The Age of A La Carte Advertising
This post was written as my “entry” for Congregation 2013, based on an article I developed for Pixel Post, Pixel Design’s Client Newsletter in November 2013.
With the announcement of LinkedIn Promoted Posts in August it is clear that there must be value in paying to have your content pushed to a relevant audience. But value for whom? Your product or service or the social networks’ coffers? In this post I examine the evidence available that teases out this question in relation to the big three: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Pinterest and other web applications also have contextual content based promotion tools for business (See my recent post about Publishing platforms for example) but I am choosing to focus on the big three for the purposes of this post. Please feel free to comment about your own experience or other sites that might offer an alternative to marketers. Throughout this article promoted Facebook posts, promoted tweets and LinkedIn promoted posts will all be referred to as promoted posts.
The phenomenon of paying to get posts pushed before the right eyeballs is one very significant result in the growth of mobile and tablet use. As CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, said in a recent interview there is “limited real estate” on a mobile device. In order for social networks to balance the monetisation of their platforms against actual use, it is essential that rent is paid on that real estate. Traditional display and pay per click advertising is too intrusive for the smaller screens.
Target for cost-effectiveness
Like many digital advertising platforms promoted posts allow advertisers to manage and target their advertisements to ensure the most cost-effective use of their budgets. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have the following features in common:
- Targeting – advertisers can choose across a range of demographics (gender, age, geography etc.) to focus their efforts on those most likely to respond.
- Reach an audience beyond your following – all of these platforms will expose your brand beyond your current followers. This will help you build your following on the social network as well as promote specific events, products, services or offers.
- Bidding and daily budgets allow planning – the advertiser chooses how much a click or a thousand impressions is worth and bids accordingly. At the same time the advertiser can set a daily limit to the budget for the promoted post therefore keeping cost within budget.
“Tweets can be targeted based on interests, location, device or keywords” Needless to say these demographics are only as good as they information users are willing to share with the network. We all know people who choose not to share every detail with Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn will ultimately have the edge here: trust, open-ness and honesty are essential in business relationships so the more complete your LinkedIn profile, the better for making business connections. And, as Goldilocks’ Nemesis might say “All the better to target you with, my dear!”
Which platform should we use?
LinkedIn promoted posts are ideal if your business is B2B or your customers fall within distinct professions. Facebook and Twitter can straddle both. Whichever platform you choose it is essential that you have a defined business objective with a strategy in place to achieve it. A promoted posts campaign is a tool within a larger framework that involves developing customer persona, mapping customer journeys, creating unique landing pages, managing data collection and analysis and all of it must be repeatable and measurable.
Keep in mind how you will measure the success of your campaign as you create your promoted posts. On Twitter you are paying for cost per engagement (CPE) and on Facebook and LinkedIn you choose whether it is cost per click (CPC) or per thousand impressions (CPM). This means that you are paying when a user reacts to your promoted post: when you gain a follower, a retweet, a share, a clickthrough. (Note: LinkedIn only charges for clicks on “content, company name, or logo. This doesn’t include social actions (shares, likes, and comments).”
These charging models have implications for your objectives. For example: – Are you trying to increase your audience and why? Or – Are you trying to draw consumers to purchase? Or – Are you trying to generate leads?
Your response to these questions has implications for your campaign strategy and execution of your business strategy overall: – Have you created a unique landing page that will allow you to measure the results? – Have you created funnels and goals that will allow you to track user journeys once they click through to your site? – Have you the resources to manage the traffic and new custom, on- and off-line?
Bear in mind that none of the platforms can confirm actual conversion or acquisition of their users by their clients. It all seems very positive but it is all about “awareness and purchase consideration” not actual purchases. It is essential therefore that your organisation have your own systems in place to measure the cost per acquisition. Promoted posts are a way to promote a well planned and executed content strategy: your content will not prove any more effective if it is not already helping you acquire customers or leads.
