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Should search results include links shared on social networks?

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Horst Joepen CEO Searchmetrics

It’s not clear whether a direct connection between social links and search visibility is a good thing

In search optimisation, the number of links to a web page from other sites or blogs is like an endorsement: the more links a page has, the more highly it’s regarded by search engines and the higher it appears in search results. But links from social networks don’t count. So even if a page is shared thousands of times on Twitter or Facebook, there’s no impact on where it ranks.


This seems at odds with the growing importance of social sites and is something the major search engines are looking to address. After all, shouldn’t a page that’s popular on these sites rank higher?

I give here an example to prove my point, that is the lately launching of Press My Air – providing best air compressor reviews. During the last 3 months, this website has developed extremely fast, going along with amazing number of social sharing:

More details:

  • Facebook share: 60+
  • Twitter share: 120+
  • Google plus: 50+

As a result, after doing some research, we can see a boost in ranking of this site (actually, I accidentally found it on a electronics forum and immediately notice its rapid development).

Additionally, it has been suggested that this might be an underlying reason why Google has widened the availability of its Goo.gl URL shortener, a tool that reduces the number of characters in a link to make it easier to share on social networks.

Goo.gl, one of several shorteners on the market, comes with analytics that helps marketers (and Google itself) collect data about shortened links. This has led to speculation that the company is moving closer to incorporating social networking links into its algorithms.


But it’s not clear whether a direct connection between social links and search visibility is a good thing. First, social media sites are overly influenced by crowd behaviour and the celebrity factor. This is why a link or page posted by a famous pop star or influential blogger gets shared indiscriminately by thousands. Second, some social networkers will happily share or retweet the next reasonable link they stumble upon, just to stay visible on the site or because they’re concerned they haven’t shared anything for a while. Would this really be the right way to judge the value and importance of a page? Contrast it with links the search engines currently do take account of: reputable bloggers, journalists and site owners will generally assess whether a page is of value to their visitors before linking to it.

There’s also the risk that ‘black hat’ search optimisers could try to profit from social linking using underhand tactics. It may be possible to create ‘link storms’ that automatically generate thousands of social links to a single page to make it rank higher, for example.

It’s clear that search engines are investigating ways to incorporate social networking signals into their results. But rather than a direct relationship based on numbers of links, they’ll probably take a more considered approach. For an early example, see what Bing and Facebook are doing in the US by allowing the preferences of personal Facebook friends to appear in search results (nma.co.uk 27 October).

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Is yours a social network?

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I just got back from a weekend with my redneck brother-in-law and his wife way up on top of the Golden State near a city called Eureka. Like Los Angeles, it’s an industry town, but the industry is growing pot. Yup, without that area, all the poor college kids who have trouble paying attention in class couldn’t have that legal medical marijuana they so desperately need to stay focused.

Let me put it another way: If the Big One ever dhit up there and knocked out production, I honestly think the manufacturers of Pop Tarts and Cheetos would go Chapter 11 within a week.

When I was up there, during the time my brother-in-law and I weren’t trying to manage the wildlife population or single-handedly prop up Anheuser-Busch’s share price, his wife and I talked about TV And speaking with her about how she decides what to watch drove home what I’ve been realizing more and more recently: If I were promoting a TV show, I would be spending more of my time and resources incentivizing viewers to become your evangelists.

Buying tons of media to promote a show or getting critics to write about it is easy; you know how to do it and have always done it. But it’s also becoming infinitely less effective by the day

This is not about the divide between critics and viewers; that’s old news. It’s an oft-ignored fact that if you want to make a hit television show on broadcast, you better be programming to that 54-year-old woman in Kansas City, not that Boston University or Syracuse-trained media member writing on one of the coasts.

It’s not about making better promos. It’s easy to say the terrible My Generation ads killed the show. But if you saw the show, you know better.

Very simply: social media has become the new critic, and the new promo. The opinions of strangers matter less than they used to, period.

