Meet The 30 Biggest Social Media Advertisers Of 2012 [Ranked]

social media power 2012

Today, at Business Insider’s Social Media ROI conference in New York, we’ll tell you just how much advertiser money is pouring into social media, and which advertisers are making it pay off in sales.

But to set the tone, it’s worth knowing who the biggest players are in the space. Unfortunately, neither Nielsen nor Kantar track display ad spending in social media, so figuring out who the whales are is tricky.

Skip directly to the Social Media Power List >

So, we asked our friends at ComScore to rank companies based on total impressions served, from January through August of 2012. We know that impressions served come at all different price points, but they’re the best proxy we have for overall economic activity in the space. ComScore measured ads served on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Tumblr, MySpace, Pinterest, DeviantArt, and similar sites (but no blogs).

The results — which form our Social Media Power List 2012 — are fascinating, especially when compared to our ranking of Facebook’s biggest advertisers. Sure, some of the same players are here. But a lot of companies are apparently spending big off of Facebook too. Each slide in this gallery ranks brands by impressions served, and describes that client’s overall social media marketing strategy.

Here’s the most surprising result of ComScore’s research: The No.1 company in social media buys more than three times the number of impressions as the second biggest client. Try and guess which company it is.

—With research by Christina Austin and Samantha Felix.

Kellogg: 1.89 billion impressions

Kellogg doesn't just use social media for promotion, it also uses it for consumer research/listening and new product ideas.

This year, Tim Burgess -- lead singer of indie pop band The Charlatans -- suggested on Twitter that the company make a cereal called Totes Amazeballs. The company complied.

Comcast: 1.89 billion impressions

Comcast's official position is that 'we'll soon stop talking about it like it's something special, and treat the various social media channels like we treat the phone, e-mail, and bumping into someone on the street.


Comcast is putting its money where its mouth is, too. It led a $12 million investment round in WhoSay, a social media management app for celebrities.

Dell: 1.9 billion impressions

As early as 2009, Dell was making $9 million a year in revenues from sales generated by Facebook and other social media.

But there's only one fact you need to know to understand the depth of Dell's social media commitment: Dell's social-media employee training program has trained more than 10,000 employees to engage with customers on any platform. 1.95 billion impressions

A huge part of Fab's strategy revolves around Facebook; the company uses Facebook as one of its CRM channels. Virtually anyone who posts a question on Fab's page gets a personalised response.

Items sold on Fab showcase prices as well as the number of social shares onto Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

American Express: 1.97 billion impressions

American Express ramped up its social media efforts starting in 2011 and now has one of the most sophisticated mixes of social platforms in corporate America. As an example, Mashable notes:

At SXSW 2012, AmEx stole the show, launching Sync for Twitter and offering up Jay-Z tickets for SXSWers that completed the sync. Partnering with the likes of Whole Foods, McDonald's and Best Buy, AmEx announced that after linking an AmEx card to their Twitter accounts, cardholders can tweet strategic hashtags to load deals onto their cards. With the hashtag #AmexWholeFoods, for example, a cardholder receives a $20 statement credit when he or she purchases $75 or more at Whole Foods using his or her synced card.

Blizzard Entertainment: 2 billion impressions

Blizzard, maker of World of Warcraft and other online games, naturally needs social word-of-mouth for new player acquisition. Check out a help wanted listing for one of its social media manager positions. Among Blizzard's incredibly specific requirements are:

  • Represent the voice of our players in all internal conversations to guarantee they are heard and they're playing an active role in Blizzard Entertainment's decision making processes.
  • A minimum of 5 years' experience in managing a major gaming, entertainment, or technology blog / web publishing outlet.
  • A minimum of 5 years' brand community management experience.
  • Passionate player of video games, particularly Blizzard Entertainment games.

Ebay: 2.07 billion impressions

EBay thrives when its sellers and buyers make their own social media efforts to drive traffic to their sites.

The company's social media chiefs regard themselves as an inherently social brand.

And the auction platform uses a partnership with Facebook which integrates Facebook's Open Graph global commerce platforms. It's intended to encourage developers to create eBay apps on Facebook that will generate more business for the auction site.

