Time to switch from internet advertising to social media?

On Wednesday this week I attended a free half-day seminar organised by Reed Business Information (publisher of Contract Journal and many other B2B titles), entitled What Works Online. Targeted at B2B marketers, this was a useful reminder of the range of online tools that we now have at our disposal, from search engine optimisation (SEO), through website design and online advertising to using e-newsletters for lead generation.

One of the introductory slides showed online advertising spend, but will now, I’m sure, be updated, as this week saw the release of figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), showing that UK internet ad spend (£1.75bn in the first six months of 2009) surpassed television ad spend for the first time, accounting for almost 24% of all expenditure on advertising. I then read a more detailed account of the figures in the Guardian on the train home afterwards.

Of course, the economic downturn is probably at least partly responsible for pushing online ad spend ahead of television spend now, but the long-term trend has been evident for some time (advertisers recognising that people are accessing more and more online content). But the shift towards online may not continue inexorably upwards. The Guardian article talked to WPP’s Adam Smith:

Smith cited factors such as the increasing share of time that users spend on social networking websites, which have not attracted huge advertising spend, and the increasing saturation of internet penetration in the UK as potential limiting factors.

Perhaps this suggests marketers should focus a bit more attention on social media. This may extend to businesses advertising on social networking sites that are used by their target audiences, but I would hope that it also means business people also engaging more with both existing and potential customers (and their other publics) through the content and conversations on such sites.

There was plenty of talk about Facebook and Twitter at the RBI seminar, but attitudes varied depending on the markets being talked about. HR marketers seemed very positive about using social media but there was less enthusiasm among the couple of construction folk I talked to, largely,  I think, because the decision-makers they had to deal with (one was in-house, the other agency-based) were somewhat sceptical about the value.

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