My personal come-to-Twitter moment happened with Inception. I’m not a big DiCaprio guy, and the premise wasn’t my thing; I’d rather laugh and look at good-looking people, like in the French comedy The Heartbreaker, which I saw and loved. Even great reviews, big box-office numbers and inherent peer pressure didn’t make me want to “run, not walk” to Inception.

  • What did it was several of my friends seeing it and posting about it on Twitter and Facebook. Suddenly, people I shared common interests with were praising it, and that had more currency than someone I didn’t know who has a big job reviewing stuff. So I went, and I loved it.
  • What does this mean for those who push content? Go after the folks that viewers trust–other viewers they know. Find ways to get consumers to tell their friends. Create incentives–prizes, contests, whatever–to get them to Tweet and update about your show.

In our cover story this week, Jon Lafayette writes about a couple of major media outlets that have hired a person just to work the social media world. Hire more.

It’s no fun because it’s a chore to work the viral world and there is no traditional playbook, like with promos or pitching stories to critics.

And I’m not advising to stop doing a TCA session or stop buying ads on the sides of buildings. I get the argument you have to make a massive splash to have a chance at sampling, or there won’t be anything for people to Tweet about.

But I am saying all of that matters less. Critics matter less. Promos matter less. They are increasingly being complemented–though not (yet) replaced–by the opinions of people we know personally and trust.

So it’s a good question to ask yourself and your employees: Are you doing enough to build evangelists for your shows? Because I promise you, they’re a bunch more effective at getting their followers to see the light than any media you can pitch or buy.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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Successful digital marketing

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MARKETING BUDGETS ARE SHIFTING to include greater reliance on online paid media.

Numerous studies have reported that online advertising and paid digital media are becoming increasingly important to the marketing mix.

Ideally three components should be in place to maximize digital media results. First, how easy is it to open or apply for an account and can those actions be done seamlessly online? Second, financial institutions need to have appropriate products targeted to meet market demands. Digital savvy individuals of today want products and services available online and at their convenience. Your website should make it easy for people to do business with you. And third, the proper online promotional channels should be utilized in order to communicate your product offerings and website capability. We call these three components the Three-Legged Stool. If one is not in place, online marketing efforts won’t be in balance.

Online advertising can encompass a number of elements, including paid search, display/banner ads, and mobile or video advertising. Landing pages and your website form the hub of online activity with all sources directed to them. Landing pages should be a direct response to the message or campaign being promoted with the goal being to maximize conversions. They should be eye catching, have an offer if possible, and promote the desired activity with strong call-to-actions. Disclosures and compliance logos are housed at the bottom of the landing page, one click away from any online ads or promotional mentions.

Search advertising is viewed as the holy grail of online advertising. It delivers high click-through rates and prospects who often are at the end of the buying cycle and ready to purchase. There is an art to campaign setup and management, such as selecting appropriate geographies and keywords, writing effective ads and testing creative, effective bidding strategies, and optimization of performance.

Display advertising can include various media types such as static, animated or rich media ads, mobile and video. There are a number of ad networks including Google and Yahoo that sell display advertising units. Display advertising is also offered by newspapers, television and radio stations that are companion products to their “traditional” offerings. In addition, a number of Web-only networks are popping up that can be local or banking-focused sites also offering display advertising.

