How Social Media Is Changing Advertising–for Better and Worse

advertising and social media - hit and miss

Where consumers gather, marketers are sure to follow, and social media is no exception. Over a mere few years, what started as a means for regular people to connect with friends, family and coworkers has become an advertiser’s dream. And that shift is leaving an imprint.

Connect authentically or fade away

Old-school marketing tactics worked initially–sort of. Consumers used to push marketing and “here’s why we’re great” ad campaigns accepted these as the same ol’ song and dance they’d gotten used to in print ads, on television and, eventually, via email. Social media simply provided a new means of offering the same coupons and deals brands had always offered.

But over time, brands have come to realize that traditional methods no longer reap the same rewards in this new marketplace. Instead of engendering loyalty, competing offers make it easy for overwhelmed consumers to jump from brand to brand when the best deal appears in their feeds–or when other consumers offer an opinion worth considering.

The reality now is that social media is a consumer-run land. Brands and marketers are welcome, but only if they drop the sales pitch and behave like human beings. Consumers want brands to be accessible–and accommodating–when they have a problem. The rest of the time they want them to “be cool” and not try so hard to win over their audience.

The art of being more and less annoying

As brands and marketers have worked to achieve the perfect balance with social consumers, advertising has become both more and less annoying–at the same time.

The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

On the one hand, ads are more annoying to consumers by virtue of their sneakiness. No more can anyone innocently surf a retail site and click away to avoid blowing their budget by keeping temptation out of sight and out of mind. Back in your Facebook News Feed or email, that pair of shoes you decided not to splurge on is there, reminding you just how fabulous it is.

The trend of retargeting ads isn’t such a bad thing if you’re really interested in those shoes–and the reminder popping up reveals that they’re now on sale. The problem with these ads is that they still pop up if you’ve actually made a purchase; or decided you’re definitely not interested–and that’s super annoying and won’t endear anyone to your brand.

At the same time, social media has helped advertising become more subtle, which makes it far less annoying than old-school “hammer to the head” tactics. Clever, personalized social interaction between brands and consumers makes for a much improved customer experience over an in-your-face, “Buy now!” approach. The focus is on creating brand awareness that will hopefully pay off when it’s time to spend.

The beauty of ‘com-tent’

The shorter the path to purchase, the better your odds–hence the importance of “com-tent.”

Content commerce-reportedly a $44 billion industry and growing in double-digits every year–offers publishers a new way to monetize audiences. It succeeds through a soft-sell approach that showcases an aspirational lifestyle consumers can’t help but want.

This isn’t an entirely new concept–affiliate marketing offered the same rewards in the late 1980s. Oliver Roup, CEO and Founder of VigLink, explains:

The difference now is how seamless that process is. Instead of content and commerce portals competing for consumer attention, shopping links can be inserted directly into content, allowing consumers to add a product to their cart with one click–and without missing a word.

With tools like VigLink’s new Trends Explorer, publishers benefit from aggregated data that reveals which products consumers are reading about and clicking on so that they know which to include in their content.

It’s all about providing what consumers want most–and making it easy for them to take the next step.

Social shopping: the next frontier

That’s something else social media is changing–closing the gap between marketing and purchase with in-app purchase options, like Facebook now offers through Messenger, what it calls “conversational commerce.”

This follows on the heels of Pinterest’s rich Pins a few years back, which made it easy for consumers to purchase products displayed on Pins. And it’s being carried forward with shoppable Instagram, where select merchants like Warby Parker and Kate Spade are testing in-app “touch-to-purchase” links.

It’s brilliant when you think of it–the ultimate impulse buy environment, especially with mobile wallets in the mix. Consumers don’t even need to put down their smartphones. That might be the biggest–and least annoying–pitch of all.

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