Performance focus: What role does social media play in performance? How will this change over the coming year?

Social media's role in the performance channel is something of debate. While clearly brands must have a social media strategy for brand engagement, what's not clear is the role of social in the performance channel, and the level of return brands can or should expect, and indeed what, if any metric or model can be used to measure the success of social as a channel.As part of an in-depth look into the performance marketing industry The Drum caught up with some of the UK's leading performance marketing agencies including - Tradedoubler, A4u, OMG, ValueClick Media and Found.

What part does social media play in a performance marketing context? How will this change in the coming year? How can advertisers drive sales directly from the channel?Dan Cohen, market unit leader, TradedoublerThe most forward thinking brands are seeing the benefits of social media. Customers, employees and partners will always be the best ambassadors for your brand. Harnessing the power of the consumer voice on social media can drive sales, boost revenues, reach consumer audiences that may lie beyond the reach of traditional digital marketing, support highly targeted marketing campaigns, deliver valuable consumer data, build and enhance brand reputation and allow a brand to quickly identify and respond to negative content. It is a trend no marketing department can afford to ignore but one of the key challenges will be to really understand consumers’ ‘social voice’ and how it differs from our established marketing conventions.Chris Johnson, content director, A4uThe debate around whether social media has sizeable commerce potential is still ongoing, and I believe it will continue over the coming year. The main sticking point is the ability to fully measure the value of social activity; shares, likes, comments, fans - and judging their true worth as part of a full e-commerce outlook. We’ve seen a number of technology start-ups that are providing a social commerce tracking platform, but development is ongoing.Carla Arrindell, client services director, OMGRight now, social media remains unproven as an acquisition channel, but as the performance model continues to mature, and retention becomes equally important, social media will make a significant contribution. The power of social is all about engagement, and we’ve already seen market leading brands like AVIVA engage their customers through incentive campaigns via social media, achieving improved retention rates as a result. We see this as a trend that is likely to grow.Richard Sharp, managing director, ValueClick MediaSocial media continues to offer both huge potential and significant challenges. Twitter’s new offering of campaigns tuned by user interest is an interesting development, but it and Facebook are spaces where consumers remain far more sensitive to commercial messages; any unsolicited communications runs the risk of being treated as an intrusion of privacy.However there is no escaping the fact that the audience reach is vast and the potential for brand engagement is huge if the right combination of targeting and tone of voice can be achieved. Brands need to be clear about the different roles Twitter and Facebook play.Twitter is broadly speaking a news platform, it is recent and timely, just look at how people use Twitter whilst watching television. Facebook is “personality”, it can be more thoughtful, retrospective, creative and tonal. It is therefore more of a brand-building platform. Twitter is about impact and tactics.The big challenges to face over the coming year or so will be measurement and analysis of social media performance. Measuring social media engagement in the same cookie space paid media can enable brands to analyse the value of a fan/follower/like and the inverse of this. The incremental value of engaging with Facebook and Twitter fans, could then be integrated in marketing strategies and consequently it would be possible to analyse the value that social media on customer journey paths. Tina Judic, managing director, FoundThe advancement of paid media in social will begin to open up similar opportunities to those that we are currently seeing in paid media across the rest of the digital landscape. Maturing social companies such as Facebook and Instagram will no doubt push to monetise their assets even further, however the only way they can do this is to give advertisers the ability to further exploit functionally that could assist them in driving traffic that will actually convert. As these improvements are made, performance CPA’s will become more and more achievable. These questions were asked as part of a performance supplement with the 14 December issue of The Drum.

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