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Does the Hard Sell Work on Social Nets?

New research from Publicis Groupe suggests consumers are open to offers amid the chatter

The conventional wisdom is that brands should mostly concentrate on listening rather than talking in social media. This may not be totally accurate.

Publicis Groupe digital shop Performics has found consumers are actually quite receptive to direct response-style product offers on social networking sites like Facebook. "Companies need to look for ways to do classic push marketing," said Michael Kahn, svp of marketing at Performics.

Performics, which runs performance marketing campaigns, has run efforts through Facebook's self-service ad platform that are "as effective as search in terms of ROI," according to Kahn. One was a push for T-shirt seller Threadless promoting a sale that performed on par with its search efforts, and resulted in $3 in revenue for every $1 spent on cost-per-click ads.

While Facebook remains the largest and most attractive social platform, others are proving effective at sales. Digg has seen success with direct offers from advertisers like Amazon using its social ads platform that lets users vote on ads. Dell has sold over $3 million worth of goods through its Twitter accounts that feed product offers. @DellOutlet has over 1.3 million followers.

Yet the scale can still appear underwhelming. JetBlue has its own offers feed, @JetBluecheeps, which has only 38,000 followers. That won't stop marketers from fishing where the fish are, according to Kahn.

Performics has run Facebook campaigns for a dozen clients and is advising it on the development of an application programming interface that should allow advertisers to automate campaigns through the system.

Performics has run Facebook campaigns for a dozen clients and is advising it on the development of an application programming interface that should allow advertisers to automate campaigns through the system.

The findings show the potential for Facebook to develop a substantial direct response business to complement its more awareness-oriented ad products. While Microsoft handles Facebook remnant banner ad inventory, Facebook runs targeted offers on its pages along the side. It has a self-service ad creator tool allowing companies to narrow their target audience based on demographics and expressed interests.

In a study of 3,000 social network users, completed with ROI research and released last Wednesday, Performics found that about 30 percent said they had learned about a new product from a social network, and 34 percent used a search engine to find more information after seeing an ad in social media. Another 27 percent said they were open to receiving special offers or promotions from advertisers through social networks.

While Facebook can generate leads efficiently, it's a long way from being a direct-response engine, according to Ben Kunz, director of strategic planning at Mediassociates. He recently ran a cost-per-click campaign on Facebook for a higher-education client targeted to prospects in a 50-mile area that returned 872 clicks from over 2 million impressions, a dismal click rate. The upshot: the whole campaign cost under $300.

"We don't see it being a very strong lever," he said. "It tends to be very small."

Facebook is looking to delve deeper into this with new ad products catered to the hard sell. It has begun offering product-sampling ads. Chick-fil-A ran a campaign offering a free chicken sandwich offer. It distributed 25,000 coupons in five days.

— Nielsen Business Media