You can imagine the conversation. In 1836, when the French newspaper La Presse became the first paper to include paid advertising in its pages, there were no standards for ad size or placement, no agreed-upon metrics for measurement, and no industry-wide pricing mechanism. La Presse executives must have negotiated each of these details (and an abondance of other terms) for each advertising placement they made for a local business, creating a custom deal for each one.
In the decades that followed, the print advertising industry created standard buying units (the concept of buying consumer "ad views" in bundles of 1,000 is still commonplace today). Details of what counted as readership followed, along with well-understood pricing (cost per thousand readers, or CPM).
These standards remain the foundation of display advertising in print, broadcast, and online today. They enable advertising buyers and sellers to transact business much more easily and, as a result, frequently bring higher value to both sides.
In social media, the same kind of display advertising can be bought and sold using the same display advertising standards. But we also offer something completely different to marketers: engagement campaigns. Social networks have the ability to engage hundreds or thousands of interested consumers in a conversation about a product or brand. We can provide targeted product sampling. We can encourage product reviews.
When we do these things in a social network and create good experiences, they cascade broadly through the social connections on the site.
Consider a recent experience we had with a partner on Gather. We invited 20 people to sample a product. Each one wrote a review. Forty-two other members also wrote reviews of the product to join in the conversation. We notified the friends of these 62 people that they had started a conversation about this product.
Six hundred of those friends responded and engaged in conversation about those reviews. Over several days, they exchanged thousands of thoughts. Each time they did, we notified their friends, leading to more than 720,000 notifications. These weren’t just brand advertisements, they were statements made by trusted friends and family about a product.
We know this type of activity creates value for advertisers, but we don’t have a way to measure that value. We couldn’t offer our partner a comparison of their success with industry metrics. And like La Press, we had to negotiate custom terms for this engagement campaign.
This week, a group of industry leaders announced the Social Media Advertising Council (SMAC) to create standards for quantifying the value that social networks bring to online marketing. Our goals are simple: SMAC seeks to create a common vocabulary for discussing engagement; standard buying units that allow agencies and brands to transact in the space more easily; and universal metrics for measuring engagement and quantifying success across campaigns and networks.
We believe that by creating these standards, we will enable more business -- and better business -- to be done in the social engagement space.
Besides me, the other founding members of the Council include representatives from Gartner Inc. , Quantcast, Universal McCann, MediaVest , Davie Brown, Digitas, Havas Digital, and Edelman.
If we do our job well, perhaps someday people will look back at us as we do at La Presse and wonder how we ever did business without these standards.
— Tom Gerace is founding chairman of the Social Media Ad Council (SMAC) and CEO of Gather.com