Emily Riley of Forrester Research presented a lot of data during her keynote presentation at today’s OMMA Behavioral Conference but one point she made seemed rather salient to me: many of those marketers and data firms involved in behavioral targeting seem to skip over social media as a source of information. They might look at the data surrounding the usage of those sites but they seem to rarely do any actually monitoring, let alone interacting there.
It reminded me of an experience I had with my wife. We once lived in a building where we didn’t have much interaction with our neighbors, very little beyond an occasional wave in the hallway. We could, however see their mail mixed with ours and our landlord’s. My wife began to notice that the landlord and our neighbor were starting to get similar envelopes from law firms. I, being the incurious mail sorter I am, didn’t really think much of it. She, on the other hand, was convinced that one of them must be suing the other and was able to spin out some fairly detailed scenarios based on other clues from the hallway, the presence of exterminators one day, the thickness of paint on the front door etc.
One day I encountered our neighbor in the hallway and did my customary wave. “Oh by the way,” He said, “We’re moving out next week.” Oh really? He then regaled me with the entire story which involved a variety of things including an exterminator, paint thickness, and law firms.
My wife and I were both able to glean essentially the same information. However if I had approached him and said, without any warning, “I bet you and our landlord are having one heckuva legal squabble,” he probably would have punched me in the nose. I also believe that the ease with which I was able to get the whole story out of him suggests that had we interacted more it would have been I scooping my wife and not the other way around.
These two approaches to gathering information are akin to the difference between following someone’s activity online with cookies – which is the basis of much behavioral targeting – and finding out what they are likely to do through social media.
They are both perfectly valid methods. The difference is that people have a tendency to find ads that target them too well from seemingly out of the blue a little…shall we say… creepy? That uneasy feeling about all data that’s being collected when users flit from site to site is what’s leading to calls for the FTC to undertake more regulation.
On the other hand, hearing from a brand you follow on Twitter or friended on Facebook comes off as kind of cool provided the communication feels personal and not pushy. At the same time as social networks continue to expand exponentially the pool of actionable data for marketers begins to rival or surpass what you might see in an ad network.
For brands and marketers, learning about customers through social media presents the dual opportunity of gathering data while at the same time reaching out to users with your brand voice and messaging.
It’s also much easier to allay the concerns about privacy when the data that’s being gathered is being volunteered or taking place in an acknowledged public sphere.
To be fair, it seemed like the majority of attendees at the conference were interested in how to get rid of their crushing inventory of display ad space or how to make money off the data they’ve already mined through behavioral targeting. The best case scenario was to find a vendor who had the silver bullet for both issues and there were plenty who claimed to. Either way it’s hard to see how social media can help much with either of these problems short term.
For brands and marketers who are looking at the nitty gritty of connecting a targeted message to a receptive audience, social media is the way to go.
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