How the social graph changed digital marketing forever

So I had a company ask me to look over their PPC account earlier this week with a view to taking over management from one of the “big companies”. At first glance everything looked good. Usually when you open up these accounts for the first time it’s truly depressing, nothing’s been done, the account doesn’t look organised, the bids are all over the place and extensions are missing. But this one seemed good, that is until I looked a little deeper. As I dug deeper into the account I was surprised at how little business intelligence was being incorporated into the account; there was absolutely nothing on remarketing, demographic targeting, ad scheduling, mobile bid adjustment or anything that applied some operational understanding or business logic to connect this business to its core demographic.

Now, it’s not unusual (as Tom Jones would say), to come across fundamental flaws when you’re first faced with a new account so I didn’t pay it too much mind, that was until I sat down with the client. As we were chatting and getting into the nitty-gritty of what their business goals and marketing strategy was all about I took a few minutes to touch upon the business intelligence and social graph and I realised that it’s still not as fundamental to people as really it should be. So let’s talk about the social graph.

Put very simply, the social graph knows everything about you and lets marketers use that knowledge to advertise to you. This might sound a little scary but there’s nothing really to be afraid of, everything is encrypted and above-board and neither the marketer or the advertiser get access to a user’s personal details. What the social graph does is analyse and store what it knows about you and use this information to segment users into groups separated by such things as:

– Gender
– Age
– Location
– Interest
– Likes
– Web History
– Email History
– Social Grade

It’s fairly obvious how this can help marketers, if you’re selling Viagra for example it’s a huge advantage to be able to only market to male users. What people seem to appreciate less is that this is a huge advantage for users as well; relevant providers of goods and services will find you rather than you having to find them.
One of the first and finest examples of professional social marketing dates back to 1989 when husband and wife team Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby started Dunnhumby. Branded as a “customer science” company Dunnhumby bagan life carrying out what we know today as CRM (customer relationship management), the art of analysing customers behaviour and using this business intelligence to make strategic business decisions. Over the next 20 years Dunnhumby was acquired by Tesco and between clubcard and their various other clients boasted a 40tb database of customer data which they had began selling to the world’s largest brands (their turnover is currently listed as $1-3 billion).

The same thinking motivated the social graph which grew with the exponential growth of Facebook as a platform; it was the need to monetise Facebook that gave birth to the Open Graph Protocol, Facebook’s very own social graph. This not only monitored your purchases (as before with Dunnhumby) but your behaviour in the lead up to those purchases. As people started to “Like” various businesses, places, things the opportunity grew to market towards them. This wasn’t like a closed email list either, in theory you could let your competitor spend vast amounts of money building up a huge audience of fans and then just market to them yourself (thanks!). Facebook allows marketers to target any group of users, if I have a business selling trainers (sneakers to our friends in the USA) I can target fans of Nike and away I go. Google quickly created their own social graph and acquired a multitude of businesses with the aim of making their Adwords platform infinitely more intelligent than it was back in 2010, and while this may have made the opportunity for marketers far greater, understanding how all of this fits into the marketing strategy of a small to mid-size business presents quite a challenge (let alone the relevant set-up). This brings us back to where we came in, if a decent sized digital marketing agency aren’t quite getting to grips with social marketing then what chance does that leave business owners or in-house marketing teams who’d probably just about got to grips with effective use of negative matching.

There’s a more compelling case than ever to get independent advice on your digital marketing, if you’d like me to help you then drop me a line or give you some free advice on your PPC or other digital marketing then drop me a line via my contact page and I’ll be in touch.

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