As someone who isn’t ingrained in the culture of advertising, I felt like I was in a foreign land at the ad:tech conference in San Francisco. That is, until every other word I heard at the conference was “social”. Now that’s something I feel comfortable talking about.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of discussion about ROI, CPC, CPM, and all of the other usual advertising jargon. But for me, it felt like the advertising community was just getting its feet wet with monetizing social services, even though Facebook and Twitter have been around for quite some time now.

The problem with advertising on social properties is that its users are continual moving targets. When I’m on Facebook, it’s easy for me to leave Facebook quite often. As soon as someone posts a link, I’m out of there. The same goes for Twitter. What advertisers and marketers haven’t quite grasped yet is the concept of engagement.

Even though Facebook has over 850 million users, they’re not sitting back watching ads like those who are watching the Super Bowl. They’re changing the “channel” constantly, and the response to that has been to track those users wherever they go. That’s not going to cut it, so brands are going to have to actually dig in and do some long tail work if they want to grab eyeballs and clicks.

Take us with you!!!!

One of the concepts that was kicked around quite a bit at ad:tech is engagement with potential customers through rewards. By making your marketing message “shareable”, you can give people incentives to carry your message with them wherever they go. That’s the smart way to do things, and if brands start giving things out to people for watching their ads or mentioning them on their Timeline, that’s where some money can start flowing.

Take a company I saw this week for example, it’s called Fanzy. The company created a Facebook app that lets customers not only become fans of a brand, but want to become an even bigger fan by way of rewards.

By creating “super fans”, you’re cutting out the need for spending ad dollars on “remnants”, meaning the crap that is leftover on ad networks that only get in front of people who will probably never click on a link you pay to display, or buy what you’re selling. By engaging people, brands can focus on the folks who can really spread the word about them and their product.

Home Fanzy 1 520x378 SF ad:tech   Advertisers understand social, but not everything that comes along with it

Fanzy got it right and I hope that advertisers paid attention. Something tells me that they didn’t, though. “Engaging” people sounds like hard work, because it is. It’s also something that a company has to adopt throughout the entire staff, or at least the teams that interact with customers. It’s much easier to pay a crap-ton of money for a bunch of display ads and *hope* that people click on them. It’s all advertisers know, and it’s the only option that advertising networks have given them.

Engage or die

A flashy ad unit isn’t going to do the trick to get people’s attention any more on the web, it’s a completely different ballgame now. The TV ads we see now are laced with hashtags and requests for Likes on Facebook, it’s becoming commonplace.

What companies have to really figure out though is how to turn those hashtags and Likes into continual business, interaction, and word of mouth. That’s the “everything else” that comes along with the social web, and I don’t think advertisers are prepared to deal with it yet.

Just being on Facebook and Twitter has turned into the mad rush to get a website up in the 90’s, and it’s not enough anymore. Having intelligent and friendly people behind those accounts continually engaging your customers are the only way to keep them.

No matter what new fancy and flashy ad unit some advertising network comes up with, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and engage. Otherwise, kiss your marketing dollars goodbye.