Social media has become the primary vehicle for brands and engaged consumers to communicate with one another online. Consumers have evolved beyond interacting with just their friends and top celebrities, and have grown accustomed to getting updates and meaningful notifications from brands they follow through Facebook Page updates, tweets, videos, and posts. Many also talk back to brands, and, even more commonly, talk about brands through earned media channels. The more a brand embraces these popular social media channels and works to strengthen interactions between it and its customers, the more it stands to gain from its growth in mind share as brand-affirming conversations spread virally.

As the media advertisers have at their disposal merge, the opportunities to integrate popular forms of online interaction into more traditional advertising campaigns continue to bloom. In response to the rise of the “second screen” (mobile/tablet/laptop as an accompaniment to a home television), savvy TV advertisers have begun promoting hashtags and other invitations for simultaneous online interaction in commercials. Thirty-eight percent of the always-popular 2013 Super Bowl commercials, for instance, featured hashtags (smart, considering a surveyed 36% of Super Bowl watchers were planning on using a second screen as they watched). Three weeks later, JC Penney launched a clever campaign for the Oscars, tying in Twitter commentary with a gift-card giveaway, to help reinvigorate the store’s brand.

A growing opportunity along the same lines is to integrate social media directly within display ads. Third parties such as Flite can provide the technology and interface for small advertising creative teams to easily integrate Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social networks (think YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr and other blogs, and the like) directly within display ads, allowing users to listen to and even participate in social conversations without having to leave the page. (More broadly speaking, the practice of pulling in content, either owned or earned, into online advertising spots, is called paid media publishing.)

Here’s an example (click on the Updates tab to see live updates from the site’s Facebook page):

 

The mechanics of integrating social media into display ads is as follows:

  1. Determining which Facebook page, Twitter account/username, or blog RSS XML feed you’d like to import.
  2. Securing the appropriate authentication for access to the API (Twitter)
  3. Scheduling API calls to pull in Facebook stories, Tweets, or blog headers, along with any accompanying graphics and links, at a specified interval
  4. Programming the ad unit to serve up the social media elements, including any formatting preferences
  5. Generating an ad tag and deploying it on your site

Given the complexity of this series of operations, the vast majority of publishers interested in pulling social media content into their online display ads opt to work with a third-party provider, like Flite. Other non-ad options exist through the use of blog plugins (like FBF Facebook Page Feed Widget for WordPress) or a service like Widgetbox.