Regardless of which online venue you choose, there are a number of considerations when evaluating online media options:

  • Cost: Are you buying on a cost per thousand, cost per click or a flat rate based on impression share?
  • Geography: Be clear about what area you are buying. Many online platforms allow hyper-targeted geographies down to a specific radius around each branch. Others only offer DMA-wide or other preset geography which may not be ideal.
  • Flexibility: Be wary of getting lured into longer-term commitments to get the best rate. The industry seems to be moving away from these long-term commitments, by allowing more flexibility in terms of flighting campaigns to better assess results and manage budgets as well as stopping campaigns when rates change.
  • Reporting: Is reporting self-service or will reporting be delivered at regular intervals? Also, be aware that reporting can be more than clicks, impressions and click-through rates. If a landing page is coded correctly and ads are set up with tracking codes, activity on landing pages can also be tracked. So, for example, you can see how many people clicked on “Open Now and the media sources.
  • Analysis: Reporting is one thing, but looking at the reports and providing thoughtful analysis on results and opportunities for improvement is another. Will you get both? There are a number of parameters that can be evaluated including efficiency of each media outlet used, keyword and negative keyword selection, and testing of creative versions, both landing pages and ads. Self-serve reporting, while easy on the vendor, requires more time by the user setting up reports and evaluating results.

Online advertising is an effective way to sell bank products and services. It is reportable and trackable in a way most other media sources lack. It can be turned on or off depending on which product you want to promote. It is not only part of the future, but it is here and now and really should be part of any financial institution’s marketing strategy.

Networks target a bigger share of social media dollars

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Broadcast and cable networks continue to bulk up on their digital offerings, with advertisers intent on reaching these consumers with increasingly effective ads. Networkgenerated online video, Websites and microsites are no longer considered “emerging media”–they have arrived.


And now, with social media ad spending in the U.S. expected to grow 55 percent to nearly $3.1 billion this year, per research firm e-Marketer, networks are trying to figure out how to grab a greater slice of that revenue pie as well.

Major advertisers including AT&T, Denny’s and Verizon have embraced network-produced social media programs, though it’s still a pretty small slice, buyers say, estimating that television networks probably have a single-digit percentage of the total.

Social platforms present a unique challenge–unlike most traditional media, social media wasn’t really designed with advertisers in mind. “Social has been on everybody’s radar for a while, and from an advertiser standpoint everybody is still trying to figure out how to be there,” says Susan Malfa, senior VP/sales for Bravo, Oxygen and Women at NBCUniversal.


That said, social media sponsorships are expected to grow this year, though probably more on the cable side, where channels are singularly focused on genres such as sports, news and celebrities–topics that tend to dominate the social media conversation. OxygenLive! and Bravo’s Talk Bubble are two of the social platforms that Malfa’s group has devised to allow viewers to interact with talent in real time on those networks.

“The dollars are still pretty small,” says Maureen Bosetti, executive VP and national broadcast director at Optimedia.

“But clients are interested in it, and it’s absolutely critical now to figure out where social fits into their entire media plan.” One key reason: Brand buzz on social platforms translates to “earned media.”

Many clients use social media to extend campaigns beyond traditional media. Bosetti cites client Denny’s, which she says got a lot of mileage out of a multifaceted campaign Optimedia put together with sports network ESPN that included TV, radio, social media and mobile. The social media pieces included tie-ins to both Twitter and Facebook with ESPN baseball commentator John Kruk. Kruk did a weekly tweet about baseball that managed to weave in a few words about Denny’s as well. He also appeared in a piece of original content for the client called “The Chicken Show” that resided on Facebook.

According to Bosetti, social media is a harder code to crack for broader-based networks. “There’s a limit to what they can do to promote on the air, and they aren’t pushing the envelope in this space,” she says.

The Social network hits the road

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On March 11, 2010, at 10:21 a.m., a message appeared on the Twitter account of comedian Conan O’ Brien (@conanobrien): “Hey, Internet: I’m headed to your town.” Hours later, most shows on O’Brien’s just-announced cross-country theater tour were sold out online. Ever since, the eyes of the live music business have been opened to the power of social media as a marketing and promotional tool. As Nic Adler, owner of the Roxy in Los Angeles, stated on a panel at the 2011 Billboard Touring Conference in November, “Bands come to town and then leave, but the new Twitter followers stick around.”

