Online advertising ‘must adapt to social networks’

3 Apr 2008

Irish advertisers need to change their approach to appeal to social networking aficionados, according to Captivate Digital.

Straightforward banner ads are lost on this audience, claimed John Dunne of the digital media company. Instead, businesses need to look to proactive and niche engagement with social networkers and advertising of a more viral nature.

“Simply running standard advertising on social networking sites does not connect with users. Early signs indicate that many brands don’t have the kind of passionate or committed relationship with their customers to justify a stand-alone social networking venture,” said Dunne.

Citing Comscore statistics, Dunne said Irish users spend more time on social networking sites than anyone else in western Europe, clocking in five hours and 11 minutes on average per visitor in February.

Overall in February 2008, 1.53 million users based in Ireland logged onto the internet, according to Comscore, and 942,000 of those visited social networking sites. This means social networking sites account for 61.6pc of all web traffic in Ireland, slightly below the European average of 64.8pc but higher than countries like Germany, France and Italy. The British are the biggest fans of social networking online, with 76.7pc of all web traffic in the UK going to these sites.

“This audience is too big to ignore and well worth engaging with,” said Dunne, but warned advertisers need to change their tactics. “The crucial element of social networking, and the wider trend in internet development, is the change in internet users from being mere consumers of online content to being active participants and creators.”

He pointed out that social network users are more like to actively participate in a dialogue with their favourite brands, but that viral marketing techniques are still very much at an experimental phase.

“The models haven’t emerged yet. Because of this, brands have tended to stay on safer ground with tried and trusted techniques like banner ads or videos but this isn’t a sustainable approach if you’re really looking to connect with consumers in a meaningful way.”

It won’t be enough to simply count the number of times someone clicks on a banner ad in future, he added. In the social networking space, a more meaningful gauge will be how often consumers share a brand message.

“Getting through to this connected consumer is the challenge for everyone,” said Dunne. “As with so many things online, change is the only constant, but the first thing to understand in communicating with socially networked audiences, it’s fundamentally about dialogue not monologue.”

By Niall Byrne