Why Social Matters In A Programmatic World

prasanta-beheraData-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 Prasanta Behera, vice president of ad products at ShareThis.

In today’s digital market, buyers need more than the traditional frameworks used to classify ad inventory. Content needs to be treated as currency, and new inventory attributes, such as viewability and social, must become part of the equation.

Buyers must understand inventory, regardless of whether you’re purchasing as a direct buy, in a private exchange or an open exchange. In the past, buyers have viewed inventory through three lenses: page and site quality, audience reach and engagement and, finally, cost.

Some of the current critical considerations and metrics for buyers include:

Page And Site Quality
Does it contain adult content or other off-brand content, such as tobacco ads?
Under which category, such as sports or automotive, does the content fall?
Is the page cluttered with other ads?

Audience Reach And Engagement
How many unique users visit the site?
What are the user demographics for the site?
What is the average time spent on the site?

What is the average CPM for this inventory?

In a direct-sell model, the buyer and seller will consider many of these factors in negotiations. But in a programmatic model, as we all know, the story is a bit different. Decisions are made within a few tenths of a millisecond by the real-time bidder (RTB) and just some of the above information is provided. Since not all the information is available at run time, media buyers build sophisticated technologies to understand the inventory so that the RTB system can quickly make the best judgment.

Here is where viewability and social come into play.


Brands want to make sure that their ads are “in view” to their consumers. Although the IAB has clearly defined what constitutes a viewable impression, the guideline for how to measure one is not clear. As a result, each vendor has developed its own unique measurement solution. What’s really needed is a solution that solves this problem across desktop, mobile and video. This would allow viewability to be a factor in the determination to the bid and a cost function for brand measurement and ad effectiveness.

We need an “actionable and transparent viewability currency,” Neal Mohan of Google accurately stated. To really make it actionable, viewability metrics should be available for the run time. Bidders should capitalize on this at the time of bid and use the viewability metrics to determine the true opportunity cost of the inventory and its audience.

The Role Of Social

Recently, brand advertisers have embraced social advertising to complement their traditional approaches around direct-response and brand-response strategies. The concept of social advertising is to create earned media through traditional paid media. What are the steps we need to take to accomplish that?

The best way to increase user awareness is to target the users who share and influence their friends in social networks. If these influencers are positively inclined towards the brand’s campaign, they will in turn share with friends.

Influencer targeting should be broader than traditional paid-media display ad-units. Brand-relevant content created by quality sites are equally likely to influence these users and should be an integral part of a brand’s media strategy.

The measurement framework for social advertising must be enhanced beyond simple measurements like CTR and earned media. These metrics must evolve to include a truer measure of social conversations and sentiment about the brand online. Both Facebook and Twitter have proposed these ideas.

Programmatic media buying frameworks like exchanges must include social metrics in bid requests to facilitate spot-buying decisions by media buying agents.

There are really three key social measurements to consider for brands:

1. The social quality of a publisher’s inventory, based on actual user sharing activity. The higher the sharing, the higher the quality of content.

2. How brand-relevant messages are being amplified by a population of ad-exposed users.

3. The overall social conversations and sentiments about a brand compared to those of their peers.

For brands, CTR have historically been the metric of choice, but as consumers find new ways to discover, consume and share information, brands are starting to look beyond CTR. In this new consumer-driven environment, viewability and social should be the cornerstone of brand-lift measurement. Higher-order metrics, such as brand lift and engagement, are attracting interest, but we must first clearly define those metrics before gaining traction at a higher level.

013014prasanta-inlineAs programmatic becomes mainstream via exchanges, understanding content currency is becoming an important factor. To make this happen, exchanges need to provide a new set of capabilities — viewability and social metrics — to the buy side to improve transparency and, ultimately, make programmatic buying more efficient.

Follow Prasanta Behera (@prasanta_behera), ShareThis (@ShareThis) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. Prasanta, great points about marketers indirectly using social via campaign targeting as a path towards the goal of brand health metrics or even conversion.
    In order to prove the efficacy of the social signal, both marketers and media partners need ways to close the loop with attribution to understand if targeting
    tweeters, FB users and Foursquare addicts is delivering on the real marketing goal.

    This is relevant no matter the medium (display, mobile, video, television, etc) of the ad delivery

  2. Jason-
    Great points as well, closing the loop will help define the ROI of targeting social characteristics. It can be challenging to ensure that you are doing this correctly; whether you’re a publisher or marketer. The good news is that a DMP can assist with this. Sharing buttons on a publisher’s website can be pixel’ed to capture those that are actively sharing content. Advertising can be pushed to these users and become an intricate part of a marketers campaign/objective.

    Social influencers can be a separate line item in the campaign targeting, allowing the markerter to review, specifically, how targeting this group of users performed (i.e. ROI).

    We’re doing this at Journal Sentinel and it’s incredibly insightful, useful, and actionable.