What, Exactly, Is "Premium" Social Advertising?

Online brand advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry that is split between “premium” ads, usually bought directly from top publishers, and “performance” ads, run in bulk across a network of sites wherever there happens to be excess inventory.  

The difference in cost can be more than an order of magnitude with premium buys north of a $10 CPM and network south of $1 CPM. 

This entire industry is being disrupted by the emergence of “social advertising” that leverages the social web to create value for brands.  Still in its infancy, social advertising is in a formative period where the difference between premium and performance is not well defined.  In the next few years, we will see a huge movement of ad dollars towards social making it even more urgent for us to define which forms of social advertising are valuable and which are cheap for good reason.

Over the past couple weeks, we have started using the term “premium social” to explain what we offer on the BuzzFeed platform.  One would only need such a term if there was significant sub-premium or “chuck beef” social experiences and branded content distribution being offered in the market that are passed of as Grade A.  There is no USDA in social content, and unfortunately brands and media buyers often don’t know the quality of beef they’re being served.

(Example 1: Points For viewing)

So what is chuck beef social:

  • Branded content experiences where viewers are being “paid” to watch through virtual currencies, coupons, and offers of dubious origin
  • Videos views being set to auto-play (Youtube does not count such views as genuine, but others do)
  • Sharing of content via social networks and emails where viewers are “paid to share” via the aforementioned incentives
  • Content views where the viewer is “confused” into clicking via a misleading link or thumbnail

(Example 2: Points For viewing using a Youtube Embed)

We are seeing this in the market because many buyers of social, branded content distribution are obsessed with raw view numbers in the absence of where these views are coming from.  It would be as if someone was obsessed with getting as many ounces of beef as possible without any regard for the quality of the meat, or if it, in fact, was actually meat.  

Many such sellers of content views and social views promise 1 million views at cut rate prices.   And even if one accepts the premise that 1 million people did see your video, what are the odds that those 1 million people were even remotely the target, knew what they were clicking on, and were actively engaged during the viewing.  How many shared it?

So what is premium social and where should top brands be focussing their efforts?

Real People

  • No bots, zombies or impressions that are buried in places where they are never seen

Real Engagement

  • Premium social never uses tricks to make people click or share content when they have no desire to do so. (e.g. deceptive thumbnails, titles, misdirection)
  • No auto-play to juice views
  • No view count tonnage – engagement means people share or comment or interact

Real Social Distribution

  • All paid media evaluated by how it converts to earned media
  • Tons of views is not enough, need those views to come organically from real people sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Stumbleupon, email, blogs, or press

It is clear that there is a huge difference between premium brand ads and network ads, and as these examples show the same is true for social advertising.  Right now the market is confused and poorly understood.  Some brands will look for the lowest cost per view that they can find and hire companies that can deliver it.  

But increasingly, leading brands like Coke, Bravo, and Chevy (disclosure: all BuzzFeed clients) are looking for a premium social experience with real people, real engagement, and real sharing.  It is just the beginning of a massive opportunity to do for brand advertising what Google has done for direct response. 

This post originally appeared at BuzzFeed.

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