In the old days, marketers paid for advertising through traditional channels and issued press releases. On occasion, those press releases were so interesting or entertaining that media channels sometimes mentioned the company during a broadcast and, in effect, gave the marketer free or ‘earned’ media. With social media rapidly expanding, marketers can exploit earned media in new and more profitable ways. This is the main data finding of a recently released report by Nielsen.

The Nielsen report categorizes social media impressions as follows:

  • Standard paid impressions – often a homepage ad on Facebook
  • Paid impressions that contain social information – a homepage ad that shows specific names of fans
  • Earned impressions that occur when a Facebook user engages with an ad – such as an organic impression which occurs when a user’s page shows connected friends who are fans of a brand.

Nielsen argues that these earned impressions are most valuable, yet most difficult to quantify. Using its BrandLift technique, Nielsen shows that  Facebook users exposed to ads that contained social advocacy demonstrated more favorable intentions toward brands.

For example, when exposed solely to homepage ads, consumers had the following response:

  • Ad Recall 10%
  • Awareness 4%
  • Purchase Intent 2%

When exposed to homepage ads that contained social advocacy, the statistics improved to the following levels:

  • Ad Recall 16%
  • Awareness 8%
  • Purchase Intent 8%

As might be expected, user recall is even higher if they view an ad as the result of organic activity – such as when an ad goes viral and is forwarded by a friend.

The first step in  improving the reach of earned media is to present “interesting and engaging paid homepage impressions” which will increase the organic reach of a campaign. Nielsen Analysts caution that  buying and measuring social media differs from the standard online buy. But more marketers will be looking to reach consumers through this channel because they can also tap into earned media at the same time.

[Source: Advertising Effectiveness: Understanding the Value of a Social Media Impression. Nielsen. April 2010. Web. 10 May 2010]