Most concert industry executives agree that social media sites–primarily Twitter and Facebook–will only continue to grow as a driver of ticket sales. Digital strategist Pinky Gonzales, director of West Coast operations for BubbleUp, believes that 2012 could be the watershed year for using social media to promote live music events.


“Twitter will finally be opening up its advertising platform, Facebook will be taking in billions of fresh dollars thanks to its impending IPO, and third-party developers from BandPage to Ticketmaster will continue to perfect the social commerce model,” Gonzales says. “Combined with tools like HootSuite, Twitalyzer and services like Klout, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we have never had so much power to identify and influence music listeners as we do today.”

For now, Live Nation will be at the forefront of social media marketing for the launch of its 2012 summer concert season. Earlier this year, the company launched a Ticketmaster Face book app that uses Facebook’s Spotify integration to recommend events to fans based on listening habits. The Facebook platform effectively opened a new Ticketmaster “store” that essentially works like Ticketmaster.com. Fans can browse events, view which shows their friends are attending, read reviews, build their own upcoming show list by using the “I want to go” feature, RSVP to let their friends know which events they’re attending and purchase any Ticketmaster ticket directly, without ever leaving Facebook.

On May 2, the concert promotion giant launched its new concert calendar Facebook app, which enables users to discover and share upcoming Live Nation events and all music/comedy shows ticketed through Ticketmaster in North America.

“It’s based on recommendations and shows their friends are attending,” Live Nation VP of social media marketing Gretchen Fox says, noting that like the Ticketmaster app, event suggestions are also based on listening activity through Spotify accounts with Facebook integration. “Along the way fans have opportunities to earn music-related badges and points. Those points are redeemable for real-world goods like concert cash.”

  • The concert calendar had been in private beta for the past six months and tested by about 10,000 users, Fox says. Live Nation conceived the app–including architecture, functionality and user experience–and its code was written by boutique development company Kremsa. Fox hopes to get a better sense of how the app is being utilized by the end of summer.

“I want to make sure we’re paying attention to how people are using it and how well it’s integrating with Facebook’s different features as they keep rolling stuff out,” she says.

  • Ticketmaster previously used Facebook primarily as a marketing platform that links back to Ticketmaster.com, which in itself has proved effective. “Sharing” a Ticketmaster purchase on Facebook resulted in a transactional value of roughly $6-$8 for the company, according to Ticketmaster executive VP of e-commerce Kip Levin. Similarly, each time the Twitter sharing function is on Ticketmaster.com, more than $20 in sales is driven back to the site, according to Levin.

Live Nation has also found success with encouraging concertgoers to check into shows using Foursquare. By checking into a concert, fans receive rewards that include ticket upgrades and concert cash that can be used at venue concessions. “We’ve had almost 400,000 check-ins across our venues to date,” Fox says.


Fox notes that large amounts of tickets have also been sold during presales by setting up Facebook event pages for individual concert dates. For Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 Watch the Throne North America arena tour, Live Nation set up Facebook pages for each date on the trek. As a result, the tour received 88,000 RSVPs in a 48hour window, Fox says.

But not all concert promoters and music venues have the manpower or extra hours to undertake such tasks. Independent ticketing company Ticketfly, which counts Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club and Nashville’s Outback Concerts among its venue and promoter clients, provides social marketing tools through software on its website that assist with building Facebook event pages for concerts and scheduling automatic tweets that are sent before or after events. Ticketfly founder/CEO Andrew Dreskin says that many of the ticketing company’s clients take advantage of the social marketing tools.

“It’s very cumbersome and time-consuming if you’re a promoter who does 350 shows a year to create 350 Facebook events with multiple artists,” he says. “It’s perishable inventory and it matters how quickly you can get it onto the shelves.”

Dreskin has also noticed that marketing through social media has been far more successful in selling concert tickets than through traditional email marketing. “Our clients sell five times as many tickets via social media channels [like Facebook and Twitter] via our platform as they do using our email newsletter program,” he says.

