Native advertising's dangerous side

Native advertising's dangerous side
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In the wrong hands, social advertising is a lethal weapon.  

There’s nothing worse than your web feed being polluted with irrelevant content. Friends you can mostly forgive; advertisers you can’t.

Social advertising – specifically ‘native’ advertising – is a bit like a story-led advertorial, but you get to place the ad. Think Facebook’s sponsored stories, Twitter’s promoted tweets, Tumblr’s promoted posts and, to some extent, YouTube’s TrueView.

Self-serve ad tools democratise media but they come with a risk, because whoever’s in charge of your social media profile can, within a matter of clicks, create and deploy ad campaigns or inject media dollars to amplify a story.

This requires a very different skillset – one that is hands-on and willing to adapt and adjust on the fly with the real-time nature of these platforms.

An example of native advertising working well is our ‘Reverse Robberies’ campaign for Oak on Facebook and YouTube, which solved a distribution problem by getting active fans to nominate stores that didn’t stock Oak. Once we knew the culprits, a masked team set about ‘reverse robbing’ the stores. Each video was then shared back to the fanbase. Interactions then gave us permission to amplify the posts. In turn, this led to a change of tact where audiences wanted us to rob their fridges.

The community team was able to be responsive and, most importantly, scale the campaign enthusiasm to a wider base.   

Another good example is Oreo’s ‘Daily Twist’. One hundred ads in 100 days turned trending news stories into visual treats for the US cookie brand. The topical stories had an audience from the outset, but with sponsored stories the creative became news in its own right. A planned approach meant that Oreo could concentrate its efforts on relevancy, reach and timeliness with an outcome everyone is now talking about.

In these examples, native advertising makes sense. It has the ability to pick up a story that is celebrated with interactions, and spread it. The better the story and targeting, the further it travels.

But be wary. Clearly, there’s no point amplifying a post that no one has interacted with. That’s just bludgeoning someone with a message, which goes against the very opportunity these platforms present. Even Facebook realised that with the launch then quick retraction of the Reach Generator tool, which allowed brands to amplify each and every post.

Brands may need to rethink who is in charge of their profiles from a content, relevance, responsiveness and reach perspective. To get this right, it needs to be centralised.

So who should be responsible for what gets amplified? I vote for the community manager: the person who is at the coal face of the brands’ interactions with fans, followers and posts; who intrinsically knows what works and what doesn’t; but more importantly can act fast, within a click, to take a post and its engagement that much further.

More often than not, social responsibilities are divided between the likes of PR, media and creative. But that outdated structure is never going to deliver to these real-time opportunities. Dealing with requests and sign-offs between agencies and clients just isn’t going to work. Good community managers are an agency within themselves. Let’s get out of their way.

Self-serve ads misused damage everyone’s experience.

Used wisely, however, they enable stories to connect with the right users at the right time. Get it wrong, and badly placed posts soon become an annoyance and decay the brand. 

Ben Cooper is digital director at The Monkeys.

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