Nielsen has released a study today that looks at the effectiveness of different kinds of Facebook advertising. The goal was to determine whether ads that leveraged a brand’s social network — which Nielsen is calling “earned media” — performed differently than traditional ad formats.

The big headline: Socially-enhanced advertising has higher recall and higher purchase intent than traditional advertising.

In a blog post on Nielsen’s site, Jon Gibs, Vice President, Media Analytics, The Nielsen Company and Sean Bruich, Measurement Research, Facebook, explain the overall methodology.

Our joint report: Advertising Effectiveness: Understanding the Value of a Social Media Impression provides early insights from Nielsen’s BrandLift product which analyzed survey data from more than 800,000 Facebook users in response to more than 125 Facebook ad campaigns from 70 brand advertisers.

The study has a clear bias towards paid advertising on Facebook, and doesn’t measure the impact of a content-marketing program versus a display ad program. The study also doesn’t touch on the relative value of fan bases of different sizes, which will have an impact on ad performance and marketing expense.

I’ll spend more time in a later post delving into the entire report, but first let’s look at the two money charts that will spread across the blogs of social media mavens today.

The first shows the impact that socially-enabled ads (read “earned media”) had on response versus a controlled group: 10% more recall, 4% more awareness and 2% higher our chase intent.

The second compelling chart shows the impact that the social components of an ad has on consumer response. Ad recall more than tripled; purchase intent moved to 8%.

The social features of the ads were pretty simple: including the slug “xxx and yyy are fans of this page” in the ad unit. Organic ads, which were a proxy for sharing about a brand by users, were considered for this study to be the simple instance of a status update appearing in your stream that says one or more of your friends have become a fan of a page.

The Nielsen study is compelling and supports common sense.

When you see that someone you know has done something with a brand, particularly a brand you recognize, then your attentiveness increases.
That’s the benefit of building a fan base on Facebook. You raise your awareness in all of your fans’ social networks.

A good content marketing program, where you use your fan page as a way to distribute content and engage with your community of interest, will have the same or greater impact on your brand presence and your business results as the ad units included in the study, I believe. As the Nielsen research demonstrates, the most powerful impact is achieved when people recognize the attachment of their peers to a specific brand.

The other thing that the study isn’t meant to address  is what a brand needs to do to get and keep fans. Clearly, a deep and active fan base can benefit a brand. The steps to attracting and maintaining that fan base require a specific set of skills and focus, and have a real cost against them.

The study is a great support for the power of social networks to drive brands, but is focused narrowly on one implementation that doesn’t take full advantage of the richness of a social media marketing program.

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