Do 'Likes' Translate Into Sales? Adobe Connects The Dots

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Several months after Adobe acquired media buying services and platform company Efficient Frontier (and Context Optional, the Facebook ad optimizer it arrived with), the company has unveiled its full slate of ad analytics for earned media in the form of Adobe Social. Adobe Social promises to track every campaign and determine whether commenting and other social interactions resulted in actual product orders and revenue. Read the release. We spoke with John Mellor, Adobe Systems’ VP of Strategy and Business Development, Digital Marketing, about the company’s approach to social media marketing and how the company is trying to understand “the digital self.”

Mellor will speak at AdExchanger’s Human Centered Automation conference on September 20.

AdExchanger: What’s the significance of the launch of Adobe Social last week? Is this a completely new tool or is it an expansion of what you have been doing already in the social space?

John Mellor: It’s completely new, but Adobe Social does naturally connect to what we’ve been working towards for a while. A little over a year and a half ago, we introduced our product called Social Analytics. Adobe’s heritage is in measurement and optimization. So when we thought about how we should best approach this new market called social, we wanted to specifically analyze the impact of social for a marketer. We didn’t just want to see what’s going on in social, but we wanted to tie that activity back to a marketer’s website to determine the impact of the ROI that social would have against real business metrics.

You didn’t just want to measure buzz or trending topics. What sort of things did you hope to understand, specifically?

Adobe wanted to see the impact of the ten thousand Facebook “Likes” a marketer may have gotten in a given week. Is that creating more traffic to your site, is it creating more conversions or deeper engagement with your content? What is the business impact of that? That’s sort of been the big question mark.

You can’t do social just because there’s so much hype around it. You do it to advance some particular business goal. That was really step number one when we introduced Adobe Social Analytics about a year and a half ago.

Was the creation of that product what influenced Adobe’s decision to buy digital marketing management system Efficient Frontier late last year?

Efficient Frontier had previously bought a company called Context Optional, which is focused on social publishing, social engagement and managing your social presence, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter, etc. What we did is take that product and combine that with Social Analytics and re-architect things so that we had one unified product that would include not just the ability to measure social activity, but also include the ROI for a business by acting on that information. We look at how a company can change the engagement with the customers within a social channel. We look at what different types of content companies should be posting based on the results they’re getting in for their business.

When businesses talk about social, it seems like mainly what we are talking about are Facebook and Twitter. But the social landscape is so much larger and more diverse than that. How do you grapple with that? Or does the huge mass of activity on Facebook and Twitter make those two platforms the central point of contact for marketers?

You have to really nail down what you mean when you say social. In general, to reach a social media audience, the net needs to be cast very wide. And that would include Facebook and Twitter, of course, but there are literally tens of millions of blogs out there, that we define as social. Those blogs need to be taken into account when you’re measuring buzz of your brand and also take that back to your site and business impact to your site.

Some of those channels you can affect and some of them you can’t. We can’t go proactively post on somebody’s blog. But we can simply listen. And that can influence what we do on other channels. Clearly, the biggest are Facebook and Twitter. Those are where companies are spending their energy today, but we’re seeing a lot of niche social networks pop up. As those new outlets get more and more traction, I think they’ll become viable commercial outlets as well – for example, Pinterest is coming onto the page pretty strongly. Our view is that over the next couple of years we’re going to see a big rise in these niche social networks. In my own personal life, I see [Facebook’s mobile photo app] Instagram just exploding. My network of close friends have migrated almost entirely to Instagram.

How does a business know where to allocate their marketing dollars when it comes to social? As you say, Instagram and Pinterest are getting a lot of attention, but they don’t have a clear revenue or marketing model in place.

Just like any business, we have to prioritize development resources, and we tend to prioritize where we see our customers get business impact. Frankly, we’re not getting a lot of requests for measuring and monetizing Instagram, because it’s not there yet. The social game is such a slippery peg right now. We need to get our legs under it with regards to best practices in ROI measurement in a couple of the big channels, that’s our view. If we can help companies get really good at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a couple of these other big ones, then I think wewill have an easier chance of slotting them in and figuring out where the priorities for spending would be optimal.

When it comes to acting on the social media measurements you provide, in terms of marketing, isn’t social more of a customer relationship management play versus the way media has been bought and sold? How do you advise clients on the method of spending?

We absolutely deal with those types of questions and I think that’s a real hot debate right now, and a fun exercise to talk about. So, Facebook and Twitter both have vehicles where you can buy advertising, whether it’s sponsored stories, or thumbnail photos, or promoted tweets, etc. Those are things that can fit into a standard media buying process. But what we’re finding is that social media does behave a lot less like traditional direct response, which is the kind of digital advertising buy that people are used to.

In trying to understand the best methods for social media marketing, we look at how search has evolved. Look at keywords – when I spend money on keywords, there is a direct relationship between people who click on those keywords and come to a marketer’s site to purchase something. That’s why Google's business model has been pure gold, because there is that direct relationship and tight link between dollars spent and measurable ROI.

Social introduces a lot more complexity because it behaves a little more like the old days of television. Businesses are doing a little bit of direct response, but a lot of branding, and a lot of awareness building. The first baby step of social media marketing tends to begin with someone “liking” your page on Facebook. That creates the opportunity for a marketer to drive some more engagement with that individual and create more propensities to buy.

It’s different from the standard direct response model. For some of these campaigns that Adobe has run for its products, we might spend a $100,000 on Facebook media in terms of actually buying, placing ads on your wall in Facebook. We will couple that with three times that amount of money in the form of people that are moderating content, creating new content, writing the wall posts, driving engagement with fans. So it becomes a very different ROI model from a marketer’s prospective. You’re not just looking at the media dollars spent, but you have to look at media dollars spent plus all of the labor, you know the human costs, that were put into the campaign for social, and that’s pretty different from just buying keywords.

How has the rise of programmatic buying, along with the rise of social, influenced the kinds of tools you introduce, like Adobe Social?

For the most part, we believe advertising will be bought and sold programmatically. There will be a few exceptions of course, but we want our systems to be the systems that enable programmatic buying and selling. When we bought Efficient Frontier, one of the most interesting pieces of technology was how they had done a bunch of work around building DSP functionality. Plugging into display ad systems, including the new Facebook Exchange, as well as all the other exchanges, offers real opportunities. Today, we manage over $2 billion in ad spending, including paid search. As an advertiser I want to know how my paid search is performing alongside my display, and my other forms of paid media.

I need to know how I should manage my entire portfolio of ad spend so that I am reaching an efficiency goal. The unique piece we bring to the table is that you can manage your search here— your paid search— you can manage your display, you can manage your social, manage your video, and then you’ve got under one roof the ability to attribute performance across all those channels, and then optimize ad spend based on that, in those channels.

What issues do you plan to address at the Human Centered Automation conference next week?

One of the things that we will probably talk about is the concept of the digital self. It’s a concept that tries to humanize what we’re doing as marketers. If you think about how we live life on a day-to-day basis, and how much of that life is lived digitally: the products that you buy, the travel that you book, the reviews that you post – all of that sum together creates this picture of a person out in the digital world.

I have my digital self, and what I’m looking for is how do I interact with products, companies, and brands that also have a digital self, and how do I create a match there? How do I use the digital self of a company, product, or brand to be a matchmaker between that product or brand and my digital self? That sort of views CMO’s as digital matchmakers. And that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

Read interviews with speakers at AdExchanger's upcoming Human Centered Automation conference on September 20, 2012 in New York City:

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