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8/1/2012
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Social Media Ads, Viral Campaigns Converge

Unified's Social Operating Platform aims to stretch paid ads' influence by encouraging social sharing. Advertisers can monitor effectiveness via an analytics platform that tracks clicks.

5 Social Networks Hot On Facebook's Heels
5 Social Networks Hot On Facebook's Heels
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
In social media, a great ad is more than just an ad. A great advertisement is one that social media participants see as content they want to share with their friends, giving it viral reach that magnifies the effect of paid outreach.

The Unified Social Operating Platform, a marketing software service built around the idea of unifying paid and viral outreach on social media, is winning fans such as Aubrey Flynn, brand content director for the Blue Flame Agency. Blue Flame is one of the many enterprises of Sean Combs (a.k.a. Puff Daddy/Diddy/P. Diddy), who knows something about drumming up free media attention. In particular, Flynn has been using Unified as part of the online promotions for CIROC Ultra Premium Vodka, one of the brands Combs personally promotes.

Even in beta form, Unified's Amplet technology for extending the social reach of ads helped generate "incredible cross-platform traffic," Flynn said. The Amplet feature allows marketers to create ads that invite engagement, with every click tracked back to the Unified analytics. There is also an Amplet for Content Creators version that publishers can use to promote and track social media engagement.

Unified argues its Amplets are superior to the social sharing buttons that already pervade the Web because they tie back to an analytics platform built with advertisers and brand marketers in mind.

The most successful CIROC campaign where the Unified technology played a role was the online component of the Luck Be A Lady campaign, built around the TV ads and YouTube videos showing Combs and other celebrity brand advocates (Frank Vincent, Eva Pigford, Michael K. Williams, Aaron Paul, Dania Ramirez, and Jesse Williams) enjoying a Rat Pack-style night on the town in Las Vegas, with Frank Sinatra's singing in the background. The promotion began in late December and was designed to boost New Year's sales for CIROC.

"We used the Amplet technology to drive video views and engagement on Twitter," Flynn said, and contacts at Twitter told him it wound up as "the most engaging promoted trend among consumer packaged goods in 2011." He used the Unified advertising platform again as part of promotions linked to the Grammys and the Super Bowl, including promotions for a video Combs created of himself celebrating after Victor Cruz’s Super Bowl touchdown for the Giants, with the hashtag #cirocbowl superimposed over the video.

"Unified is something I consider for big, high-impact events where we want to get results quickly and efficiently," Flynn said. Although viral social media campaigns can take off on their own, he can boost the odds by mixing them with advertising.

Founded in April 2011, Unified is still a young company that just released its first version of the Social Operating Platform in January. The Amplet feature was part of a July update, and Unified is promising quarterly releases going forward. The core product consists of planning tools for social media marketing campaigns and figuring out how much ads on a given site are worth, combined with analysis tools for measuring the results.

Unified already has assembled a constellation of prominent brands that it says are achieving results through its platform, although some are doing so indirectly through their ad agencies. On the other hand, Microsoft is an example of a customer that has been working with the platform directly for some of its Windows Phone promotions, according to Unified.

"We fundamentally believe you need to use enterprise software to solve marketing problems" in this social media era, said Jason Beckerman, chief products officer and co-founder at Unified. "Ultimately, technology scales and people don't." The online planning tool typically replaces a mess of spreadsheets ad buyers are using to make their plans and set their budgets, he said.

For the theory behind its unified paid and viral social media approach approach, Unified points to an Altimeter Research report on converged media, which supports the idea that online strategies need to be more tightly coordinated between paid media (advertising), earned media (attention from journalists and social media users), and owned media (a company's own websites).

When you pay for an advertisement to promote a video, but then people start voluntarily sharing it on social media, "that's a dividend off your paid media buy because everything after that first view was free," Beckerman said. The Unified analytics platform helps marketers put a dollar value on that viral sharing, allowing them to see how much they have amplified their advertising spend.

Additionally, Unified's analysis helps with compliance--meaning contract compliance, in this case, he said. That is, if a campaign was supposed to help you generate 10,000 likes on a Facebook page, the platform can detect if the majority of those came in from the Philippines rather than the American consumers you were targeting, according to the company.


Unified's dashboard for earned media value

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)

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