Opinion: Search and social under one roof?

Simon Williams
By Simon Williams | 31 March 2014

In an article published online in AdNews last week, Kenshoo’s Michel Van Woudenberg argued that the future would see search and social agencies coming together under one roof to bridge the gap between the two, and provide clients with more integrated digital solutions.  Whilst I agree with much of what he argued – particularly supporting anything that frees up time for agencies to be more strategic – they both come at it from a tech point of view, with the reality of a digital agency offering different challenges.

Where performance social has similarities between display and the real time bidding formula of search – we find that in practice the two channels are, and should, be considered differently. With user intent at the core of our media planning and buying, we face the challenge of capturing audiences, not clicks.

In practise, there are a number of considerations needed to ensure a seamless merge between search and social, without leaving elements of either process unaccounted for.  

1.The larger the organisation, the bigger the challenge
Van Woudenberg talks about measurement and attribution – but at what cost does this come to a client partner who actually chooses to buy media using multiple platforms? 

Stitching together search and social data not only provides room for error, but a high cost and labour to tag all traffic of many client partners where the internal stakeholders all have a role to play, not only in implementation, but the ownership of their respective channels.  The larger the organisation = the bigger the challenge.

Planning processes should consider your client partners’ consumer from a psychographic, behavioural, socioeconomic and mosaic profile. Whilst we are able to target an audience on paid search using creative, social media and display should be intrinsically aligned to these forms of targeting. 

Unfortunately finding the skill set that is able to think like a traditional media buyer in an online world is an even bigger challenge and something we must strive to educate and train.

2. The 'mundane' matters
In search agencies, technology should do the ‘heavy lifting’ which in Van Woudenberg’s eyes I assume would be the ‘mundane’.  But with the rising buzz word of ‘big data’, is anything to be considered mundane?

We believe more in making the mundane 100% actionable whatever the technology we use. Leveraging our in house Conversion and Analytics team we have blended our reporting tools to create an agile process for optimising our data. 

With so many ‘half baked’ products and technology in the industry fed by the application programming interfaces of an ever changing landscape, we crave the ability to take data and simply press a button to make it actionable.

3. Understanding - then explaining - the power of social
With a lot of clients still unaware of what value a Facebook ‘like’ drives to the business, or the role of social in all other media channels when driving revenue, we are piling more training in the top of the funnel around user experience and market centric planning with insight – whilst we simultaneously merge our search and social skill sets. We no longer buy keywords, we buy audiences.

We all need to begin our media strategy with more questions rather than answers, instead of jumping in the deep end with a channel selection guided by a client or a legacy of success.  We want to know who are truly targeting, not who we ‘think’ may be the audience or simply follow suit that the TV audience is the same audience that is at home consuming on multiple screens or moments in their journey.

Content sits at the heart of most strategies, we have heard it all said that ‘content is king’ – but ‘context is the crown.’ 

Fundamentally where technology lets us all down is the ability to see the BIG picture of our media – sometimes our instinct backed up by the data we have is all we have to go with. My suggestion would be to not get so wrapped up in a linear conversion, avoid blending the lines between all the digital channels, avoid creating ‘divisions’ between above and below the line – instead, come together and focus on the integrated communications plan that puts the consumer first.

As media converges and the lines between digital disciplines are increasingly blurred, we must constantly make efficiencies in our technology and platforms.  With the time saved, we can offer our clients better strategies and solutions to their problems across both search and social.
 

Simon Williams
Head of strategy & product
Columbus

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