So the topic came up today in the Twitter-sphere – Adwords, social networks (Facebook in particular), and their success (or lack thereof). I think its been talked about in the blogosphere or in conversations at various tech conferences but its worth repeating.
For all intents and purposes, it boils down to what Adwords was intended for and the way it works versus the evolution of the web today.
A few years back (eons in Internet time), the Internet was a super efficient way to find things – information, places, stuff to buy, etc. etc. etc. Google came along with a great way to search through HUGE amounts of data, create Google PageRank to make “authorities”, and basically try to get you results that most closely meet what you’re looking thus avoiding a huge number of porn links when searching on children’s bedtime stories.
The algorithm they devised was evolutionary (not revolutionary, one of the most overused terms in high tech) and it worked extremely well. As time went on, since the dominant behavior on the Internet was “searching”, using the information gathered and the search algorithm Google created they devised an ultra -efficient way to advertise. They already knew that you were searching (because Google is a search engine after all) and they knew what you were searching for and therefore Google could simply place paid ads next to your search result that would turn up sponsors who had stuff related to your search. This was brilliant in its simplicity because it was (and this is the key) ADDITIVE to your current behavior. VALUE ADD – simple, straight forward, and very very effective.
Google later expanded this to allow you or I to put ads on our site that would reflect something related to the information on the page upon which you placed the ads. Again, effective, but not as clearly value add because people on your site may not have necessarily been in “search mode”. They may just have been reading out of interest. But since the Internet was still basically viewed as a giant repository for information and “stuff” that you sifted through, “search mode” is what people generally were still in and it masked the few times people weren’t in “search mode”.
Now, with the advent (or rise) of social media, behaviors are changing. “Search mode” is still a dominant behavior but not what it once was. See, social media (blogs, networks, Twitter, etc. etc.) make the Internet more and more a place to “socialize”. Behavior changes from “searching for something” to “killing time” or “marketing” or “making connections”. Lets call this “hanging out” mode.
Now if you’re on a social network, you most certainly are not in a “search mode”. So then, what happens if Google indexes my Profile page and serves up an Ad related to the content there? The answer? Who the hell cares!
Why is that? Because if I’m on Facebook or OpenWine Consortium or any other social network, I’m probably not “Searching” but doing some sort of “socializing” (BS’ing, networking, hooking up, whatever) – I’m in “hang out” mode. Indexing my page and serving up ads related to keywords and content is NOT additive to the social media experience or the current behavior so this ad will be ignored. Even blogs, which are chock full of information, don’t see much return on Adwords because while they do typically report or inform they, more often then not, are sparking conversation or continuing conversation. Unless the blog is specifically reviewing something, in which case a few ads on where to buy that something may work, contextual ads are ineffective. This inefficiency in the original model was masked by the fact that predominant behavior was searching. Now with the behavior being socializing, Adwords and the searching optimization are only slightly more useful than putting up a static add.
Even Google admits that it hasn’t solved the social network advertising/monetizing behavior.
Net-net: Save your money. Buying keywords is NOT social media marketing.
Now, Google is looking to create a sort of “FriendRank”, in a recent patent application. They call it “Network Node Ad Targeting” and they intend to use a person’s social map to determine the number and quality of connections they have (and therefore their influence) and pay those influencers to allow advertisers the serve ads to their friends. Interesting, but we’ll see how it plays out. I’m sure they’ll be takers, but I’ll be awefully pissed if a friend or other contact is the source of ads I recieve! Still not a value-add unless the friend somehow has the ability to control the ads that get served and influence what goes to our friends (i.e. some sort recommendation and reputation system). Reading this patent, I don’t think it cuts it at all.