposed to be THE most influential form of communication, and it doesn’t appear so if just one in three people trusts a friend’s opinion.

Riley also notes: Since most social-network visitors are there to share and communicate, advertisers face competition from the very people they’re marketing to. (This report was published last year, so it may be dated).

Separately, Riley posts on her blog last week about marketing imperfections.

Jennifer Simpson, Yankee Group: Perhaps the most objective report I came across. It was published in the past month. Simpson notes that on some sites, a significant number (not detailed) of profiles are falsified and that short user attention spans will always threaten the centrality of social networks if something shinier comes along in Web land. Social network audience growth will flatted in 2012 (it’s slowing now), but the good news is that older folks are jumping on board. The biggest aha moment, though, came when she took at shot at Web marketing’s Holy Grail, targeting: “Brands do not generally build products or services based on niche market appeal, and therefore targeting specific audiences is still a proposition that brands fail to understand.” This is significant. Targeting calls for higher CPM rates. But capturing a broad audience (raw numbers) generally brings lower CPM. Social networks obviously deliver big numbers, but is it just a commodity effort?

What else?

  • Social networking explosion is confusing: Do I buy them all? Do I target the big ones (MySpace, Facebook)? What about portable profiles? What are the ramifications there?
  • People are more amendable to online advertising when they’re searching for information. Not so much when they’re socializing and sharing. Brands are trying to insinuate themselves respectfully in that flow, but success has been hit and miss so far.

  • Gartner analyst Andrew Frank, in an interview with us this week, said he expects concerns over security to increase.

    “The social movement that had people revealing their entire lives online without a worry of privacy is outdated. This wasn’t a sustainable movement.”

It’s like being a speedy half-back who’s just taken the handoff and sees nothing but a wall of defenders in front of him.
Which way to zig now?
Or should we zag?

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7 Responses to “Cracks in the foundation”

  1. Kerri
    July 31st, 2008 @ 11:03 am

    Have you heard about The Deck?

    It’s a different take on online advertising and target markets. The thing I find most appealing is that they won’t let just anyone advertise, raising confidence of the consumer. (Anecdotally, when I see a Deck ad, I do tend to think that it’s for a product that is much less likely to suck.)

  2. Lou Covey
    July 31st, 2008 @ 12:25 pm

    I think we need to step back and look at those numbers in context. So, people trust “only” one in three of their peers, and 1 in 10 trust advertisements. That’s still a 3-1 advantage.

    Think about your relationships. There are a lot of people you like, but if you really know them well, there are not many you think really knows what’s going on.

    The real value of the social media is in the interaction with people you do trust. With an advertisement, you can look at its content and say “That’s a steaming pile…” and walk away. But in a conversation, you can start out by calling a position a pile, but be convinced by the end of the interaction. you can also balance out the conversation with input from others almost in real time.

    Traditional journalism has an edge over both of these however, because people are inately trained to trust what the media says… even when they say they don’t. Why? Because what you are reading, listening to and watching actively (as opposed to the interruption of advertising) is being mentally consumed by … people you trust. And when they repeat the same information, it creates the perception of reality.

    The nice thing about social media is, if the bloggers and podcasters follow the ethics and rules of traditional journalism, they can create that same circle of trust.

    What has to be maddening to the PR and advertising practitioners is that there is currently no way of effectively predicting how that will work.

  3. Ryerson
    July 31st, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

    So what you’re saying is that the Internet and social media aren’t a marketing free ride? We have to actually think about what we’re doing and do it intelligently?

    That will never work!

  4. wretch
    August 1st, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    Lou — you do have a good point.

    My question is: do you get full value from a 3:1 advantage when your target’s trusted friend is just as apt to recommend AGAINST something as for, whereas an ad will always promote your product/service?

    Does anyone else find something more authoritative in newsprint than if you come across precisely the same thing in some other form (handwriting, spoken word)?

    -brian (the other one)

  5. Loring Wirbel
    August 1st, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

    Also consider the sheer volume of possible contacts times the number of social networks, particularly in the business space, striving to be number one. I’m already considering invitations to join Plaxo, Pulse, LinkedIn, Spock, etc. networks the equivalent to spam, just because there are so durned many of them.

  6. lou covey
    August 1st, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

    Got a link to a post debunking some of the positions regarding the ineffectiveness of word of mouth.

  7. wretch
    August 3rd, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

    Seems the argument for social-network based advertising is based on a chain of one-off studies that suggest advertisers are trading low odds for slightly better low odds.

    That might be adequate. After all the difference between unsuccessful direct marketing and successful DM is a couple of percentage points, all in the single-digit range.

    But after watching one marketing fad after another go by (“Branding!”), and one communications fad after another come and go (Genie!), I’d prefer more convincing about a marketing fad tailored to a communications fad.

    Now if you want to talk about taking advantage of fads, that’s something else entirely.

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