Advertisers venture into social media

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Facebook allows people to share their lives, their photos and their likes with friends, and with 800 million users on Facebook, it has become a place advertisers and marketers go to reach consumers.

It's hard to escape the ads and the campaigns. And the proliferation is starting to cause irritation among users.

Social media advertising is still in its infancy, representing just under $1 billion a year in spending. But experts expected it to explode to $20 billion within three to five years.

"It's all focused on engaging the consumer in a one-on-one interaction; therefore, it's not about direct advertising spend anymore, it's about how do you create engagement with consumers," McKinsey & Co. social media consultant Stephan Zimmermann said.

For decades, we've gotten use to mass media advertising, such as TV commercials. But social media advertising is different.

A recent campaign for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, called the Real Women of Philadelphia, had a presence on Facebook, but it pushed consumers to check out videos on YouTube for recipes. And there was a website where consumers have submitted over 3,600 of their own recipes.

All this engagement was designed to boost sales, which had been flat. And what was the result of the campaign? Sales of Philadelphia cream cheese went up 8 percent.

The campaign technique may be new, but it incorporated a throwback to traditional advertising -- the celebrity spokesperson.

Social media advertising is trying to innovate and hook consumers in new ways, but it's still advertising.

"A marketer would actually try to leverage that, and as much as this becomes too much, consumers will pull back," University of Maryland researcher Prof. Il-Horn Hann said.

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