Commentary

Social Media Data Crumbs

Saying “Before, we could only target based on relatively real-time data, [going back] a few weeks. Now it’s years,” an ad tech company indicated this week that it accesses "historical tweets" and other social media for "signals of intent,"  which it then uses to target desktop and mobile display ads.

So if you shared a Foursquare check-in or pinned to Pinterest or tweeted on Twitter a while ago, you might be subject to what is described as "historical intent targeting." In the old days, we used to call this stale data.

The assumption this company makes, I suppose, is that if you said it (or "signaled it") once, you carry that mood or attitude or "intent" with you always. By that reasoning, if you tweeted about how long it was taking for the auto sales rep to get a response to your offer from the sales manager, say three months ago, you would find yourself classified as an "in market" auto buyer and get auto ads even though the sales manager took your offer and you drove off the lot 90 days ago. And you probably won't buy another car for six or eight years.

One of the challenges of Big Data is translating all of those "signals" into something actionable. Back in the very early days of behavioral targeting, we found that targeting against data that was 60 or even 30 days old was pointless, and so we moved toward more real-time analytics of media consumption and online navigation. Even then there was a lot of subjective assumptions about what a consumer's intent really was when he read a story about a car or a baby carriage or a recipe. These days Big Data has gotten so big that it helps a publisher or retailer know pretty much who you are when you come in the door -- whether you are a tire kicker or a buyer, and what kind of price to show you to make you take the bait.

But I suspect that conversion is not the big selling point of "historical intent targeting." Frankly, I can’t imagine what is the big point. Almost nothing changes faster than "taste" -- and if you don't believe that, you aren't married and don't have kids. I recently had to change out all the brass fixtures in my bathroom, because, according to SOME in the house, they were "dated." So too are the Corian countertops and the marble on the island in the kitchen, so they are marked for eradication in the coming months. It really makes me worry about our old black Lab, since it’s entirely possible her breed is "out of fashion."

If you tried to sell my kids something from popular culture based on social media signals older than say, 15 days, you'd be off the mark. I still recall with a simultaneous grimace and relief when my oldest went through his "ghetto" phase, trying to act and dress like he was a gangsta from the hood because he liked rap music. No amount of reasoning that we lived in a lily-white suburban enclave -- where the only people of color he saw cut the grass or played wide receiver -- could convince him to pull up his oversized pants and stop wearing that stupid baseball cap sideways. When I asked my daughter why she doesn't wear something nice that I liked six months ago, I get that same look they will probably give the black Lab right before the lethal injection.

I have to admit that I am one of those brand loyalists that, once he finds something he likes, buys it regularly for the next 20 years. Although I haven't bothered to "like" my toilet paper, bath soap or motor oil as of yet. In fact, the only time I ever mention a brand by name in social media is when it -- or, more likely, one of its resellers -- has done something to really piss me off.  Sadly, unlike the Jeff Jarvises of this world, no one has picked up the phone and tried to apologize and make things right with me. 

Follow my social media data crumbs if you will, but I don't look forward to those "more relevant ads" that probably no longer are.

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1 comment about "Social Media Data Crumbs".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , October 12, 2012 at 7:30 p.m.
    You could have taken your son house shopping in his favorite neighborhood with rental agreements in hand. Hang around for awhile. Go buy some milk. Have lunch or better yet stay for dinner. Show him his school and visit. The buck stops here.