3 Benefits and 3 Examples of Social Advertising

John Bell VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers

Posted on November 8th 2010

In a great Mashable article about how news organizations are exploring social advertising, Vadim Lavrusik captures the entire promise of social advertising in two succinct statements:

"Social media, which effectively has infiltrated all corners of the web, has great potential in not only bringing in revenue but also making ads more useful to readers while also satisfying the needs of advertisers aiming to effectively reach the public. The social web can change the way we think about ads, by making them social and personalized to create utility for the user."

"Doctor (Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics) said he sees social media optimization as a driver of audience and engagement, and that engagement getting monetized through targeting, rather than blasting social marketing pushes. Being able to get more sophisticated in targeting individuals and specific communities will make monetization efforts easier."

Guiding principles for social ads

In other words: 

A. Ads that are useful - because we design them to serve the need of the user vs. repetitive "impressions"

B. Ads that are relevant - because we have successfully delivered them to the people who will value them most (i.e. properly targeted)

Social advertising as my colleague, Sean Muzzy at Neo@Ogilvy, would say is either defined by the environment, the quality of the advertisement or how it is targeted. 

  1. On social platforms/streams: We can deliver via a social platform like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter thuis reaching people where they are increasingly spending time. 
  2. Include social content or functions: We can make the ad itself somehow more social by including social content from the brand or consumers or by integrating social features like Open Graph connectivity from Facebook (i.e. social sharing)
  3. Target delivery via social data: We can deliver based upon interests and affinities (I like contemporary literature like Peter Carey and J.M. Coetzee) or based upon our social graph (who our friends are)


Realistically, we should combine all or some of these to produce even more impactful advertising. We would rarely just drop advertising in Facebook or YouTube without targeting it in some way. Here are three interesting examples of social advertising:

Promoted Trend on Twitter - The Washington Post "bought" the hashtag #elections during the recent elections. That means there tweets appeared at the top of the search stack for the hashtag. I would have found that useful. It all depends on the content of the tweet and the alignment of the brand to the trend. IBM buying #cloud (i.e. cloud computing) makes perfect sense presuming they are tweeting useful content. 

Real Time Ads - we are big fans of designing social ads such that we can change the content at will. Whether swapping in a new consumer generated piece fo content or a timely offer, dynamic publishing can help us make the ad units more relevant and useful. Vadim points to the Minnpost's RealTimeAds as a great example. Companies like Alchemy Social are building systems to deliver highly dynamic ad streams

Social targeting - The biggest difference I find in the concept of social targeting vs. how we used to place advertising is in our ability to target based upon stated interests. InsideFacebook has a great summary of the ten ways to target in Facebook. 

  • Location
  • Keyword
  • Connection
  • Relationship
  • Age
  • Birthday
  • Education
  • Sex 
  • Workplace
  • Language



Think about these key points  that clarify the impact and potential of social advertising (and of social media, in general):

  • From Vadim's article: "For many, social sites like Facebook and Twitter account for 10% to 15% of their overall referrals, but are number one in growth. The results are even more heavy on social for news startups like CapitalNY, Doctor said, who get 40% or more of their traffic from social. And of course, the quality of these referrals is often better than those readers who come from search. They yield better conversation and are more likely to become regular users of the site, he said."
  • We have found a compound effect when combining advertising with earned media content significantly improving the ad performance
  • The social environment begs for a new definition of "advertising" which is far more important and useful to people today. If we can offer customers solutions when and where they most need them, then advertising becomes useful and is not seen as purely interruptive.


(WaPo Twitter image borrowed with respect from Mashable article)


John Bell

VP Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers


I head up Enterprise Digital Marketing at Travelers. Just as Travelers anticipates the needs of personal and business insurance customers in an ever-changing world, we approach marketing differently. The customer journey has changed. To meet these new behaviors, we put data-driven content, digital marketing and social engagement at the heart of marketing.  


Previously, I developed, grew and ran Ogilvy’s global, social media solutions practice – Social@Ogilvy.  The world’s largest network of social media and business strategists, the team believes in the power and impact of truly integrated social media business solutions. I drove senior client engagements, the development of Ogilvy’s social planning framework, and a global training program for staff and clients, alike. Our work  combines deep disciplines like crm, public relations, advertising and shopper marketing and rooted in what drives behavior.  

I have developed and executed enterprise social media strategy for the Ford Motor Company, Nestle, IBM, Coca Cola, and DuPont - including work winning a Silver Lion at Cannes.  I launched a single brand Facebook initiative in 20+ countries, helped telcos in Australia and Greece adopt social care and marketing and consulted with consumer goods marketers in Turkey. 

Discovery Communications

Discovery Channel was one of the first media properties to really experiment with the Web. I was brought in as Creative Director to transform a single Web site into a network of 14 Web properties known as Discovery.com. We had live, online expeditions from the field. Reporters posted stories, audio and video from Australia in search of giant spiders and from the bottom of the ocean where they explored the Titanic wreckage for the first time. All while the events were happening.  I designed and built online experiences for TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery Kids, Discovery Health, Travel Channel not to mention a host of digital TV network sites and global sites.

AT&T, Viacom & Media Circus

The first wave of innovation was Interactive Television (iTV) in 1990.  I headed up the Visual Design Studio at Downtown Digital, a joint venture between Viacom and AT&T to create the most futuristic vision of interactive television anyone could imagine. I created programming for kids, gamers, and fully interactive applications for Paramount Studios and Entertainment Tonight.  This model of set-top box delivered interactivity remains a vision for all iTV innovation.

I created the first Interactive Advertisement for American Express during that ITV trial. Then, as a founding member and Creative Director, I formed Media Circus Interactive Advertising in New York during the 1990's. We created award-winning CD-ROMs including designing the first interactive advertisement on Launch, then a CD-ROM zine, for Sony. I also designed the first I-Spy CD-ROM for Scholastic extending the brand into the electronic space and pushing the limits of what an interactive experience could be. At the same time the Internet was exploding. I designed and built complicated transaction sites for Gateway Computers and wild experiments like MTV’s Web service that connected “stringers” all across the country reporting on the music scene in their community (sound a bit like blogging? It should and the year was 1995).

Charlex, M&Co. and RGA

My early career was in television design and production. I literally grew up at Charlex, a design and production company, producing some of the most artful and innovative television commercials and pioneering the use of complex blue and green screen effects. I count Alex Weil as a huge influence as well as Tibor Kalman. Tibor ran M&Co. (and  was CD at Interview Magazine) and taught me what it really means to be a Creative Director. We produced his first moving media designs including a design prototype for Godfather III titles using a vacuuform machine. I produced complex, design-based television commercials with RGA and learned a tremendous amount from Robert Greenberg and, at that time, Executive Producer Andy Arkin.   

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in European history and spent a lot of time at the Annenberg School of Communications.I loved Philly and worked at an innovative, post-punk restaurant - the Knave of Hearts - on South Street.  

Memberships & Affiliations

  • I served on the board as past president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA)
  • I currently serve on the Advisory Panel for Social Media Today
  • I served on the advisory board to PBS Engage at PBS.org
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