William Morris Endeavor (WME) head of tour marketing Michele Bernstein says that email marketing can be challenging because if the person receiving the email isn’t interested in the advertisement, it may be negatively viewed as spam. “Social media is much more targeted,” she says. “If they sign up to be someone’s Facebook friend, they have a genuine interest. With social media, that person actually signed up with interest because they want to know.”

In late April, Portland, Ore.-based social commerce startup Chirpify simplified the process of buying concert tickets through Twitter by launching a new platform that allows artists and record labels to sell tickets or MP3s using nothing but tweets by linking Twitter and PayPal accounts (Billboard, May 5).

“Everyone is trying to sell on social,” Chirpify CEO Chris Teso says. “But all these tweets and Facebook posts link to somewhere else. We do away with all that and allow you to sell in-stream directly to your fans over Twitter.”

WME’s Bernstein has observed that impact is most felt in the social media space when artists directly communicate to their fans, whether it’s through Twitter or Facebook. WME client Lady Gaga demonstrated this perfectly in early February by tweeting details about her upcoming 110-date Born This Way global tour to her 19.2 million followers. The pop star caused a media frenzy around the trek by tweeting an illustrated rendering of the stage, which was later followed by a tweet of the official tour poster and a list of concert dates.

“We couldn’t get that out of a TV station, an email blast–we couldn’t get that out of any of those other mediums,” Bernstein says. “But coming from her? Huge impact.”

The O’Brien tweet was a watershed moment in the live business. His tweet announcing the trek resulted in selling 125,000 concert tickets in one day, Bernstein says. “We always knew that an artist talking directly to fans through social media was powerful, but this showed the immediate impact of how it can translate to ticket sales,” she says. “The dates were sold to individual promoters–it wasn’t just one promoter–so every promoter in the country who assumed risk saw the power of an artist speaking directly to the fans.”

Katy Perry has also experienced the power of aligning with a major social media company to announce a large arena tour. After nearly a year of promotion for 2010’s Teenage Dream, Perry became the first musical artist to appear on Facebook’s live video streaming channel when she announced her North American arena tour in January 2011 to more than 1.4 million viewers. It went on to rank 13th among the top 25 tours of the year, grossing $48.8 million from 98 concerts that drew more than 1 million fans, according to Billboard Boxscore.

Perry’s 2011 trek also featured the first Tweet 2 Screen campaign, a deal that was brokered by Creative Artists Agency’s Glenn Miller, who oversees digital strategy for CAA’s music department. Each night of the singer’s tour used a different Twitter hashtag, and if a fan’s tweet was approved it would appear on a screen near the stage. As opposed to past text-to-screen campaigns, which were anonymous messages, Tweet 2 Screen displayed Twitter handles and avatars, creating a more personalized experience, Miller says.

“Not only are you creating excitement in the venue, but since it’s a public platform, you’re now spreading the word outside to anyone who happens to be following you or searching for that term on Twitter,” he says.

To create an even bigger buzz during the European leg of Perry’s trek, the first 100 fans who showed up at arenas and checked in through Facebook received better placement near the stage. The 100 concert-goers who arrived early enough were escorted into a VIP line and allowed into the venue five minutes early. “That’s where you start to see how digital influences [everything] from announcements to buying tickets to in-venue experience and what happens after that,” Miller says. “The first couple of shows we’d message out on Facebook and Katy would tweet about it. A couple shows in we never had to mention it again, because every fan was starting to line up at the show and check in.”

Even artists who’ve been on the fence about using social media are quickly recognizing its power when it comes to touring, concert industry observers agree.

“Sometimes we have to fight to get promotions done on their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts,” AEG Live VP of digital marketing Joyce Szudzik says. “Now we’ve given them enough data from different campaigns we’ve run, so they know this is what they want.”

