American Marketer


Can social media be used for mobile direct response?

January 22, 2014

John Busby is senior vice president of the Marchex Institute


By John Busby

If behavioral patterns on mobile have taught us anything, it is this: After typing in a search on a smartphone, consumers want to act fast and buy now. As Blake from the classic Broadway production and movie Glengarry Glen Ross might say, mobile searches are for closers.

Our consumer frame-of-mind is decidedly different on desktop, where an online search begets online research. Consider that a consumer looking to book travel on desktop will visit as many as 20 Web sites before committing.

Since we use mobile search when we are ready to purchase and on the go, many of those purchases are fueled through offline and local interactions such as an in-store visit or a phone call. All of this makes mobile search perfect for direct response advertising. A business places an ad, and if it is relevant and enticing, a consumer is likely to take action.

In the world of social media, we are seeing some of the same trends.

Ante social
Mobile usage dominates Facebook, Twitter and other social channels. Three-quarters of users tweet from phones or tablets, and 48 percent of Facebook’s users are now “mobile-only.”

Like search, Facebook and Twitter are highly local. Consumers use both platforms to announce their location, connect with nearby friends and interact with local events.

So the question to ask now is this: can social media be used effectively for direct response advertising on mobile? This should be top-of-mind for any marketer tasked with getting consumers to take specific actions, such as a registration or purchase.

If direct response proves to be effective on social, that opens up tremendous opportunity and massive budgets, given the near-universal reach of these channels.

Naysayers argue that advertising on Facebook is like “advertising at a party,” in that consumers are not thinking commercially when using social networks.

Also, search is such a powerful signal as to what is on a consumer’s mind compared to scrolling through a news feed.

I believe social media will prove to be highly valuable to all types of direct response advertising, from games to insurance and local restaurants to local roofers. Here are three reasons:

1. Most consumers already connect to brands and local businesses. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that 70 percent of users connect to at least one small business.

The average Twitter user follows five or more brands, while those who access primarily from mobile are 96 percent more likely to follow 11 or more brands.

The closest comparison for direct marketers to following a business on social is a consumer who has opted in to an email list.

Most consumers are glad to hear an occasional update or two, and appreciate a good deal, and will not opt-out so long as businesses do not abuse this privileged communication.

2. We use social networks when we relax, which is key to the success of advertising via direct response television (DRTV), direct mail and, in some cases, mobile display.

Think of the audience for DRTV.

Viewers are generally unwinding in front of their televisions when they see ads imploring them to “Call Now!” or “Call Today!”

Indeed, a subset of these viewers can be convinced to call if the offer is relevant and the price is right.

The key to making direct response work on social is brutal discipline with targeting and optimization.

Direct mailers have honed ZIP code and list-based targeting for decades, and direct response marketers should be starting this test-and-learn approach with the demographic tools available on Twitter and Facebook.

3. Mobile consumers are, well, mobile. And this is new territory for marketers.

We have never had an item that we take with us everywhere as we do the mobile phone.

I predict that direct marketers will learn that there is an entirely new type of direct response for social networking – and that is convincing consumers to visit a store when they are checking in with their social network.

Based on one’s preferences or location, I expect consumers to increasingly take advantage of deals, book appointments and even drop into local shops.

WITH SOCIAL FEEDS streaming on smartphones 24/7 and consumers in a buy-now state of mind, social media may yet turn out to be one of the most worthwhile channels for mobile direct response.

John Busby is senior vice president of the Marchex Institute, a Seattle-based research and analytics team that publishes findings on mobile advertising and the digital call advertising industry. Reach him at