Director of Brand Planning and Strategy, Adam Pierno, shares a summary of our latest research aimed at uncovering correlations between media spend and social media penetration and sentiment.

  • Adam Pierno
  • Director of Brand Strategy

Research: How Total Media Spend Impacts Outcomes on Social

Brands in a battle who are outspent in media feel like they just can’t catch up to competitors. Knowing that, we wanted to understand how that plays out in the marketplace. We embarked on a research exercise to examine the question - does a high media spend (and resulting levels of reach and frequency) respond favorably in the social space? Or, do other factors matter more? Many brands don’t connect their linear or digital media with their social metrics, so the goal of our research was to better understand how they’re related.


We used Kantar to pull reported two-year media spending for 25 brands in five verticals and investigated those spends for percentage spent in television and online.*

Once we had noted media investments for each brand, we used Netbase to analyze social conversations and top level engagement on major platforms and across the social web. For our purposes we looked at the number of followers, brand sentiment, comment volume and brand passion over the same two-year period.

Media spend versus Facebook following

Here’s the first item of note. Total media spend doesn’t equate to social following. Meaning, you can’t draw a straight line from dollars spent to followers gained. We focused on Facebook (although we captured details for Twitter) since it is the most commonly used platform for brands, the most mature, and has the largest user base. Most interesting here – Oreo spends 20% what Coke does in media, but has 33% of the fans. Not surprisingly, Oreo is a brand that puts more emphasis on social engagement than most in this data set.

For each brand, we also plotted our media investment data on graphs representing the two-year period and laid over the social performance metrics. We then identified positive and negative spikes in both and refined the data to define correlations between the two. Our hypothesis was that higher media spend and traditional share of voice should equate to higher performing social brands. In other words, brands buying lots of media should get a response for those ads in the form of social comments or following. Of all categories, CPG had the highest correlation between periods of media investment and social activity of all kinds at 44%.

Media spend versus social comments about brand

Another interesting finding popped up when we looked at social mentions. A post does not always equal a post on social. We found a huge spike in social mentions about Red Lobster but couldn’t tie it to any media activity by the brand or its parent company. A little research into the posts showed us the cause was lyrics in a new song by Beyoncé. Despite a carefully planned media campaign built around LTOs, their social performance for the two-year period was dwarfed by an event in pop culture they had no control over.

We also looked at potential impressions based on the specific comments of each brand and found that brands with similar conversation volume can have vast differences in potential impressions for those audiences. For example – Coke had about 1.6 million mentions leading to potential impressions of approximately 41 billion. Wells Fargo had a similar number of comments (pre-September 2016 scandal) leading to 96 billion impressions. This variance is a result of the difference in audiences and those commentating. Coke is largely the subject of individual consumer conversations (as well as a lot of marketing content); while the financial press and organizations with larger subscriber bases post a lot of content about Wells Fargo.

Correlating specific media

There is a strong correlation between TV spend and number of FB followers. Not just in the positive, but in the negative. There’s an 80% correlation between the top TV spenders and highest FB following in each group. Oreo is the exception, breaking the formula by building a strong digital brand. The lowest spender has an 80% correlation to the lowest FB following. We attribute this to the mass reach of TV overlapping with the mass use of Facebook.

Spikes in TV spending had the highest correlation to higher post volume and changes in sentiment. In fact, TV spend (including network, cable and Spanish Language) was part of 71 spikes in volume and meaningful changes in sentiment.

As a category, finance spends the most overall. But the beverage category has the biggest average social following. Looking deeper, we see that the beverage brands we chose actually have the highest average TV spend.

And there is definitely a point of diminishing returns on TV investment. The casual dining brand we audited spent an average of 83% of their reported budget on TV. This is second highest of all groups. But these brands have the lowest average post volume. Especially odd when you realize that they have a huge amount of owned media with restaurant storefronts, tables and waiting areas with which to engage people and incite posts and social activity.

So, was our our hypothesis proven or disproven? It’s inconclusive. We learned what marketers already know: That the relationship between their media channels and advertising are complex, and unique to their individual audience DNA.

*Unforturnately, Kantar did not yet report paid social media placements at the time of this research.

Photo via Alex from Fotolia

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