A recent social media success story, she says, was Enrique Iglesias’ 2011 U.S. tour, which featured Pitbull and Prince Royce. Szudzik notes that the AEG Live-promoted trek had sales spikes each time there was activity on Iglesias’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, ranging from video posts to tweets between Iglesias and the opening acts. Surprisingly, ticket sales declined around traditional TV appearances on “Today” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” Szudzik says.

“Traditional TV wasn’t moving the meter,” she says. “But we saw that when we increased social engagement, ticket sales immediately bounced up.”

Artist representatives and promoters have also observed that increasing use of social media to market and promote live music has allowed them to save money on traditional advertising like TV, radio and print. Charlie Walker, a partner in C3 Presents, which produces music festivals Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza, says C3 has invested those savings in bulking up its marketing staff.

“We’ve taken resources from spending large amounts of money at traditional media outlets and reinvested that money in-house to develop the personnel we need to officially operate and work on social media,” Walker says, noting that nearly 100% of C3’s festival tickets during the past three years have been sold through social media and email marketing.

Meanwhile, Szudzik says that with so many new social media sites sprouting up each day, it’s tough to keep up. “It’s really about trying to figure out which ones have the legs to be adopted in the space where we need them,” she says. “If it’s too complicated or there are too many hurdles, [users are] not going to do it, because it’s not worth their time to be in that space.” * *

Additional reporting by Glenn Peoples and Ray Waddell.

.biz MOBILE: For 24/7 news and analysis on your cellphone or mobile device go to: mobile.billboard.biz

Russian social network VKontakte sparks piracy worries

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VKontakte, Russia’s most popular online social network, has come under fire from local rights-holders for enabling users to upload and share unlicensed music and video content.

Record labels, TV broadcasters and other rights-holders say that VKontakte allows its more than 100 million registered users to upload any digital entertainment content.

Gala Records, one of Russia’s largest labels, has filed three lawsuits against the St. Petersburg-based social networking site, alleging that the site infringed on its copyrights by failing to block users from sharing 20 tracks by Gala artists MakSim, Anzhelika Nachesova and Infiniti.


  • Roman Lukyanov, a lawyer for Gala, says the label tried to hold talks with VKontakte before filing its lawsuits, but says the company didn’t respond to its overtures. “A goodwill [licensing] agreement would be preferable for us,” Lukyanov says. “But the [VKontakte] lawyers we are dealing with in court don’t have the authority to negotiate.”
  • Video and music files uploaded to VKontakte are supposed to be available only for streaming. But some applications available to VKontakte users allow them to also download any file.
  • As the popularity of online social networks in Russia increases, label executives say the volume of illegitimate music distributed through such sites has become significant. VKontakte has the third-most-visited Russian website, with nearly 21 million unique visitors per month, topped only by e-mail service Mail.ru and search engine Yandex, according to a survey conducted by research group TNS Russia in November. Social networks Odnoklassniki.ru and Facebook also ranked among the top 20 sites.

VKontakte has sparked concerns among the major labels. Universal Music Russia general director Dmitry Konnov estimates that VKontakte may already be the country’s largest online source for pirated music. And in a November filing with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative about international websites that facilitate piracy, the RIAA said VKontakte “is specifically designed to enable members to upload music and video files, hundreds of thousands of which contain unlicensed copyright works.”


VKontakte didn’t respond to interview requests. The company has previously shrugged off accusations that it facilitated piracy, claiming that it doesn’t have any control over what users upload. It also offers rights-holders an unusually direct way to remove copyrighted content: The company grants them “administrative access” to the VKontakte site as long as they agree to remove only unauthorized tracks and videos that they hold the copyrights for. So far, only Gazprom Media-owned TV network TNT (which isn’t related to the U.S. cable network of the same name) has exercised this option.

Last year, a court in St. Petersburg threw out a copyright infringement lawsuit against VKontakte filed by state-run TV company VGTRK after users uploaded two VGTRK feature films to the site. Internet company Mail.ru Group, which owns a 32.5% stake in VKontakte, settled a similar suit filed by VGTRK in November 2008. Under the settlement, Mail.ru Group agreed to pay VGTRK share of advertisement ue generated by its video service Video.Mail.ru, which hosted user-uploaded VGTRK content.

