Putting social media in perspective


Non-stop news coverage of social media — specifically Facebook — has captured marketers’ attention — whether inside or outside of the news-media industry. Extensive coverage of Facebook’s audience and revenue growth has served to accelerate the adoption of a sound ‘social media strategy’ by some and motivated others to pursue short-term tactics for fear of being left behind.

Is Facebook — and social media — truly, as one industry commentator recently claimed, ‘the most disruptive of the many powerful forces to rock traditional media since the Internet’ or is the non-stop news coverage producing a loud and constant buzz that is inhibiting our ability to put social media — and Facebook — in perspective?

There seems to be no end to news coverage about Facebook. In the past 60 days I’ve learned that because of Facebook the Internet has become a smaller place; consumers are spending less time surfing the Web while they spend more time on Facebook — or other social media sites. Another story reveals that nearly a third of those 18 to 24 years old use Facebook to catch up on news. And on the heels of that story another reveals that US$7 of every US$10 spent on social network advertising is spent with Facebook.

It’s easy to see why industry leaders — and newspaper marketers specifically — are saying, “hey, we need to get us some of that Facebook.” For some, the short-term answer has been to add Facebook share buttons to every page of their Web site. And not to be outdone, others have gone so far as to require readers to log in to Facebook to authenticate their identity before posting about the stories on their own Web site.

I must admit I’m not smart enough to understand how driving Facebook page views and positioning your content as an incentive for Facebook membership serves as a viable long-term competitive strategy for audience and revenue growth. Of course, I never understood why we would give away our content online while requiring our loyal subscribers to pay to have the same information delivered to their door in print.

It is hard to ignore that Facebook will have an estimated 800 million users and generate nearly US$4 billion from advertising this year worldwide. It is even more difficult to ignore Facebook’s 143 million unique visitors each month. But what we all need about now is a fresh perspective. And if the sky is really falling, perhaps this fresh perspective will — at the very least — help us estimate when it will hit us in the head.

As luck would have it, Forrester’s U.S. Interactive Marketing Forecast 2011-2016, arrived in my inbox this week while I was aggregating an endless supply of Facebook news stories. According to Forrester, interactive marketing includes social media, e-mail, mobile marketing, online display and search, and will account for an estimated 21% of total advertising spending in the United States in 2011.

Which interactive marketing category is growing the fastest? It’s not social media, but mobile marketing. In fact, social media advertising, according to Forrester, will represent a little over 1% of total advertising spending in the United States in 2011.

But wait you say, surely the future forecast for social media advertising is rosy. Why yes, it is: social media advertising is estimated to double — to just over 2% of total U.S. advertising spending — by 2016. To put this into further perspective, mobile marketing is estimated to account for 10% of 2016 U.S. advertising spending, online display will net 13%, and search will account for 15%.

While social media — and Facebook specifically — continue to quickly grow audience and engagement (oftentimes with our help) the characteristics that make social media enjoyable for participants (no cost, sharing), combined with a lack of advertising inventory and options, will inhibit any significant short-term growth in advertising share. With this in mind, now is probably the best time to take a fresh look at your social media strategy, or lack thereof.

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