Behavioral Targeting With A Social Twist

I'm amazed at the number of companies trying to convince me they base their business model on behavioral targeting. So regardless of naysayers who don't believe brands should target consumers with online ads, I'm stepping out to say that today's economic conditions and consumers' increased use of the Internet have moved BT into vogue.

David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer, tells me about a brand that's designing a campaign where consumers sign up to earn points and discounts for providing information about themselves. This will allow the company to serve up ads to the consumers. Think of it as a rewards card where you allow the brand to target you an ad and earn points for discounts on products.

Evidently, it's a tradeoff that more consumers are willing to make, especially in difficult economic times. It's a twist on an idea that Virgin Mobile used for years, where consumers earn minutes for viewing ads, and points get redeemed for everything from content online to services.

Here's another oddity, a spin on behavioral targeting for social marketing. Some social media companies have begun to pitch themselves as behavioral targeting services. Consider Michael Crosson, vice president of sales at SocialTwist, a social media marketing platform. The company's business model relies on a small widget that allows Web site members to forward marketing message with one click. The service, Tell a Friend, supports more than 70,000 Web sites, with more than 3.6 billion widgets floating around the Web.

When users comes to a Web site and click on the Tell a Friend button, a widget pops up with a custom message from the advertisers. In the window there are tabs that the advertiser can customize. The advertising messages, which could include Facebook, Twitter, emails and IM tabs sent by someone the person knows, have a higher average pass-along and open rate of about 64%, vs. the industry average at 30%, according to Crosson.

The SocialTwist platform relies on human filtering as the primary targeting tool. The widgets don't include personally identifiable information, but the technology does track consumer's behavior. It monitors and records when the widget and features get opened and clicked-through. It also tracks conversions. The data gets pulled into one interface. "People tend to send messages to like-minded groups of people," Crosson says.

For a lack of a better word, Crosson calls it "human targeting," something that's missing in a lot of behavioral targeting applications today. "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it," he says.

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