Given that the Kayak marketing team puts so much faith in the power of social, people are sometimes surprised to find out we think of adverts in social media to be the online equivalent of a playing a country music song at a dance club.
While we encourage marketers to do everything they can to build a following so they can interact with prospects and influencers, we coach them to skip the sponsored posts and pay-per-click options in favor of growing an organic, loyal following whenever possible.
So how is it then that social ads are successful for platforms when, by their nature, they're largely incredibly anti-social? The answer lies in understanding a few important distinctions...
Should You Build or Buy a Community?
When smaller businesses advertise on social, they're essentially conceding that they don't have a community of their own. But, because they want to get in on the act - and more specifically, because they realize that millions upon millions of people use social sites every day - they take a shortcut and simply buy access. That goes against everything that makes social media er, social.
On platforms like Facebook and Google+, people are coming together through common interests and points of view. They want to share what they've seen and experienced, they want to be entertained, or they want to hear from friends and colleagues.
In that context, an advertisement is just an interruption. It's like having someone who wouldn't have been invited to a party show up and crash it anyway, all while speaking about things no one else is interested in. There are exceptions of course, such as if that party crasher is legitimately entertaining and can breath some life into a sleepy situation.
That said, is it any wonder advertisers get blocked on social sites, or find themselves alienating the audiences they are trying to reach? Interruption just isn't typically a welcome social activity.
How Can Your Social Work Without Ads?
If advertising isn't the best thing for social, then what is? We have seen time and time again that the best way to grow a real following on any social media platform - and one that doesn't just consist of half-interested "fans" or automated accounts - is to do the painstaking work of posting relevant content, engaging people one-on-one, and sharing information rather than pitching your wares.
Business owners and marketers don't always like to hear this, if only because it's a slow approach to building an audience. But, it's also the one method that works, cost-effectively, every time. The more people you know, and the more interesting things you have to say, the bigger ripples you can create in your pond of contacts with every post or idea.
It would be nice if there were shortcuts, but just as with real-world networking, relationships take time to establish and reinforce.
An Exception to the No Social Advertising Rule
Although we're generally against social media advertising, it's worth noting there is one exception to the rule: bigger businesses with established brands can get away with promoting their products and ideas through ads and sponsored posts. It's because they already have throngs of established fans. They aren't trying to find followers, but to energize their existing supporters and stay on the tops of their minds. They are using social channels to reinforce their brands as one more point of contact amongst many others.
What do bigger advertisers have that small businesses probably don't: huge budgets. In theory, a smaller organization could make that same dynamic work if they had a committed following, gobs of creative messaging, a little bit of patience, and massive commitment to focus their advertising carefully.
Don't be That Guy
When you attempt to market your business through social media without knowing enough about the audience and the culture of that platform, you're essentially crashing their party. That's not any way to make good friends, or to endear yourself to the audience you want to cultivate.
So, instead of trying to buy your way in, use what you know to share information and insights. Interact with the people you meet on a one-to-one basis as a considerate individual who is willing to help, not as a company trying to push products or services. It takes effort, but you'll eventually get to the point where you see exactly why social engagement is more powerful at building a community than advertising ever can be... and by then, you won't need to pay for clicks or attention anyway.
This post originally appeared on the Kayak Online Marketing blog