Social spend—you can’t escape the term in the marketing world, but what does it really mean? Most of the articles and statistics you see on social spend are narrow in focus—it’s all about ad buys. From that perspective, social spend sets a new all-time high every year. In 2015, the estimated social ad spend checked in at nearly $24 billion, largely thanks to mobile advertising. This year, it will surely be even higher.

However, ad spend and social spend aren’t the same thing at all—yet they’re purported to be the same in news headlines. We need to differentiate between ad spend and overall social spend, but many times outlets that re-publish these articles create misleading titles, such as: “Facebook Named Most Effective Social Channel by Marketers,” which was truncated from the original article’s headline, which was “Facebook named the most effective social media platform for advertising.” Totally different subject. If you’re going to talk about social ad spend, talk about ad spend—don’t get lazy with titles or try to make them more sensational.

I get upset about this because if you look at social strictly as a traditional advertising medium, you’re going to miss out on the most important qualities that set social marketing apart. The real “social spend” comes in your investment in your social marketing team, and your commitment to training your employees on how to “be” social. That’s a really difficult concept for many brands to grasp, because they’re trained (by the news hype) to think about social purely from an advertising mindset.

Get More Return on Your Social Spend by Taking a New Perspective

Paid advertising is not a bad thing in isolation, but the media hype around social misses the point. It’s just not the only way to invest in social resources. An engaging, innovative social team is an investment that isn’t considered in the numbers that are touted in these articles, yet that focus moves the brand from capitalizing on passing interest, to building meaningful relationships and engagement that builds trust and loyalty.

Purchase Ad Spend; Invest in Relationships

That’s what social is really all about, and it’s where you’ll find the most value over time, yet when most executives think of social, they think in terms of campaigns and cost centers rather than long-term investment in social capital. Until brands get that right, I’m afraid it’s still an uphill battle to change brand mindset around social spend.

So when the next wave of social spend numbers hit, please take them with a grain of salt. In the end, it all comes back to Return on Relationship. Even the best ads are no substitute for real, person-to-person social interaction. We’ll be much better off if we focus on the people, and invest social budgets in a sustainable strategy for building relationships—not just as a different type of ad spend.

Originally posted at The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce

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