Temple University researchers expose the pitfalls of social advertising


Temple University researchers expose the pitfalls of social advertising
  1. Temple University researchers expose the pitfalls of social advertising
    prweek.com
    VaynerMedia CMO responds: "There's both risk and reward on…
    Industries

In a new study from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, three researchers found something that anyone who’s ever gotten irritated on Instagram can confirm: the short-term returns of social marketing could be offset by long-term drawbacks. The reason? Brands are overdoing it.

"Firms and consumers hold different views of social media," said Shuting Wang, the study’s lead author. "Firms see a potential to contact consumers, but users can consider commercialized social posting annoying if they are too frequent or sent at busy times."

Wang and co-author Paul Pavlou were quick to note that the study is limited in scope, since their data came from a single CPG firm advertising to Chinese customers using WeChat (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook). But the results were clear: without the right strategy, social marketing can drive consumers away permanently. While the brand they studied saw a 5% bump in sales immediately following a social post, it experienced an overall 300% drop in engagement in the form of unfollows; the brand lost an audience it had already captured.

The study squares, to some extent, with the experiences of Jeff Nicholson, CMO at digital agency VaynerMedia. "It takes a lot of risk in associating a negative connotation with social advertising, but the callout is correct," he said. "You have to realize that there’s both risk and reward on social and not have a negative interaction."

Instead, effective social campaigns should be highly nuanced, taking into account not only audience demographics but how the product plays—or, more importantly, if it doesn’t—on a feed. Nicholson pointed to VaynerMedia’s recent work for carpet cleaner StainMaster as an example of how to leverage social for a brand that doesn’t naturally gel with those platforms.

"For CPG products that aren’t exciting and cool like Snapchat, you have to create an environment in which you can talk to a person and still relate to your product," he said. "We created content"—a series of narrative spots—"that had entertainment aspect in a social environment. No one would watch the classic ‘swipe two windows side by side’ TV commercial, but they did watch a minute and a half video that looked like a movie trailer." 

Wang’s study examined ads with much lower production value, but the findings likely apply to campaigns of any budget, since the takeaways related less to how to market a brand but when. Engagement dropped most steeply during commute hours and among consumers in big cities— in other words, people who are already stressed and look to social media as a way to escape or relax. It’s the last time anyone wants to see an ad they’ve already scrolled past, or one for a product they’ve already purchased. 

"The main thing brands should take away from this study is that they need to be careful," said Pavlou. "There’s a tendency to send too many messages, because that short-term bump looks nice, but companies [need to] focus on the long-term effect. Otherwise, they’ll annoy…

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