The Hunt for ROI from Social Media: A BRITE ’14 Panel

January 16, 2014

SocialROI_BRITE14panelEveryone is on the hunt to figure out how social media can best impact a firm’s revenue. So, we are pleased to tackle this topic at BRITE ’14 with a dynamic panel of business leaders trying to crack the nut on how to spur social sharing and generate business revenue from it, which will include: the CEO of Bloomberg Media, the Head of Performance Marketing at Facebook, the President of BuzzFeed, and the SVP of Strategy and Development at The New York Times.

Part of the challenge is even defining what should go into any equation to evaluate “social ROI.” Within social media there is a three-way split between paid, earned, and owned. Social messages then interact with all the other touchpoints connecting a brand and its consumers, from TV ads to in-store displays. Plus, one has to consider category and business model differences—will the same process work as well for a low-involvement CPG product as compared to selling an automobile. Finally, there is the analytics challenge to move beyond “last click attribution” in order to more accurately understand and credit social media’s influence on the consumer’s path to purchase.

The Facebook ecosystem is obviously a key player here, and it is constantly adapting itself to find the best mix of paid/owned/earned for its brand advertisers. Our panelist Dhiraj Kumar ‘07, Facebook’s Head of Global Performance Marketing, sees clear evidence that Facebook’s move to add native ad units (the sponsored posts in News Feeds) have made a positive impact. Early studies have shown significant gains in click-through rates and drops in cost per click and cost per acquisition, leading to ROI increases when compared against sidebar ads. Adobe’s Social Intelligence Report (.pdf of the Q3 2013 report) provides additional nice data on paid/earned/owned effects on Facebook’s platform, and most recently found that the ROI from paid Facebook ads is up 58% year-over-year.

The recently appointed CEO of Bloomberg Media, Justin B. Smith, previously helped lead The Atlantic into the digital world. In the realm of generating profit from social media, he notably spurred the creation of two sub-brands, Quartz and The Atlantic Wire, that were designed to grow The Atlantic brand by avoiding any pay walls, including curated content, and allowing articles to be easily spread via social media. This past summer, 10 months after its launch, Quartz had millions of unique viewers and was generating half of its traffic through social sources. Its strong social distribution allowed the site to operate with a branded content model, and has been a leader in such revenue generation.

Last week we profiled  a third panelist, Jon Steinberg ‘03, President of BuzzFeed, whose company uses social sharing to build its brand and generate revenue from branded content. BuzzFeed has taken such an analytics-driven approach to social media, that they do A/B tests to optimize the size of the Facebook button on its website.

Our fourth panelist, William Bardeen ’04 is the SVP of Strategy and Development at The New York Times, which has also just joined the world of native advertising and will work with marketers to best understand the social flow of their branded content. Bardeen knows that the New York Times faces competitive challenges from the likes of upstart media companies like BuzzFeed as well as from Twitter, which is becoming the go to place for breaking news. Given that, The Times and other traditional news organizations are working hard to strike the balance between being a strong player in the social world—to hold on to readers and ad revenue—while maintaining a consistent level of well-researched reporting standards. 

REGISTER NOW for BRITE ’14 (March 3-4) and listen to this dynamic panel of business leaders.

BY MATTHEW QUINT

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