Traditional Media Is Social's "Rock in the Pond" - Ed Keller

By Word-of-Mouth Matters Archives

Imagine you have an important marketing investment decision to make, and you have what you think is clear and compelling evidence. Then, you subsequently learn that in fact you are overestimating the impact of your investment by as much as 40%. You'd be pretty upset.

This is what may be happening today as marketers seek to understand and quantify the impact of their social media investments, according to a new analysis by MarketShare. It is one of several thought provoking points put forth by Pat LaPointe, EVP at MarketShare, in a recent piece in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR) about the relationship between "traditional" and "social" media.

Business investment in social media is on the rise, a statistic most recently reinforced by a survey released recently by the ANA (Association of National Advertisers). But how should marketers look at their social media investment vis-à-vis their investment in traditional media? Should spending on social media come at the expense of investment in traditional media forms? That is an issue that is not so well understood yet.

LaPointe calls "traditional" media the "rock in the pond" of social media. By this he means, "When the message delivered by traditional media is either very good or very bad, the media message reverberates throughout the social spectrum like shock waves through a still pond hit by a rock. This ripple effect can add substantially to the overall impact of traditional media and boost the financial payback significantly. Modelers regularly miss this insight if their methods are set to read the impact of the social media alone, or are looking only at the online tactical elements. In both cases, the digital tactics get far more attribution than they really deserve. This, in turn, can cause many marketers to underestimate the real value of traditional media and over-estimate the digital elements—sometimes by as much as 40 percent."

LaPointe further notes that campaigns which rely on social media alone tend to be either unexpectedly expensive, in that they succeed due to discounting to abnormally low levels to encourage engagement and virality; or they have a very low probability of success ("one-in-a-million, perhaps?" says LaPointe) because they are attempting to catch "creative lightening in a bottle."

These insights shed additional light on a fundamental finding that readers of this blog will know what we at the Keller Fay Group espouse, namely the importance of an integrated approach to social marketing. Online voices are important, but offline still accounts for the overwhelming majority of brand conversations. And while a positive customer experience is a critical driver of positive brand advocacy, advertising and other forms of marketing play a key role too. Our research shows that about half of all consumer conversations include references to media/marketing . . . led by paid advertising.

Further, we have written that when it comes to "social value," all media are social and that in several important ways "traditional" media have a far more compelling story to tell than the leading social networking sites.

What do we mean by this? The audience for social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have appealing qualities for marketers: They have larger "real world" social networks than the average American; they talk more about brands each week; and they are more likely to make recommendations about products, services, and brands across a range of categories. But when compared to the audiences for "traditional media," Twitter and Facebook do not stand out as leaders. When it comes to which audiences have the largest social networks, wsj.com is the leader by a wide margin; neither Facebook nor Twitter is in the top 10. When it comes to which audiences have the most brand-related conversations per week, Vogue's audience is the leader; again, neither Facebook nor Twitter break the top 10. The same pattern holds when it comes to which media audiences are the most likely to make product recommendations, or which have the highest concentration of influencers – Twitter and Facebook frequently are in the middle of the pack.

The MarketShare analysis provides important additional evidence of the important relationship between these traditional media and social marketing. Strategies to deploy social networking platforms should not be put in a silo and asked to perform a solo act, particularly if performance and profitability are your goals.

Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." The publication of Keller's book, The Influentials, has been called the "seminal moment in the development of word of mouth." Ed can be contacted at ekeller@kellerfay.com. You can follow Ed Keller on Twitter: @kellerfay

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