Samsung: 2.1 billion impressions

Samsung reportedly will debut its own social network, competing with Facebook, in 2013.


Such a solution would dovetail with Samsung's global strategy of littering the planet with its devices and appliances so that eventually they will form a single gigantic infrastructure that can communicate easily with itself.

In the meantime, it's killing Apple and the iPhone in viral video.

NBC Universal: 2.12 billion impressions

In 2010, NBCU began its own social promo program by offering rewards for members of its Fan-It network if they were willing to promote NBC's shows in social media. (If you click on that link, you'll see that NBC apparently thought MySpace would be important to this effort.)

More recently, NBC unveiled a huge Facebook effort around the Olympics.

Intuit: 2.17 billion impressions

Toyota: 2.34 billion impressions

To understand how far ahead of its peers -- and how willing to take risks -- Toyota is in social media, check out this case study of how Toyota backed out a PR crisis in 2010 by agreeing to answer any and all questions on ... Digg (which at the time remained an influential site).

It also headed off a blog payola crisis by jumping quickly onto the #toyotafail hashtag on Twitter, back in 2011, and in so doing, reversing the sentiment.

Scott DeYager, is Toyota's social media and strategic communications manager.

Verizon: 2.38 billion impressions

Verizon has a headachingly large number of social media outlets -- they're all listed here.

It also employed gamification vendor Gigya, which was brought aboard through digital agency Modal, to 'gamify' its web site.

You can see its Facebook strategy here.

Electronic Arts: 2.53 billion impressions

As we noted earlier, EA is a huge Facebook advertiser. EA spent $2.75 million advertising just one of its titles in 2012, Battlefield 3. According to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, EA saw a 440% return on its investment in sales.

EA has also gone after Zynga in a suit claiming the online Facebook game maker copied 'The Sims Social' to make its game, 'The Ville.' Clearly, there's a war for Facebook's gaming turf going on.

EA's revenues from online games have gone up 37% this year.

Sony: 2.58 billion impressions

Sony really, really wants you to engage with it in social media. Here's its corporate page begging you to hook up with it on any one of nine brands.

In less than a year it quintupled its fan volume from about 666,000 to more than 3.2 million likes. Mainly, Sony regards itself as a social content publisher.

Experian: 2.65 billion

Experian is one of the big buyers and advisers on social media marketing out there. (Check out its services, and its research.)

Experian's Techlightenment unit offers social media advertising, brand monitoring, polling, and social CRM services on Facebook. It has a partnership with AdKnowledge, whose Facebook ad buying unit AdParlor is a huge Facebook ad buyer.

Procter & Gamble: 2.66 billion impressions

Famously, P&G began cutting its traditional media budget as a proportion of sales after CEO Bob McDonald told Wall Street he realised free viral exposure on Facebook was more efficient than the brute-force buying of ratings points on TV.

The company believes that using social media rather than traditional media can help it save up to $10 billion a year.

The company also has a social media policy for all its employees (The main point: 'be honest and truthful').

Capital One: 2.68 billion impressions

Capital One's Twitter team signs its tweets individually, so you can attach a name to a corporate response. That's the kind of attention to social detail Capital One has going on. Twitter is one of its main CRM platforms.

The company also staged a 'social madness competition for small business' this year, with hundreds of entrants.

And it launched a Facebook app for NCAA basketball.

Nestle: 2.7 billion impressions

The company has 670K followers on Facebook, excluding separate pages for its brands. Its head of marketing and consumer communication, Tom Buday, is on Facebook's client council.

Like Netflix, it's another corporation that was burned by a consumer revolt on YouTube and other venues against its brands.

Guthy-Renker: 2.75 billion impressions

Guthy-Renker, the infomercial and direct-response TV advertising empire, found itself at a crossroads a few years ago. For years it had touted its goods on television, but one of its biggest hits -- Proactiv anti-acne formula -- was a hit with teens. And teens prefer Facebook to NBC, by and large.

So the company moved many of its sales videos onto Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and made social media (and integrated media generally) one of its 10 Commandments. Seriously, read Guthy-Renker's official 10 Commandments here.

