The Case For Smarter Social Data Tools

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Brian Nguyen, group connections strategy director at R/GA Austin.

A few years ago, it would’ve been unthinkable to build out a communications strategy without planning tools, such as Nielsen Ad Intel and Comscore.

But marketers rely on them less and less given the inability of planning and research tools to provide useful social insights.

As a channel, social saw a 33% gain in ad spend, according to the December 2018 MAGNA Advertising Forecast report, the greatest year-over-year increase of all channels last year. The economics alone should incentivize innovation in this realm.

I see three ways that social-focused planning tools could improve to be of tremendous value to marketers.

Consumer behavior

Creative teams and clients increasingly rely on communications and media planners to inform them not only what platforms their customers are using, but more importantly, what they’re doing on those platforms.

Questions around specific user-behavior on social have been coming up quite frequently. Specifically, is the user clicking through Stories, scrolling through their feed, searching for keywords or watching video? And if so, in what order?

While some platforms, such as Crimson Hexagon and Affinio, reveal information about the content and connections consumers make on social platforms, they don’t tell us anything about how the content is consumed. Thus, marketers are left with many assumptions about optimal units.

Competitive intel

It’s becoming more difficult to complete competitive audit projects without shrouding the analyses in caveats. The tools typically used for competitive spend don’t accurately capture budgets on social channels. At best, we could report a loose estimate of Facebook spend, but have no idea what competitors are investing on Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms most relevant for our target audience, millennials and Gen Z. Unfortunately, this is the information that is typically of the greatest interest.

As investment further erodes in traditional channels and balloons on social, competitive spend is unfortunately becoming less of a consideration when crafting a social strategy.

The role of social in the consumer journey

Early in its evolution, social was commonly thought of as a mid- to lower-funnel channel, a companion to TV, which planning tools reinforced. However, social is a self-contained full-funnel ecosystem. Online usage in the United States will overtake TV consumption by 2020, yet tools that map consumer journeys and inform channel mix don’t seem to take this into consideration.

There’s nuanced psychology on social platforms, which planning tools don’t account for. Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Vayner Media, once said, “Respect the psychology of what people are doing when they’re on the platform.” Twenty-five percent of consumers prefer discovering products through recommendations on social, and until planning tools capture this, they’ll continue to only tell part of the story.

Research tools must go beyond superficial updates to remain competitive. Distribution- and media-focused disciplines have evolved their practices to match the current media landscape, while the tools they use have not. Comprehensive insights into the minutiae of social would be a powerful disruptive force of monumental value. Without a doubt, this is one area of disruption the ad industry is absolutely ready for.

Follow R/GA (@RGA) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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