Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Search Insider: Search Angst At The Social Ad Summit

Search Angst At The Social Ad Summit

AT THE SOCIAL AD Summit this week in New York City, Facebook may have been the most buzzed-about company on stage, with everyone from agency execs to application developers discussing their thoughts on the belle of the network ball. JP Morgan's Deborah Korb Maizner was the most direct, saying that when her company used social networks for recruiting, Facebook had the right caliber of candidates, while MySpace users weren't in the same league. While the comment reeks of elitism, Quantcast backs her up, noting  Facebook users have significantly higher education and income levels than MySpace users.

Beyond Facebook, the next hottest topic seemed to be Google and the search marketing industry. MySpace was mentioned sporadically outside of the panel where it was represented, even though eMarketer says it accounts for 53% of the social network advertising market. Application ad networks and developers were pervasive among speakers and sponsors, but none could compete for share of voice with Google. You can find full coverage of every panel but mine  on my blog.

There are three ways the search marketing industry came up: as the foil, the ideal, and the old model.

The Foil
Mike Trigg from social network hi5 repeatedly mentioned the search industry in the first panel on social network advertising. He described how the core value proposition is different for search and social networks. With search, you look for something and you get an ad. On social networks, you're spending time with friends. The key, he said, is for brands to become part of people's social interactions on these networks.

Seth Goldstein of social media advertising company SocialMedia was the most wary of Google. First, he acknowledged that search is great for conversions, but there are big consumer brands at the top of the purchase funnel that must rely on other channels. He said people don't search for Tic-Tacs. (This is only somewhat true. According to Google Trends, in late September 2007, about as many people globally  searched for Tic-Tacs as searched for Sarah Palin ). Goldstein warned that if social advertising gets mired in direct response metrics, Google will swallow up everyone and dominate the industry.

The Ideal
Trigg from hi5 first mentioned search when asked about new ad formats, saying how search advertising is still essential, evoking the first of several aspirational comments about social advertising.

Federated Media's James Gross (whose boss is John "The Search" Battelle) said that when brands engage in social media marketing, they should remember to review how the campaign or program impacts natural search results. Do the search results indicate the marketer is swaying the conversation around its brand? Here, search engine optimization becomes the yardstick for benchmarking the effectiveness of another form of marketing.

Scott Rafer of application ad network Lookery offered a slightly different angle, noting marketers should look at whether social media marketing influences how consumers search on a number of relevant keywords. He said marketers should then review whether consumers made it through to the marketer's site, or if consumers went elsewhere due to poor search engine optimization (he could have also suggested marketers better integrate social marketing with paid search).

The Old    
During the final panel on alternative social advertising, while Federated's Gross was bullish on Google, some others saw room for new Googles to rise up and meet social advertising's challenges.

Alex Blum of hosted social media platform KickApps said that ad networks will emerge to combine behavioral targeting with social graph data to allow for better monetization of social media, and one or two may provide an elegant alternative to Google.

The most anti-Google bravado came from Ari Gottesmann with Sightix, which offers some new twists on social search in its platform for social networks. One issue, Gottesmann claimed, is that Google earns $60 per user while Facebook earns $11 per user; panel moderator and Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow thought Facebook was doing pretty well in such a comparison. We'll see if Sightix is the next Facebook or the next Cuil (and one day, I swear, I'll stop making Cuil a punchline).

All these reactions to Google and search marketing from the panelists show some pent-up teenage angst from the social media camp. There's a mix of esteem, envy, and enmity, as everyone's wondering whether to build on the search model or tear it down. This petri dish should prove to be a fascinating breeding ground for innovation -- though along the way, expect Google to slam a bunch of these pipsqueaks in their lockers.

David Berkowitz is director of emerging media and client strategy at 360i. You can reach him at dberkowitz@360i.com, and you can read his blog at MarketersStudio.com.

Search Insider for Tuesday, September 16, 2008:

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