Search Angst at the Social Ad Summit

Here’s this week’s column originally published in MediaPost, slightly delayed thanks to all the great events this week.Last minute as it is, drop a note if you’ll be at OMMA Global and we can try to find each other there.

At the Social Ad Summit this week in New York City, Facebook may
have been the most buzzed-about company on stage, with everyone from
agency execs to application developers discussing their thoughts on the
belle of the network ball. JP Morgan’s Deborah Korb Maizner was the
most direct, saying that when her company used social networks for
recruiting, Facebook had the right caliber of candidates, while MySpace
users weren’t in the same league. While the comment reeks of elitism,
Quantcast backs her up, noting  Facebook users  have significantly higher education and income levels than MySpace users. 

Beyond Facebook, the next hottest topic seemed to be Google and the
search marketing industry. MySpace was mentioned sporadically outside
of the panel where it was represented, even though eMarketer says it
accounts for 53% of the social network advertising market. Application
ad networks and developers were pervasive among speakers and sponsors,
but none could compete for share of voice with Google. You can find
full coverage of every panel but mine  on my blog.

There are three ways the search marketing industry came up: as the foil, the ideal, and the old model.

The Foil
Mike Trigg from social network hi5
repeatedly mentioned the search industry in the first panel on social
network advertising. He described how the core value proposition is
different for search and social networks. With search, you look for
something and you get an ad. On social networks, you’re spending time
with friends. The key, he said, is for brands to become part of
people’s social interactions on these networks.

Seth Goldstein of social media advertising company SocialMedia was
the most wary of Google. First, he acknowledged that search is great
for conversions, but there are big consumer brands at the top of the
purchase funnel that must rely on other channels. He said people don’t
search for Tic-Tacs. (This is only somewhat true. According to Google
Trends, in late September 2007, about as many people globally  searched for Tic-Tacs as searched for Sarah Palin
). Goldstein warned that if social advertising gets mired in direct
response metrics, Google will swallow up everyone and dominate the
industry.

The Ideal
Trigg from hi5 first mentioned search
when asked about new ad formats, saying how search advertising is still
essential, evoking the first of several aspirational comments about
social advertising.

Federated Media’s James Gross (whose boss is John "The Search"
Battelle) said that when brands engage in social media marketing, they
should remember to review how the campaign or program impacts natural
search results. Do the search results indicate the marketer is swaying
the conversation around its brand? Here, search engine optimization
becomes the yardstick for benchmarking the effectiveness of another
form of marketing.

Scott Rafer of application ad network Lookery offered a slightly
different angle, noting marketers should look at whether social media
marketing influences how consumers search on a number of relevant
keywords. He said marketers should then review whether consumers made
it through to the marketer’s site, or if consumers went elsewhere due
to poor search engine optimization (he could have also suggested
marketers better integrate social marketing with paid search).

The Old   
During the final panel on
alternative social advertising, while Federated’s Gross was bullish on
Google, some others saw room for new Googles to rise up and meet social
advertising’s challenges.

Alex Blum of hosted social media platform KickApps said that ad
networks will emerge to combine behavioral targeting with social graph
data to allow for better monetization of social media, and one or two
may provide an elegant alternative to Google.

The most anti-Google bravado came from Ari Gottesmann with Sightix,
which offers some new twists on social search in its platform for
social networks. One issue, Gottesmann claimed, is that Google earns
$60 per user while Facebook earns $11 per user; panel moderator and
Buddy Media CEO Mike Lazerow thought Facebook was doing pretty well in
such a comparison. We’ll see if Sightix is the next Facebook or the
next Cuil (and one day, I swear, I’ll stop making Cuil a punchline).

All these reactions to Google and search marketing from the
panelists show some pent-up teenage angst from the social media camp.
There’s a mix of esteem, envy, and enmity, as everyone’s wondering
whether to build on the search model or tear it down. This petri dish
should prove to be a fascinating breeding ground for innovation —
though along the way, expect Google to slam a bunch of these pipsqueaks
in their lockers.