Message, Medium and ROI

Just days before the Facebook IPO, GM decided to pull $10 million in advertising spend from the social network. The reason? No ROI. 

Google, which grew into the giant it is today eschewing traditional marketing and advertising, now regularly runs TV spots touting its own social network, Google Plus, which AdAge says brands are fleeing for the greener pasture that is Pinterest.

Meanwhile, over at Google’s YouTube property, things seem to be on fire, including revenue.

While people are clearly voracious consumers of social media, why do certain channels perform better for brands than others?

It has everything to do with content marketing versus traditional advertising, and knowing the difference between the two. Moreover, it also has something to do with conversational nature of social media and the degree to which brands are able to seamlessly integrate with those conversations.

While GM pulled its ads from Facebook, it retains an impressive and well-managed presence via its Facebook Pages.  According to reports in the L.A. Times, Facebook will

…focus on creating its own Facebook content.  GM's fan pages on Facebook appear to be popular, and may be a more effective way to reach owners and potential buyers, the automaker has found, according to [a] source. There are fan pages on the social network for just about every product GM makes, with the Chevrolet Camaro muscle car leading the pack because it has a large base of enthusiasts — including more than 2.8 million Facebook followers.

GM is finding success on Facebook leveraging the very activity that defines Facebook: social networking. While I’m sure Facebook could produce impressive case studies showing the efficacy of its display ads for other brands, GM clearly didn’t see the ROI in them.  But it is doubling-down on the thing that is core to Facebook’s identity – and the conversational nature that defines it.  GM is plugging into the passion people have for its brands in more naturally social ways, using content marketing strategies, which is what Facebook is tailor-made for.

Similarly, Google is hands-down the best place on earth for search marketing. The ROI has been proven over and over again. Brands don’t only continue to invest, many double down. But, so far at least, Google hasn’t been able to translate all those eyeballs into a social network resembling Facebook’s. The ROI isn’t there (yet) and so brands decamp for greener pastures.

Conversely, Google has been doing a great job with YouTube – creating new original content channels and finding clever ways to monetize the mind-boggling number of videos that are added every minute of every day.  Advertisers, consumers and Google alike are able to participate in a medium where commercials have long held sway, even as they innovate how those commercials are delivered.  But at the end of the day, there’s nothing orthogonal or unexpected about a commercial in a video.

Pinterest also works for brands and its users.  Brands love Pinterest because it mimics a behavior found in the offline world: magazine browsing. People love catalogs and magazines because the pictures are intoxicating and the worlds they imagine are seductive.  Pinterest is a crowd-sourced magazine and catalog all rolled into one. And because brands are participating in this naturally-occurring behavior – by providing the very photos and videos that Pinterest users are keen to pin and repin – they are seeing real rewards for their efforts.

When trying to use social channels in ways that run counter to the culture of the network, it’s very likely brands will find disappointing results. However, by leveraging the behaviors and customs that are occurring naturally on any given social network, brands can become a part of the culture and more authentically join the conversation.

Marshall McLuhan once said: "the medium is the message".  He proposed that a medium itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. Moreover, he said that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself.  Where social networks are concerned these notions are as relevant today as when McLuhan first proposed them back in the ‘60’s. 

Deeply understand the medium.  Then develop the strategies for exploiting it.  Return on investment should follow.

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.

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