Unlock The Flock And Nix The Demographics

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, January 4, 2012

In today’s day and age, people online have very short attention spans. Everything is being shared very quickly -- and disappearing just as fast -- whether a funny CollegeHumor video, a piece of spicy news or even a Republican candidate’s video. Online behavior is very similar to flock behavior -- people flock to topics and quickly forget about them.

This flock mentality renders demographic targeting virtually useless. People are no longer as static as they used to be.  No one can be just an “18-year-old who loves music and parties,” because that’s not dynamic enough to represent how online works. People are about the right now.

Search-based advertising does a great job capturing that.  If someone’s searching for shoes, you have an intent to buy shoes, so retargeting and search advertising provides great relevance. Social, on the other hand, doesn’t really work like that. And you know what? People now spend 35% of their online time in social media and only 3% in search.

Social is about discovery. People are killing time on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Well, not just killing time -- they’re having fun! However, they don’t go there with an “intent” to buy.  If they did, advertising on Facebook and other social media would be so much more efficient.

That’s why the strategy of buying keywords for social does not work. Unlike with search, intent is irrelevant. Advertisers need to find interest. They need to learn what people are thinking about right now -- and to then reach out in that limited window of opportunity (remember, attention is fleeting).

The biggest news here is that demographics are dead. Everyone likes music.  And everyone can be described as a “fun-loving individual.”  But advertisers don’t care for these distinctions. Just because I like house music doesn’t make the glow stick ads you are showing me right now relevant.  You want to reach out with your glow stick ad just when I’ve bought a ticket for a DJ/house party.  Then, I’d be interested.  Then you’d have my attention.  And only then would I be a relevant customer.

All this is not new -- it’s how search advertising works. But now, with the world getting more and more social, you need discovery.  You need the tools to tell you who to target right now, based on what is interesting for your demographics -- not based on the demographics themselves.

Demographics are dead. Long live real time.

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