Social networks aren't ideal for online ads

December 4, 2009

It was big news in mid-October when studies showed that Facebook (the king of all online social networks and the example I'll use in this post) now accounts for 1 in 4 Internet pageviews in the U.S. while Google accounts for (only?) 1 in 12.

According to Nielsen, Google gets 153 million unique visitors each month compared to Facebook's 105 million. But the 105 million Facebook visitors spend more than twice as long there (more than 5 hours on average) each month.

What this means is there is a huge amount of people spending a ton of time on social networking sites. Facebook allows you to target a specific audience exclusively, limiting your ads to say, single males in their twenties, living in Dallas, who are interested in Pokemon (there are 140 of them) if you wanted to.

That's all good and well.

But the problem with social networks, as far as online ads go, is what people are doing while they're on the sites. Social networks are wildly popular because they're extremely good at one thing, socializing.

Users spend an exorbitant amount of time checking up on their friends through status updates, confirming event invitations, writing messages, scanning through hundreds of pictures, and the old-school among them might even do some poking. 

What they aren't doing is looking at those little ads in the sidebar.

People on social network sites expect their experience to be all about their network. That's why ads on social networks often see click-through rates of 4 in 10,000, one fifth of the Web average.

Don't place ads that aren't specifically designed for both your target audience AND the social network itself

A big part of the reason that CTRs are so low for social network ads is because marketers haven't exactly figured out the medium yet. So make sure if you're participating in this still-developing ad platform, you think specifically about what your target will be doing when they come into contact with your ad.

This is not to say it's impossible to have positive ROI with social network ads, especially since their cost per click is relatively low. If you need to reach a very specific audience and have a great online offer as well as a targetted landing page, social network ads can still be effective.

Search engines are a better venue for general ads

When someone is searching online, they're looking for an answer to a problem, question or curiosity and are counting on the seach engine to find that answer. Because their next destination is unknown, users' mindsets are more open.

This uncertainty allows online ads to enter as a potential solution to their search and is the reason that average click-through rates on search engines are between 9 and 15 in 10,000.

Social network marketing is best done through networking.

Organizations and professionals should utilize these popular sites the way they were meant to be utilized. They should engage their audience by communicating with them in hopes of becoming a part of their network. They should not try distracting them while they are engaging with the people and companies who have already earned their attention. It won't work.

How have you faired with marketing on social networks?

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