Even if you've never "liked" a brand on Facebook, pinned a product on Pinterest, or kept up with a company on Twitter, the growth of social media has tangible value for advertisers. In a fecund digital world where messages are created with unprecedented speed and frequency, conversation is capital.
That was reinforced this week when Twitter penned a major advertising deal – the first of its kind – with global media agency Starcom MediaVest Group, a division of communications giant Publicis Groupe SA.
The multiyear deal, first reported by the Financial Times on Monday, is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It gives Starcom more access to advertising inventory on the social media service at competitive prices, but that on its own is not enough to warrant such a high-profile deal. The partnership is about analyzing the conversations happening on Twitter, and giving Starcom the tools it needs to help its clients – including Mars Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Procter & Gamble Co. – learn more about their consumers, and reach them more effectively. "In-tweet surveys" will track consumer attitudes and opinions, and Starcom will have more access to Twitter's analytics.
But among all of this digital chatter, one of the most important parts of the deal involves a medium that is not new at all: television.
Twitter and Starcom are creating a "social TV lab" to examine the impact TV has on conversation on Twitter, and how that conversation can influence the programs people tune into – all with the goal of helping advertisers better plan multiscreen campaigns.
"As you think about the Twitter platform starting to become another distribution point for video , it's not an either-or … everybody wins. With TV still being very, very strong, absolutely, I see the coexistence of Twitter and television and broadcast producers as absolutely an and-and. That's why we're doing what we're doing," said Lisa Weinstein, president of global digital, data and analytics for Starcom MediaVest Group.
It's a major reflection of the growing importance of social TV – something media companies and advertisers have been working to tap in to for a couple of years. In 2011, Yahoo Inc. purchased IntoNow, a service that can identify what users are watching via soundwaves, and posts that information to social media. The same year, popular Web TV service Hulu launched an app for Facebook, and U.S. TV provider DirecTV partnered with GetGlue and Miso, two more media check-in services. This past February, Twitter acquired social TV analytics company Bluefin Labs, which will be instrumental in building the lab. And last year, Nielsen announced that it would be creating a social TV rating, in addition to the traditional TV ratings it is known for, in partnership with Twitter.
"Consumers are re-invigorating live TV," said Andrew Somosi, CEO of SocialGuide and head of Nielsen's social TV business. "The feeling you get when you're tweeting about Homeland, and you know there are 15,000 other people tweeting alongside you, and potentially connects 100,000 people who are seeing the tweets, it's very different."
Because those tweets reach a much larger audience, the opportunity for advertisers lies in reaching a wider demographic than they would simply through a TV ad buy – and doing so organically, through conversations people are already listening to.
"It's going to become interesting to see what happens to Twitter activity when you have a TV commercial? What happens when you have a promoted tweet associated with that ad?" Mr. Somosi said. "How do you create an authentic one-to-one relationship with the consumer? Social TV is one way you can do that very effectively."
Media check-in service GetGlue officially rolled out its advertising business this year. During the Super Bowl, it worked with Pepsi to help the company amplify its very pricey halftime sponsorship across social channels.
Pepsi had 95,747 virtual stickers "unlocked" for people to post – reaching an estimated 36 million people who would have seen those messages. During Beyoncé's performance, roughly 15 per cent of Pepsi's Twitter activity was generated from GetGlue.
"They spent a gajillion dollars on the Super Bowl and they spent just a fraction with us," said Sean Besser, executive vice-president of business development, partnerships and strategy for GetGlue.
The money is moving quickly into this space. Last month, the firm eMarketer raised its forecast for Twitter's global advertising revenue, predicting it will more than double this year to $582.8-million (U.S.), and nearing $1-billion in 2014. At Publicis Groupe's investor day this week, Starcom's global CEO Laura Desmond said that when consumers are engaged with content across more than one screen, brands see a 72-per-cent rise in purchase intent.
Here in Canada, media companies are working on social TV as well. Shaw Media, which owns the Global TV network, recently rolled out "tap-through" technology on its application for mobile and tablet devices, allowing users to tap a video ad before programming to find more information on advertisers, or go to their website. But it is working to layer in a social element to that technology, and also to make the app interact with what content users are watching on a TV screen.
"We believe the future is a multiscreen future," said Paul Burns, vice-president of digital media at Shaw Media. He envisions a world where advertisers can monitor conversations about programs and create real-time responses; tweaking a retailer's advertising buy to take advantage of chatter about a dress worn by a reality show contestant, for example.
"Over time, you start to get to a place where the intelligence that's built can inform how media is bought and sold," he said. "… There is an insatiable craving [from advertisers] for audience data. This is getting back to basics with marketing, which is delivering the right audience at the right time with the right message."
The promise of social TV for advertisers is in uniting paid media (purchased ads) and earned media (the conversation out there that money can't buy on its own.) The danger in all the hype, however, could be in confusing what is immediate – and digitally noisy – with what is really valuable. But by analyzing the larger conversation, learning who the audience is, what they are saying, and what else they like, the hope is that advertisers can make smarter decisions across all media, new and old.
"Consumer behaviour is changing so quickly, and Twitter is a perfect example of the real-time nature of consumer behaviour today," Starcom's Ms. Weinstein said. "… The evolution that I hope for, is we leverage those learnings and insights across channels. Because it tells us so much."