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How To Utilize Social Media In Advertising Campaigns

Retailers are faced with an ever expanding set of tools for advertising their products. Paid search engine placements, ads in online magazines, newspapers, and blogs challenge retailers to find the best advertising mix in a rapidly evolving online world. More recently Facebook and Twitter have been added to the mix, with new sites and opportunities such as Pinterest arriving one after the other.

Retailers are finding that selling on social media is a challenge. People in social discussion with their friends are less responsive to advertising than when they are already searching for a related product, or when they are reading content that is related in some way to what is being advertised. Thus Facebook pages, for instance, are better for building brand awareness and interest than they are for explicit selling.

How can social media be used to facilitate promotion of products? Discussions of products as gift ideas (relating to specific gift events or occasions) by groups of friends, in the context of group gift giving, is an excellent way to build brand awareness, trust, and interest around a merchant’s products.

How can Retailers build effective advertising campaigns around the concept of group gift giving? The following methodology for social media advertising campaigns that focus on products as gift ideas is suggested. The first step is to identify synergistic combinations of retailers and online media that can create a successful social media campaign.

A social media campaign can be run through an existing affiliate marketing channel, greatly facilitating coordination of activity between the marketing partners, as well as leveraging existing business agreements so as to cut down on the amount of new paperwork required. Working with the Retailer partner, and with an affiliate program management agency, online publishers (such as magazines, newspapers, and prominent blogs) that are synergistic with the retailer’s brand are identified. Once the online publisher has been chosen, the campaign is ready to run.

The retailer chooses a gift giving event (such as a wedding, or baby shower) and then chooses a collection of products that would be suitable as gifts for that event. An advertisement is then placed in the online publication that positions the retailer as the natural place to buy gifts for the event. The advertisement may be accompanied by a promotional article discussing some of the gift ideas and how they might be used for group gift giving.

The key social media element of this campaign is that, not only can interested readers link through to the retailer site and purchase gifts there, but they can also click on a Button attached to the advertisement to start a discussion with their friends about the Retailer’s gift ideas for the gift event. This discussion can then be hosted on a relevant social media site (such as a gift giving community), where tools are provided for gift idea browsing and discussion. Someone who initially viewed the retailer’s advertisement can then invite her friends to join a discussion about which of the gift ideas would be suitable for a gift event that they are involved in, such as the wedding of one of their friends or relatives.

This discussion provides many benefits to the retailer including word of mouth promotion of its products, promotion of shared brand awareness about the retailer and its products amongst a group of friends, and the aggregation of demand for group purchase of higher priced products that individual buyers would typically be unable to afford.

The group discussion of gift ideas can be structured so that the natural end point is a visit to the retailer’s website to purchase the products that were discussed. However, the value of the campaign is more than just the purchases that are generated directly from it. One key feature of this type of social media campaign is that the one person who initially sees the advertisement then tells her friends about it, creating a natural multiplier effect where a single click on an ad can lead to extensive social discussion.

A second key feature is that the discussion around gift ideas can provide a trove of information about what people think about products. Questions of interest include: Which products are most attractive for the gift event and why? Which competitor products get mentioned in the discussion?

This article has described how social media discussion can be used to enhance advertising campaigns. The nature of such enhanced campaigns was outlined with respect to the group giving context. While other social media discussions may also be constructed for this purpose, group gift giving is a natural starting point for targeted social media advertising campaigns. This is because effective group gift giving requires meaningful discussions about gift ideas, leading to a natural, viral, and highly informative social discussion around advertised products.

Mark Chignell ( is President of Vocalage Inc. (, developer of the Givebuttons ( gift giving community and news blog ( He has taught human factors and user interface design at major universities for 28 years. His current focus is on social commerce and group gift giving.

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