She Said/She Said: Can social media platforms replace traditional outlets?

Marketing ‌• February 6, 2013

Welcome to our new series, She Said/She Said, where I will tackle marketing hot topics with the help of OppSource Account Director Tara Servais.

As always, last weekend’s Super Bowl created excellent fodder for a marketing discussion. In our inaugural She Said/She Said post, Tara and I will discuss the success of the pinch-hitting Oreo ad released within minutes of the blackout at the Superdome. In addition to bringing in nearly 16,000 retweets (15,937 as of writing this post), the ad was lauded as a major real-time marketing win–truly the stuff of marketers’ dreams.

When you compare the effectiveness of a well-timed, spot-on ad that was published in a highly visible and sharable arena with the fact that a 30-second commercial during this year’s Super Bowl ran companies $3.5 million, it’s tempting to tout social media as winning the day. After debating both sides over email on Monday, Tara and I decided to take it to the  blogs in order to properly duke it out.

Hearing about a potential penetration of impressions nearing potentially 7M people would certainly make any marketer salivate. While I don’t deny that projections like this are exciting, I have to wonder just many of these retweets are really seen and digested. According to Twitter, there were 24.1M tweets during this year’s Super Bowl and halftime show. During the power outage, when Oreo posted its ad, there were 231,500 tweets per minute (TPM) but at the end of Beyonce’s half-time show (half the length of the power outage), there were 5.5M tweets recorded with the @Beyonce handle. Why am I throwing all these numbers around? To show that Twitter is a fast-moving, highly-saturated platform where there’s a lot of greatness (see: Oreo) and a lot of trash (see: whatever your brother-in-law is posting). Yes, it worked great for Oreo…but can it work for everyone with a great and timely ad?Question 1: Do impressions equal success?
Tara: Oreo has a Twitter audience of almost 73,000 followers and their tweet received 14,000 organic retweets by Monday. If the average Twitter audience for each of those individual retweets was an average 500 followers, the potential penetration of impressions on the retweets is near 7M, plus the 73,000 impressions from Oreo’s original audience. If you consider the number of quoted retweets (RT) plus the number of people who are outside of the Twitterverse but may have been exposed to the ad through traditional media covering the story, the reach of this simple tweet continues to expand. Sure it probably has not reached an audience as extensive as 100M television viewers, but for nearly no monetary spend this marketing approach has unquestionable ROI.

Question 2: What chance is there that this success can be repeated?
Laura:  The thing about marketing “going viral” is that there’s no predictability. People have spent millions upon millions trying to create marketing/advertising that “generates buzz” and “goes viral” but there’s no real science to it. Oreo hit that perfect mix of message, timing, and vehicle that makes you wonder why you didn’t think of something so simple for your company. I’m certainly not saying that social/free platforms have no place in the marketing mix–leveraging these platforms well already was what partially enabled Oreo’s success. Without its vast following, great ad group, and empowered social media team, this never could have been pulled off.

I will also add that I think you have to look at the success with a grain of salt, especially when trying to extrapolate it to a larger question of whether social can replace traditional. To me, the part about the traditional outlets (network news coverage, e.g.) giving Oreo even more of a boost is moot. There will always be extra excitement for he who crosses the finish line first (and deservedly so) but it certainly can’t be counted on going forward. The next company that has a huge win like this cannot expect commentary from Forbes and Bloomberg and network news. Again, I’m not advocating companies don’t create compelling marketing and use free sites to get it out, I’m just saying that repeatability of this magnitude cannot be anticipated and therefore saying that social can replace traditional doesn’t seem likely to me.

Tara: Of course we can’t predict if an ad will go viral and generate results to the degree Oreo saw from its Super Bowl win. The point here, however, is very simple: social platforms’ audiences only continue to grow–network television’s do not. Even those watching TV shows are able to watch when and how they want, often without watching in real-time and without seeing advertising. Large companies like Nabisco may have the marketing budgets for a Super Bowl spot while they also build a presence on free social platforms, but what about the rest of us? Facebook has over 1B users (and continues to add daily to this total) and Twitter has over 500M active users. Millennials are the leading group of consumers that embrace social media as a part of their everyday lives and when you consider they will make up 36 percent of the work force by 2014 and 46 percent by 2020, it’s definitely in your best interests to meet them where they are–on social platforms.

While we don’t anticipate solving world (or marketing) crises in our She Said/She Said column, we do hope we gave you some food for thought. Chime in below with your vote–do you think social platforms can overtake traditional outlets?

Sam McCue
Inbound Marketing guru, avid fisherman, and all-around backcountry enthusiast.

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