Buying Buzz: Can Paid Social Media Work?

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When they want a larger market share, many companies loosen their purse strings and buy it. Through advertising and direct mail, businesses can become part of their customers’ conversation and widen their market. Social media marketing has historically been a subtler force; because most social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are free, they haven’t constituted a major, direct part of the marketing budget. While companies paid their content creation team to tweet and maintain a Facebook page, paid social media wasn’t a part of the picture until relatively recently.

Today, paid social media – sponsored links and advertising that appears as an integrated part of a social media platform – is a burgeoning industry. Instead of relying solely on organic social media marketing, more and more businesses are turning to paid social media. In a study this year from The Nielsen Company, roughly two-thirds of marketing directors plan to increase their social media advertising budgets. That figure includes buying content from professional bloggers and social media managers, but it also refers to paid sponsorship and advertising via social media.

The Opening Market for Paid Social Media

Search engines have long made use of sponsored advertising. Google’s sponsored listings appear in a box at the top of the search engine’s results page, and the company’s AdSense program has helped small and mid-sized businesses thrive for years. Paid content, including guest blogging and sponsored blogging, has also given businesses a wider reach. With shifting SEO standards, meaningful content is more valuable than ever, and that also goes for social media marketing. Media platforms have realized that value and offer an increasing range of options for paid social media that fits seamlessly into the channel.

LinkedIn, the premier business-oriented social media site, added sponsored updates in July. The sponsored program allows companies to buy into a professional feed that reaches target audiences within the site’s millions of users. With more than 3 million company pages on LinkedIn, delivering paid social media content through the sponsored update program is especially useful for B2B marketing efforts. Like any content, it must be well-written and engaging, but LinkedIn now provides the ideal delivery system for that information.

Facebook, still the giant in the social media world, also has its sponsored content options. The Facebook Ads program is only one option; for companies that want a well-integrated approach to paid social media, the Sponsored Stories system allows companies to place content in readers’ news feeds as customers “like” their pages or otherwise interact with them. Sponsored Stories have higher visibility than boxed ads and are woven into the fabric of the page rather than being on a sidebar. Instead of letting word of mouth work alone, sponsorship raises the profile of the information above the background noise on Facebook.

Paid Social Media as Part of Your Marketing Strategy

While paid social media offers exciting new opportunities for marketing directors, it isn’t a stand-alone strategy. Paid social media can’t take the place of frequent blog updates, content marketing and quality site construction. As the Nielsen survey indicates, sponsored social media has no agreed-upon set of metrics by which companies can measure its effectiveness. With a marketing team that performs analytics using a combination of the latest online metrics, including overall traffic and click-through rates, and traditional sales metrics such as sales volume, gauging the efficacy of paid social media marketing becomes easier.

Paid social media must still capture a reader’s attention and offer enough value to look like more than just another ad. Social media site visitors are blitzed with advertising throughout their time online, so the most effective content gives them something more. A sponsored social media placement describing a restaurant’s new seasonal menu or directing customers to a great how-to article gives readers something in return for their attention.

Although it isn’t a mainstay of a marketing plan, investing in paid social media could add a new layer to an integrated marketing strategy. The social media marketplace is poised to offer new opportunities to companies willing to embrace new programs, but content is still vital to your success.

© Business Content, Inc. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

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