While significant gains have been made this year in social analytics, helping to drive bigger spends, there is still much room for improvement before social advertising can reach its full potential.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram have all been working furiously to provide marketers with better insights into their audiences as well as how social campaigns are performing. With the volume of social impressions up significantly in the second quarter, according to recent research from Neustar, brands are also putting a bigger emphasis on social marketing.
Being able to look at the entire customer journey and all the touch points that lead up to a purchase, marketers can now move beyond the last-click model and better understand socials role in influencing sales, said Rob Gatto, senior vice president of media and advertising at Neustar.
We know that social is a powerful driver of brand awareness, he said. While it may not drive the last click before a customer converts, looking at all the customer touch points prior to a desired action allows us to see the overwhelming influence social has on driving conversions.
Facebook has been focused on delivering enhanced analytics to marketers for some time and promises brands the best ad targeting available on mobile (see story).
More recently, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram have followed suit with enhanced analytics.
For example, Twitter is partnering with several mobile measurement firms to help app marketers gauge their campaign performance through its new mobile-app promotion program (see story).
Last week, Instagram launched a suite of tools for advertisers to help them better track metrics such as impressions and engagement (see story).
Earlier this week, Pinterest announced the global launch of a new analytics tool enabling businesses to see data on users who engage with their pins.
Instagram's new ad tool.
Moving to mobile
With many advertisers finding mobile social users are more valuable than desktop users, these analytics should help them extend their mobile strategies to the social networks.
Social analytics is playing a crucial role in moving marketers to mobile, said Slaven Radic, CEO of Tapstream. Mobile metrics are well understood from certain angles, but social and its impact on mobile users is still hotly debated.
People today are spending huge amounts of time in social apps on their mobile devices, he said. While Facebook has figured out how to unlock that value for advertisers, most other social apps are just getting started.
Marketers need access to better data and targeting in order to move their campaigns to mobile.
These developments come at a time when social marketing is growing. This growth is being driven by better analytics, automated buying processes and socials significant reach.
According to a recent report from Neustar, social media demonstrated the best cost-efficiency in the second, coming in at 70 percent below the industry average, for demand-side platforms. The decrease in the cost of social stems in part from the growing use of efficient demand-side platforms to purchase social impressions.
The report also found that the volume of social impressions reached 34.8 percent in the second quarter versus 12 percent in the first quarter.
Going forward, marketers are likely to look to social advertising for good value and a cost-effective means to drive reach.
Advertisers are increasingly looking at the customer journey and finding social delivers the ability to reach a significant number of high quality users active throughout the entire journey, Neustars Mr. Gatto said.
However, there are still challenges in social marketing.
For example, while there is growing interest in native advertising on social networks, tracking results for these impressions is difficult.
Native advertising in social today is still not trackable for the most part as 3rd parties tracking tags are not allowed, Mr. Gatto said. With the explosion of CRM data usage and the overlay of that data on top of audience data within social platforms, it should become increasingly important for advertisers to track the performance on a comparative basis to the other media strategies they have in market.
Another challenge is the need for the industry to identify and agree on socials role and key performance indicators.
It has elements of PR, e-commerce, customer service, awareness-building, etc., Toni Box, director of social at PM Digital.
Some of these are more easily measurable than others, she said. So analytics are important but the right kind of analytics applied on a per-goal basis are also important.
In terms of social advertising meant to indicate paid media, e.g. promoted tweets, boosted Facebook posts, etc., I think advertising on social definitely comes with unique challenges, especially when it comes to not coming across as invasive within users feeds.
Despite the challenges, significant gains have been made in social analytics this year, creating a virtuous cycle as marketers dedicate bigger budgets to social because of the deeper insights and social platforms are incentivized to further enhance their analytics offerings.
Analytics become more critical as marketers devote more attention and budget to social, Ms. Box said.
They want to ensure they are making a wise investment, so the ability to measure is important.
To the extent that social is increasingly viewed not as a nice to have but a have to have ingredient in a brands marketing mix, it has to be treated with the same seriousness and scrutiny as any other channel; like any other channel, robust analytics are necessary for accountability and learning, she said.
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York
Senior Editor Chantal Tode covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at email@example.com.