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Brave new world of social media

The volume of media buying has dropped off sharply, due to the recession, in every advertising venue from television to newspaper. But online advertising, to the contrary, has been seeing a slow but steady increase.

So far, online advertising has been focused on SEM, SEO, acquisition email and banner and display ads, among others. However, there’s evidence that marketers may be ready to branch out into a brave new world of Web 2.0 online advertising possibilities.

Social media is a “must” in the marketing plan. The 2010 Media Planning Intelligence Study recently released a report that shows nearly 58% of its respondents ideally plan to include social media in their plans for marketing next year. The number for “ideally” planning was nearly the same as the responses for “realistically” planning, indicating that this strategy is high on the list for receiving a portion of advertising budgets at both major and minor companies.

Social media is still a developing marketing strategy, and many have been slow to jump on the bandwagon, simply because it has been previously difficult to understand. Advertisers and agencies who cut their teeth on coming up with the perfect tagline for a new ad campaign, often have a hard time adjusting to the idea that they may be better off on Twitter all day, discussing perhaps happenings in the office or their personal lives or use of a product, in order to generate user interest in their products.

Is social media a form of advertising? Oddly enough, the power of social media is, in some corners, being eschewed as something that’s not a form of advertising. Nevertheless, the study from Media Planning Intelligence suggests that not only do many companies consider social media to be a form of advertising, they also consider it to be an essential form of advertising, giving it priority over more traditional channels when they decide how to allocate their advertising budgets.

Though social media was bundled into a category with other “non-traditional” forms in the study, there is a definite trend toward “non-traditional” forms over “traditional” forms. “Non-traditional” includes such advertising strategies as online, mobile and other emerging media platforms, and “traditional” includes TV, radio, print, and out-of-home advertising. In the study, respondents planned to use “non-traditional” advertising over “traditional” advertising 57% to 43%.

So what’s sending everyone online? For one thing, those dwindling media budget dollars stretch a lot further in online media channels than they do in more traditional media advertising. A television spot is still far more expensive than getting an ad for the exact same show on a streaming service like Hulu, and a traditional newspaper ad is still more than the same ad on a newspaper’s website. By finding the correlating advertising opportunity online, buyers are saving themselves precious advertising revenue and sometimes even finding a larger demographic to pitch to.

Social media, on the other hand, is seeing a lot of success for those companies that can manage to figure out the best way to put it to work. Beauty and personal care products are some of the forerunners in this contest, offering a whole range of online and social media resources devoted to allowing their buyers to interact with one another, get answers to their questions from experts, and talk to the sellers of their favorite products. All the while, the company reaps benefits from this seemingly free service, since the goodwill their users feel toward them makes them more inclined to buy their products.

This may explain why social networks are heading the advertising list for many respondents, just below email marketing (56.3% and 56.8%, respectively). Keyword searches came in next at 49.7%, making the top three slots all in “non-traditional” media advertising outlets. Coming in at number four is the first “traditional” advertising medium ("traditional" advertising includes print, television, radio, and outdoor advertising) mentioned on the list. Only 42.2% of companies think they'll be investing in this "traditional" advertising form, which is a significant drop from the number of companies who favor the top three "non-traditional" methods.

Even more peculiar? The number four “traditional” platform is for radio, not TV or print. National TV and national newspapers actually ranked at the very bottom of the list – quite a fall for the two most popular forms of advertising over the last few decades.

So…what does all this mean for companies who want to do the smart thing with their ad budgets? They need to learn “non-traditional” advertising formats, and fast – because “non-traditional” is rapidly becoming the norm, and “traditional” may very well be becoming code for “obsolete.”