The Age of The Algorithm Is About More Than Ads

Much has been written about the advent of the “math men” in advertising, but with the events of the last two weeks I think it makes sense to talk about the algorithms of social media and how they should be applied to more than just advertising -- also applied to content delivery and the overall consumer experience.

Social media is a hot topic, ranging from Facebook-bashing as a result of the flopping IPO or companies like Vitrue and Buddy Media being acquired by Oracle and Salesforce, respectively.   The debate rages over whether social is a valuable tool for advertisers and marketers, but it’s a silly argument because it’s obvious what the answer is.  It’s very important, but we don’t yet know how to handle it!

The acquisition of companies like Vitrue and Buddy Media signal to the market that owning and building a “broadcast” model for messaging within social media is important. If we agree that the maintenance of these platforms can be self-service or automated in some fashion, that leads me to believe we’re freeing up our time for social analytics and the evaluation of the quality and quantity of traffic in social. Those social behaviors can become predictable, and with predictability comes an algorithm for how advertisers can spur activity in their target base.  Of course, you need to know how that message will be delivered in order to anticipate success!

I think social media is still maturing as a vehicle, and it’s clear we’re in the early stages of understanding how to harness its power.  The manifestation of that algorithm is not banners, nor is it message seeding.  It is, in some way, informing all of your customer interactions with intent and behavioral information that is extracted from social media.  Knowing what potential customers are doing this weekend, knowing what they did last weekend, and understanding their motivations and desires, can help you craft an experience that will drive acquisition.  

This concept has broad implications for new product development outside of advertising.  Human beings each have unique lives, however the components that make up their lives are similar and with similar elements, organized in unique patterns, you can build an algorithm to read, understand and apply to your needs.

I can foresee a future where the media experience on your television set, tablet or computer will be tailored to you as an individual based on your social algorithm.  For example, you turn on the TV and the home screen is dynamically generated in a Flipboard-esque appearance, but with sizing and placement of the content and icons based on your social algorithm.  I can see a browser that changes its appearance based on what you do inside of it.  The surfacing of content that meets your immediate desires will lead you to see marketing and advertising messages that align with those inputs, and they’ll be more integrated into the content than they currently are. 

This leads me to what I consider to be the most important prediction for the age of algorithmic advertising: it’s not just about the advertising, it’s about the content delivery.  The delivery of content in a format tailored to the user will allow for new ad opportunities that will be radically different and more effective than what we see today.  Our problem today is, we are financing innovation almost solely in the area of ad delivery when we should also be focusing on using the data and information for crafting new models of content delivery.  Don’t just focus on the advertising, but plan for the experience around it!

I know this sounds like a pipedream, or at the least a very uphill battle -- and it is.  To recreate the wheel when the old wheel is working just fine is an onerous and very unforgiving task, but companies like Microsoft and Apple have done it very successfully -- and maybe they will again, or someone else will do it for them!   Google is certainly in a position to do something like this: reinvent the way we see the Web and digital media experiences.  It won’t happen overnight, but the ecosystem of companies that are out there and working together, certainly can make it happen!  Maybe you know a company or companies that could take on this project? Who are they?

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