Some rights-holders are keen on reaching similar deals with other content-hosting sites. Universal’s Konnov says that the major is “in the final stages of negotiations” with several domestic social networks other than VKontakte about a deal that would make Universaps music available to their users.

Konnov adds that although Universal has been unable to find common ground with VKontakte, that may change if Mail.ru increases its ownership stake.

“We’ve been in close contact with Mail.ru,” he says. “We’ll see what happens if their stake goes up.”

Social media marketing is new word-of-mouth

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At its core, social media marketing is an amped-up version of the oldest and most powerful form of marketing: word-of-mouth.

Social media marketers capitalize on the credibility of individuals. The goal is to stimulate people to pass along a product message. Marketers feel that their product pitches are more believable coming from a friend, even a Facebook friend you never see in person, than in a TV spot.

That’s why Scott Goebel, vice president for social strategy and enablement at Team Detroit, the Ford brand’s advertising agency, says that getting consumers to share Fusion prelaunch content is a key goal.

“So we may want 100,000 views of something, but we’re also looking at the rate at which it was shared by people,” Goebel says, referring to how quickly they pass the word along. “It tells our content story in their voice, which is very powerful for a brand.”

A good fit for autos

That tactic is particularly suitable for automotive marketing, says Brad Adgate, director of research at Horizon Media in New York. Autos were one of the first products to be shopped on the Internet, and Web shopping remains robust. Also, car buyers are strongly influenced by word-of- mouth.

“Cars have always been reliant on social media before there was social media,” Adgate says. “Cars, movies and restaurants were always three things that people talked about — word-of-mouth.”

But, like word-of-mouth, social media’s effects are elusive. Jeff Doak, social platform director at Team Detroit, says there’s a tendency to measure what’s visible — tweets, Facebook fans. But they just show surface activity.

“The things that matter are usually more buried,” Doak says. “I think a lot of the effects we get from social media are hard to measure, actually.”

Marketers can get some data about their Facebook audience and its level of engagement, but only for their own page. So Ford can find out about its Facebook audience, but not about Toyota’s or Chevrolet’s or Hyundai’s. That makes the kind of benchmarking that auto industry marketers routinely do — comparing reasons for purchase, price, equipment levels, cross-shopping and the like — difficult.

Goebel says that marketers have learned some techniques. For instance, he says, by using YouTube annotations — links that appear in the frame of a video which allow the viewer to click through to another video or a Web site — they can engage potential Fusion buyers more deeply.

Limited role

Marketing experts emphasize that social media can play only a limited role in selling cars. The reach is limited by the slice of the population paying attention to a specific medium and with an interest in a product, says Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for AutoPacific in Ann Arbor, Mich. There’s also a constant need to restock with fresh content, he adds — and then marketers must monitor online comments continually.

And buzz dissipates quickly after a campaign stops, Sullivan says, citing the Fiesta Movement: “The problem was that there was a lot of initial buzz, but as the vehicle has progressed through its life cycle, the buzz has really died off. I think it’s been kind of underwhelming in its sales performance.”

Alexander Edwards, COO of consulting firm Strategic Vision in San Diego, says social media are useful in raising awareness but must be followed by a more substantial message via traditional media. The playful, sometimes flip material used in a YouTube video, for instance, isn’t going to close the deal for a vehicle purchase.

Serious car shoppers respond to the three traditional issues that drive purchases: quality, price and reliability, he says. So a tactic like Doug, the puppet used in humorous online videos for the Focus prelaunch, can only prime an audience for a serious sales pitch.

“You don’t want to insult the customers on that side. You don’t want to be too edgy,” Alexander says. “They’re not going to spend that much money because a sock puppet told them to.”