Will users' dislike of brand interruptions make it hard to monetise social media? The Marketing Society Forum

Will users' dislike of brand interruptions make it hard to monetise social media? The Marketing Society Forum

Speaking at the Royal Television Society Cambridge Convention last week, Martin Sorrell expressed doubts about the fiscal brand benefits of interrupting social interaction with a commercial message.


I don't think it's quite as clear cut as Martin Sorrell makes out. I agree that brands that attempt to interrupt social interactions with commercial messages will get into trouble. That's not to say that brands cannot have a role in social media or commercially benefit from it.

If you engage with customers on their terms, and appropriately to the medium, the benefits can be great, but you may experience them further down the line. For example, if you use compelling content to engage people on your brand's Facebook page, they will be more likely to recommend or buy your products via traditional channels.

What's required are formats that are less disruptive, more personalised and complementary, just as Google created in AdWords, which blended organic and paid content seamlessly, or as Facebook's sponsored stories allow advertisers to boost the visibility of people's advocacy of products and services. These types of formats can help monetise social media, but in a sensitive and complementary way.


It's been a long day. You're in the pub, enjoying a drink with friends. Suddenly a stranger appears, stands in between you without really introducing himself; or, worse, says: 'Remember me? I'm the stranger that interrupted you last week. How about spending some time with me?' What's your reaction? I know what mine would be - unprintable.

How often do we have to remind ourselves that brands are what they are because they have a loyal following of consumers who trust them for what they do, what they are and how they behave. Therefore, I'm often dismayed by a growing band of agency heads who think that their social-media agency is a panacea for a whole new revenue line.

Humans have been talking to each other for thousands of years, having conversations, debating topics and making decisions. Yet I suspect that if you barged into a two-way conversation at any point over that history, my reaction in the pub would be typical. Social media is not new and certainly not a guarantee of your first million.


Social media is not a static collection of homogeneous websites that consumers interact with in uniform and predictable ways. It is a diverse, complex set of worlds, with which consumers have variable levels of engagement. There is no one standard of social media.

While there are many socially focused sites in which overt advertising or branding could be disruptive, examples like Facebook have shown that a balance can be struck between the social experience and advertising. Many brands, including my own, have already effectively monetised the Facebook platform, using it as an efficient platform to reach consumers without interrupting their interactions.

It comes down to sensitivity and appropriateness. Detailed consideration is needed when marketers think about what they want to use social for. Avoid the temptation to leap onto every opportunity and, instead, consider the timeliness and relevance of the message and brand to the environment. There are opportunities, if you tread carefully.


Consumers rightly regard their social networks and mobile phones as incredibly personal. They would rather lose their wallet than phone and hate anything perceived as an inappropriate interruption or selling via their social network.

However, there is also evidence that consumers will sometimes consciously opt in when they perceive an advantage to themselves and when they are the decision-maker in the relationship. The choice must be transparent and then used carefully and sparingly.

Monetisation raises the stakes even more. I am sure there are smart ways to monetise that add value as perceived to the consumer. As the world becomes ever-more connected and mobile, this must be explored - but carefully. The risk of being seen as heavy-handed is a brand enemy for life.

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