Why it is unhelpful to view social media as just another channel to reach consumers

Jon Davie

Efforts to prove the effectiveness of social media marketing have been around almost as long as social media itself. Given the speed of change over the past 10 years, it’s not surprising that social is yet to develop the robust ROI models that more established traditional media choices have created.

So it was interesting to read the conclusions of those clever people at YouGov, who took a break from monitoring the political fortunes of messrs Cameron, Milliband and Clegg to track the effectiveness of one of last year’s biggest integrated campaigns.

YouGov chose Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke campaign because it was “drawn by the dynamic nature of the campaign, and how it cut across multiple mutually-reinforcing mediums, including TV, Twitter and Facebook”. As the agency responsible for managing the social elements of the campaign, the conclusions were particularly interesting to the team here at Zone.

The methodology tracked consumer perceptions of Coca-Cola among groups exposed to the campaign on TV, Twitter and Facebook, and compared them with control groups. The good news for those of us in the advertising game is that the campaign worked – all groups showed a statistically significant increase in positive perceptions of Coke brands after exposure to the campaign.

But when the different media channels were compared, it was the group exposed to Share a Coke on Facebook that showed the biggest impact – an uplift of 18 per cent when comparing before and after the campaign.

Jane Carn, head of qualitative research at YouGov, explained: “Share a Coke was a multi-media campaign, so we needed a holistic approach that allowed us to understand the power of each component… While [the campaign] was extremely effective across all mediums, we saw the greatest uplift in perception of the brand was among those who were exposed to it on Facebook.”

Social evangelists might claim this result as proof that Facebook is a more effective platform for building brands than TV advertising. But the reality is more subtle than that.

Firstly, Share a Coke is an inherently social idea. Everything about the campaign is social – even six months later, half the people in our office have a bottle with their name on sitting proudly on their desk. It’s not surprising that an idea like Share a Coke really thrived on a social platform like Facebook.

Secondly, the Share a Coke campaign was developed as an integrated campaign from the start. We didn't plan different strategies or creative executions for TV, Twitter and Facebook – a multi-agency group aimed to craft a story that could flow seamlessly across different platforms, channels and formats.

And that’s the point about the whole advertising vs digital marketing/social media effectiveness debate that’s raged in different guises over the last 10 years. Back in the early days, the digital element of the campaign used to be an add-on badge to the rest of the marketing mix. Then, as industry ponderers realised that shareable content was key to getting people on board, digital marketing came into its own.

Now, we need to realise it’s unhelpful to view social media as just another channel to reach consumers. Social is best understood as a description of the world in which we live, not as a rival for ad budgets that could be spent on TV, press or radio.

Share a Coke succeeded in social because it’s an idea that makes sense in a social world. It’s not just a social idea on Facebook – it’s a social idea on pack, a social idea in store, and a social idea on TV. And that’s why it delivered against the most important metric of all – sales.

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