As these systems are relatively new on all three platforms it is worth considering whether to jump in. On the plus side users are not yet jaded by promoted posts. You can also maintain complete control of your spend on the platforms, adjusting or cancelling your campaign depending on the results. On the minus side it is difficult to gauge how successful this form of advertising is with so few relevant case studies available. As one writer puts it: “Is it worth paying for placement on a site that gives away its core currency — the 140-character tweet — for free? The summary response from some early adopters is: Yes, most definitely — but it helps if you know what you’re doing.”
(With this in mind we shared some best practice tips on the Pixel Design website to help you prepare and decide whether your organisation is ready to promote your content and your business to a wider audience.)
The consensus so far
While ad formats are constantly evolving it is sometimes difficult for advertisers to gauge whether they are getting real value for money. In the scramble to maintain an understanding of these ad platforms (and indeed their older CPC counterpart on Google for example) it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the return on investment. For example Facebook consolidated their 27 ad products (yes twenty seven, you read that right) last June to offer about half that many. That’s still quite a lot of ways to promote your product or service, especially if you are a small business who can’t employ either agencies or staff to manage your marketing budget.
Of course, all of this choice within and among the networks offers an a la carte menu as well and, unlike a restaurant, if your choice proves a little rich for your blood, you can send it back to the kitchen by ditching your campaign. Or just sending back the cream. Or the apple. Okay this metaphor has run its course. Excuse the pun.
While each platform shares numerous case studies on their own sites, they rarely share the actual budget or cost per engagement, click or impression. In the case of Twitter this is particularly hard to come by. (Check out their own promoted tweet case studies [here] divided by business type and size. All fabulous results needless to say.) While this is also the case with LinkedIn I’m willing to forgive them because their offering is newest to the market. It could be argued, of course, that all of this is commercially sensitive but I know that, a number of years ago now, many Irish business owners were very interested in Puddleducks’ Aedan Ryan’s posts about his experience using Facebook’s advertising platform.
I did manage to root out this [LinkedIn case study by Christopher Penn] which includes budget. While this case is an early adopter’s example of an experiment comparing a promoted post with a standard LinkedIn CPC ad, the results are very revealing:
“For the same time period, the click through rates (CTR) on standard pay per click ads on LinkedIn achieved a 3% CTR. The sponsored posts landed a 53% rate for the same offer, just in a sponsored post format.” He goes on to reveal the comparative costs of the two formats for his target market: “For the same time period, the cost per click (CPC) on standard pay per click ads on LinkedIn was $18.69 per click, while the sponsored post was a mere $5.01 per click, a savings of 73% for every dollar spent on advertising.”
I would imagine that many B2C business owners would baulk at those costs! However this could be a considerable return on investment for a B2B professional as long as the line from click to contract was clear. The onus for that falls upon the advertiser, not on LinkedIn. Again the early adoption could be hugely significant in this case as the competition in the keyword bidding has yet to reach the levels that highly competitive markets experience on Google AdWords.
Finally another aspect to consider is the lifespan of your content once you’ve posted. According to Small and Medium Business Magazine SMBNow.com Pinterest would seem to be the way to go, if your business marketing model is a match for the platform:
“Perhaps due to the news feeds cluttered with irrelevant information, the lifespan of content onTwitter is only 5-25 minutes and Facebook content only lasts 80 minutes. The lifespan of content on Pinterest? More than one week. To see an example of this phenomenon, check out our Family Tree of a Viral Pin graphic, which shows a pin that took 32 weeks to finally go viral.”
In conclusion promoted posts are a tool to assist you in your overall business goals. This tool must be assessed like any other to ensure it will help you achieve those goals sooner, more efficiently and more effectively. Ultimately, they are as good as useless if you do not have a well designed site with a solid content and marketing strategy in place to make the most of any increased traffic to the site.
A version of this post originally appeared in Pixel Post, Pixel Design’s Client Newsletter in November 2013.