Blog post

Is Social Advertising Killing Social Marketing?

By Jennifer Polk | January 14, 2016 | 5 Comments

digital marketing

Is social advertising killing all that was great about social marketing?

Is social advertising killing social marketing?

Marketers, allegedly, entered into social marketing for a few reasons–evangelizing the brand, engaging online audiences, gaining audience or customer insight and building and enhancing customer relationships.

In order to achieve those goals, they had to go through a process that included listening to audience feedback on products, services; interpreting that feedback to gain customer insight; using insight to develop content, shape conversations; and publishing content and engaging in a two-way dialogue.

The goals above still exist, but there’s a new goal—ROI—that is insidiously creeping into the social marketer’s vernacular, often undermining the importance of other objectives. The processes have largely been mechanized and automated, which certainly makes social marketing more scalable and sustainable, but risks removing the human element.

That human element was one thing that distinguished social marketing from other marketing channels. An actual human being—often painstakingly—mined social data for nuggets of insight that they could use to create content their audience valued, then facilitate or engage in meaningful discussions. Those discussions were the bedrock of the brand’s online community.

Enter social advertising

When I say social advertising, I’m not talking about the ad blocks that appeared alongside the social feed—those were poor attempts by brands to force their way into a conversation, the digital version of photobombing. They were easy to spot and even easier to ignore. Then came well-targeted native advertising that appeared in the social newsfeed and was hard to distinguish from organic social content.

The good news is that targeted social advertising can improve reach and relevance of social marketing content and enable social marketers to track the effectiveness of that content. The not-so-good news is that social advertising is a gateway drug into other media habits and beliefs—the habit of putting data ahead of creativity, the belief that the community is merely an opportunity for impressions and clicks.

Social advertising has its place in the marketing mix, including:

  • Enabling brands to get more value out of customer data and gather additional audience insight
  • Improving accuracy and effectiveness of social marketing—from content creation to deployment
  • Tying social marketing to other marketing and digital commerce channels for better integration
  • Allowing marketers to track and measure the impact of social marketing on business goals

No one likes to be sold to

When social advertising takes over as the driver of social marketing and revenue becomes the primary goal, social marketing stops being about audience engagement and becomes just another direct response channel. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Advertising, no matter how well-placed, creative or clever, is about selling stuff.

Without a healthy balance of earned and paid media, organic engagement and advertising, human and data-driven interactions, online audiences will revolt. If social marketers and social networks view online communities as merely advertising platforms, audiences will treat them in the same way—blocking ads, disengaging from the discussion and turning away from brands to other forms of engagement.

If you’re using social advertising, make it part of a holistic social marketing strategy. Invite the entire social team, including content strategists and community managers, to collaborate, share insights and develop plans that include paid, earned and owned media and organic engagement. Review results often—not just clicks and conversion, but also metrics that show the health of your social community.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

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  • Ben Steward says:

    Totally agree with your post and the points that you made. Unfortunately as with most new ‘innovative’ marketing outlets it doesn’t take ROI long to get to the forefront of the users mind!

  • Patrick says:

    Love this article.

    When you mention reviewing the results of the health of the social community, I’m assuming that means the organic reach of the built relationships? In other words, how engaged the community is?

  • Tema Frank says:

    ROI isn’t the problem. Thinking of ROI only in one channel and thinking only short-term.

  • badan kunci says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he actually ordered me breakfast because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss
    this issue here on your site.