Last week was a big one for social media giants Twitter and LinkedIn. They admitted to their investors and to the world that their display advertising platforms, which represent a significant amount of their revenue, aren't working as well as they'd like.
The reality is this: social marketing is a different beast than traditional advertising, yet these companies are inexplicably still using the same advertising checklist that has been around in the industry for decades. This includes demographic info like gender, age, location and other demographics.
Sure, it may be a good bet that a woman in her 40s living in Florida may be interested in products that fix sun damage. But for many industries, it's not quite that clear cut, and it will cost millions to reach all of those people. Is that a bet you're willing to take-and money you're willing to spend-on every product you sell?
It's time to throw out the book on what you think you know about how to market to buyers across social media channels. If a checkbox is involved in buying advertising, it's already the wrong approach. Twitter, for example, knows its customers are having conversations, yet is pushing its advertising programs through a model that was built for search and retargeting, not social media advertising. LinkedIn has introduced sponsored updates, which break from the display advertising model. They're new, so they've seen some good uptake and revenue growth. But their display ad model was crushed in the latest earnings call because advertisers realized the product, as it now works, isn't really optimized to have a big effect on their return on investment.
Here's why both companies are struggling with advertising on social media: Social media is conversational, not topical. People don't fit into neat little buckets anymore. They hop online and ask their friends and followers about everything from where to go on vacation to what type of flooring to buy. They announce they're getting married on Facebook and Twitter long before they pop into a store or head onto a website to start a wedding registry. We know they're having a baby several months before the birth of their child. We know they're looking for recommendations for a new car. We know these things because they tell us through the conversations they're having across all of their online channels.
Traditional advertising checkboxes don't cover the conversation, and they certainly don't cover the context. Only conversational marketing can do this. People are out there telling us what they're going to buy based on what they're posting on different sites. Crazy, right? So why aren't we using this data to give the right advertising messages to the right people, i.e., those that are talking about something that an advertiser is selling?
Advertisers want to target their message to "People talking about X", but in the native platforms, like that in Twitter, the checkbox approach is in play and self-identified interest filters, such as age, gender, and other demographics are how the platform decides who sees what ad. There is no native platform that gives any visibility into conversations and conversational targeting. It's really difficult. You have to understand context, and checkboxes offer no context.
The model is not working as well as it could, and there's a better way: Conversational targeting. Imagine knowing which people are having conversations about your product or service, right now, and being able to market to only these people. It's really the best option for these social giants to help advertisers achieve real ROI.