At Pontiflex’s CPL Summit last week, a presentation by IDC Research Analyst Caroline Dangson got me thinking. The IDC study rounded up some interesting– and somewhat disturbing– numbers on how consumers interact with ads on social networking sites. Far and away, users viewed advertising in social networks as the most “annoying” of all online mediums. Besides just the annoyance, the likelihood of how often users would click on an ad is far lower in social networks than in more “traditional” online environments. So why is this? Here are four reasons.
Reason #1 – Advertising on social nets is still new
Users are not used to advertising as part of the experience. Clicking around Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, etc…users are still getting familiar with the mere existence of ad units. On the flip side, advertisers are still new to this “social” environment. While there has been fascination with the targeting available, the “32 and still single?” approach has turned off more users than turned on.
Case in point: Here’s a recent Facebook update from a friend of a friend: “Dear Facebook: I’m sorry I’ve been neglecting you, but please stop placing ads about celebrity diets on my page. I don’t care that Kelly Ripa weighs about 11 lbs.”
Reason #2 – Users are engaged not passive
Another interesting find from the IDC study was that consumers actually enjoyed advertising in more “passive” mediums, such as television, magazines and radio. Think, “Have you seen that new Geico commercial” or “I buy Vogue magazine for the ads.” Due to the level of interaction in social networks, advertisements often come across as noise — interrupting the overall experience of sharing and connecting with friends.
Reason #3 – The platforms haven’t figured it out either
Like reason #1, the “newness” of advertising in social networks is also obvious in the platforms themselves. Facebook’s new design experiments with the placement, visibility and frequency of advertising. MySpace has a history of using rich media and skins for advertisers. Neither of which appear to have moved the needle just yet. However, as data is collected and analyzed, they will undoubtedly adjust and revise to deliver the conversions, leads or impressions that advertisers (and consequently, the users) are looking for.
Reason #4 – Just what IS an ad?
One of the primary questions I have about the IDC study is “How do we know that end-users are correctly identifying an ad as an ad?” Sure, the “get whiter teeth” promo is annoying and obvious, but what about the cool applications and games that connect and engage you and your network? Given the blend of content and advertising that has recently sprouted up across networks, this question becomes more relevant than ever.
The good news? The IDC study shows that 73% of U.S. online consumers prefer free content supported by advertising rather than paid content. Consumers understand the necessity of advertising, but they are still trying to figure out where it fits into their experience. Achieving that “fit” is what advertisers and the networks themselves need to figure out.
According to the IDC study, consumers were turned off by ads that disrupted their experience — and in the case of our examples, users taking the platforms themselves to task. Users of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo or LinkedIn are not putting their feet up and watching social networking occur. It’s an interactive environment at its core. This isn’t about making noise with flashy ads, crude calls for attention or disturbing usage of targeting. It’s about playing along and enhancing the “social” experience. Only time will tell– but the opportunity to stand out is staring us in the face.
Are there any good examples of advertising in social networks out there now? Sponsored apps or offers that enhance user experience? Please share – we’re all ears!
Photo credit, miliquin