Google: 2.94 billion impressions

Just like everyone else, Google has sales and marketing expenses, which were $1.4 billion in Q2 2012. Only a part of that is social marketing, such as Google's Facebook effort to encourage people to use the Chrome browser.

More importantly, social is now at the heart of Google's core business: search. People signed in to their Google accounts now get search results keyed, in part, to their account ID and Google+ social graph.

It's even infected Google's traditional ad media buys. When Google first bought a Super Bowl ad, incremental search traffic went up, according to executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Netflix: 2.96 billion impressions

Universal Technical Institute: 2.98 billion impressions

UTI is a provider of technical education training for students seeking careers as professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians.

UTI uses online video to promote its programs, including a YouTube channel which highlights student testimonials, successful graduates that now work for NASCAR, and upcoming events. The channel has 101 videos and 289,000 views.

On Facebook, UTI stages 'name the part' quizzes, in which users have to guess which piece of a car's engine a student is holding.

Weight Watchers: 3.2 billion impressions

Weight Watchers has two goals: recruit new customers and hold onto existing ones by surrounding them with a virtual community and lots to chat about, such as Jessica Simpson's new weight loss campaign and Jennifer Hudson's 'It's a new day' effort in 2011.

This help wanted ad describes the breadth of WW's social media ambitions. The company's social media manager must work with a social media agency to 'develop, maintain, and execute communications calendar and posting schedule for Facebook, Twitter, My Space, and YouTube.'

McCann Erickson New York is WW's social media agency; Horizon is the media buyer; Razorfish does the analytics.

Amazon: 3.3 billion impressions

Until recently, Amazon was regarded as trailing the industry in social media. It has millions of customers and is a top shopping destination, but those customers don't really connect with each other.

In 2011, Amazon hired a director of social media, John Yurcisin, from WPP's Ogilvy & Mather to help the company come up with social strategies.

Now, Amazon uses Facebook as a way to drive customers with deals, sweepstakes and giveaways.

State Farm: 3.5 billion impressions

IAC: 3.6 billion impressions

Barry Diller's IAC is one of those holding companies that's much bigger than you think it is. In addition to and OKCupid it also owns, Chemistry and a dozen or more smaller, unrelated brands.

The company spends $213 million a quarter on sales and marketing costs, much of it online, and that doesn't include its traffic acquisition costs. As all IAC's brands are online properties, they can't survive unless they have a robust social media presence.

IAC's CityGrid unit last year acquired BuzzLabs, a social media sentiment analyzer that also has a history as an ad buyer.

Disney: 3.7 billion impressions

If you don't have kids, you probably don't realise just how massive Disney is in social media. Amanda Grant, director of distribution for Disney Interactive, told Digiday:

Across Disney on Facebook, for which we manage 267 pages, there are more than 300 million cumulative Page likes. For Disney on Twitter, Disney Interactive manages five major accounts, although more exist across The Walt Disney Company with more than 3.5 million followers. In aggregate, Disney's presence on YouTube has generated more than 365 million video streams to date.

Also active is the toy unit, Disney Consumer Products, which must maintain a permanent, never-ending selling cycle (unlike the movie studios, who can go dark once a film has run its sales cycle). DCP sells more than 300 eBooks for kids, for instance.

Disney also uses social media for listening, and is a heavy creator of casual YouTube videos where the purpose is to entertain rather than sell.

JustFabulous: 3.9 billion impressions

JustFab's marketing strategy relies almost entirely on creating the feeling of a one-to-one relationship with each customer.

Users sign up, take a quiz to determine their personality, and are then assigned a stylist who creates a shoe collection for them.

The JustFab Facebook page and Twitter accounts function like customers' BFF's, helping them with their shopping.

JustFab even experimented with a Pinterest Scrabble contest.

Microsoft: 4 billion impressions

Microsoft has doubled down again and again in social media. In addition to its historically close relationship to Facebook, this year the company also launched its experiment in social media.

And it bought Yammer, a business-oriented social network for $1.2 billion in June.

That's all in addition to Microsoft Advertising's dedicated social media buying and management team, serving its own non-Microsoft clients.

Now see who's spending big on Facebook specifically ...

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