Business owners say social media advertisements allow them to refine their target audience and track the success of their advertising campaigns. However, market observers warn that any advertising method still requires proper strategy to ensure success.
Doubts over the effectiveness of social media ads were raised when news station BBC did an experiment on the Facebook platform using a fake bagel shop. The page received many "Likes" despite being a non-existent store. In May, General Motors--one of the biggest advertisers in the United States--pulled out of advertising on Facebook but was said to be reconsidering its move.
However, companies and a business owner whom ZDNet Asia spoke to felt that their social advertising campaigns were successful in bringing in new fans and customers.
Joy Tan, artisan and trainer at Singapore-based The Style Atelier, said she has been advertising on Facebook and Google ads for about a year. She spends about a few hundred dollars on Internet advertising and has recently started advertising on a local wedding portal and forum.
The business owner had briefly advertised with the now defunct Chic Magazine. The free advertisement ran on the then-monthly magazine in its classified section for at least two issues, said Tan.
"There was no way of tracking feedback because there were no analytics from it. Based on verbal feedback from my clients, no one mentioned Chic when I receive queries," she said.
In contrast, the online advertisements showed better results. "Ever since I started to actively promote my services through online advertising, I have definitely seen a jump in sales," said Tan. "Word of mouth marketing is crucial for a personal business like mine, and what online advertising does for me is to quickly increase the awareness and conversations that people might have about my business. It has definitely helped me to achieve my goals."
For Tan, social media marketing has allowed her to control her advertisements. "I decide on everything that goes into my ads and also get direct feedback from my audience via Web analytics," she said. While it took "a little trial and error" for her to get the whole thing right, Tan said it was worthwhile as she had the autonomy to dictate the direction of her business.
Another business which is using the Facebook platform is Trend Micro. Terrence Tang, the company's regional director for digital marketing and consumer business, said the company started a Facebook fan page in Jan. 2011 with the objective of engaging users on the page and share information on the latest cybersecurity landscape. He added that the company chose Facebook as more than 70 percent of Internet users in Singapore are users of the social network.
The security company has used Facebook advertisements to attract interested users to "follow" its page. Tang said various channels such as the on-going program and activities on Trend Micro Facebook page, Facebook ads and referrals from existing followers have helped the company grow its follower base to more than 34,000.
He added that there is an average fan engagement rate of 18 to 20 percent every month. "Cybersecurity is not a subject that interests many Internet users and we are happy to see more people joining our community and engaging with us," he said..
The company still advertises in newspapers in the lead up to Singapore's quarterly electronic fairs and on MRT billboards during new product launches. Tang said social advertising is targeted and allows the company to track and measure responses which helps it to optimize the campaigns effectively.
While it is more difficult to measure the ROI of traditional advertising, Tang said it may help build greater confidence for the channel partners which may indirectly influence sales.
Janie Lim, group marketing manager for Southeast Asia and Adobe Systems, shared that the company's Southeast Asian operation has been advertising on social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn for almost a year.
"From our experience, advertising on social platforms has been effective for recruiting new fans and followers on our Adobe Southeast Asia Facebook page," said Lim. She noted that the company has been growing its Facebook community organically through content creation and community engagement and recruitment through Facebook advertising, both of which has contributed to "exponential growth" of the community.
Internet ad players: Social ads trump traditional ads
Natasha Zhao, lead consultant at digital marketing consultancy Blugrapes, said: "Compared to traditional advertising and other online ads, ads on social media allows for more robust audience targeting and tracking capabilities. As such, they can prove to help in a campaign's success."
From a features standpoint, social media ads allows for more "sophisticated targeting" which allows less wastage, Zhao said. For example, companies can target users who have not "Liked" a Page.
Social media ads also allow advertisers to zero in on a consumer of a specified gender, age, location to ensure that only the people with such a matching demographic will see the ad, she said.
"Unlike digital advertising where an advertiser chooses the platform based on the majority demographic it attracts or is active on it, and has no control over someone outside of the intended target from seeing or clicking on it," Zhao added.
Ken Mandel, managing director at Buddy Media Asia, agreed, adding that social media has changed media and communications. On social networks, brands are able to measure exactly how their programs are driving returns on investment (ROI), he added.
"The days of just shouting to people via banner ads or TV ads are over. Those mediums still matter but that is not where innovation is happening," said Mandel, adding that more businesses in the Asia-Pacific regionwill be turning to social media advertising as this is where the audience is.
Erik Johnson, vice president for Facebook Asia-Pacific, noted that the goal of social advertising is similar to other forms of advertising as it is about creating "reach, resonance and reaction" among the target audience.
Social ads require strategy
That said, not all social media ads will be successful. Zhao pointed out that the success of an advertising campaign will lie on the strategy and the understanding of the unique strengths of the medium.
"It's like being given a sports car. If you do not know how to handle it well or are not aware of the road conditions or best route, you won't be able to get to your destination effectively," she said.
Ranji David, executive director at Interactive Advertising Bureau Singapore, added that companies should not champion one form of online marketing over another.
"Each channel has a part to play in ensuring the overall success of a digital campaign and marketers need to take a holistic approach to online advertising," David said.