Defining Social Tribes As They Define Themselves

With T-minus about three weeks and counting last December, the BBC program “Stargazing Live” decided to put together a short-but-elaborate video sendoff to Tim Peake, who was about to become the first British astronaut to launch on a mission to the International Space Station.

The idea was to identify a core group of space enthusiasts who were active on Twitter and considered influencers. But rather than combing through prospects manually, the BBC’s consumer insights team employed a data-analysis platform called Affinio, which sorted through the Twitter audiences of Peake (@astro_timpeake), the European Space Agency (@ESA) and its own viewers (@BBCStargazing) and shot back about 800 prospects who fit the influencer bill.

Each prospect was asked to use his smartphone to shoot a short “good luck” video greeting to Peake. About 90 user-generated submissions — ranging from a gray-haired lady clutching a Buzz Lightyear doll and wearing what looks like a colander on her head to a young man nearly in tears as Peake’s rocket launches — came in from around the world within 48 hours. Several dozen snippets were cut into the final 3:16 #BritinSpace video posted on Twitter.



These people — motley as they many be, some perhaps known to each other; most not — form a tribe. There are many, many tribes out there. And all of them, as Farhad Manjoo observed in the New York Times last week, are far too dynamic and diverse to be pigeonholed into categories such as Millennial. Or Boomer, men, liberal élites or Chicago Cub fans, for that matter. Your audience/target/fan base is much more nuanced and fluid than the stereotypes we fix in our heads.

“Traditional demographics — and even first-party transactional data — isn’t able to uncover the true story of who these people are as humans,” says Tim Burke, CEO of Halifax, Nova Scotia-based Affinio. He and CTO Stephen Hankinson started the company three-and-a-half years ago after looking at who was following them on Twitter while they were building a different start-up. (There’s evidently a connection between sorting lobsters and predicting who will click on ads, but we’re not going to go there today.)

Analyzing What Followers Are Following
“Instead of just looking at what people were talking about, we started looking at what our followers were following on Twitter beyond our start-up itself,” Burke recalls. “We aggregated those results and quickly realized the power of the information.”

Affinio first started working with digital shops. Then it moved into traditional agencies that, for example, are looking for a quick read on the customer base of a potential client. It’s now being used as well by marketers and media companies.

“Social media is now our go-to place to understand our consumers — it’s quicker and cheaper and richer than research,” David Boyle, EVP of insight at BBC Worldwide, says in a video pitch for Affinio.

You can view a five-minute walkthrough of how the platform works here. The bottom line is that Affinio is a tool that enables you to visualize your consumers as human beings belonging to groups with identifiable interests and passions that transcend age, gender and other broad characterizations. You can use that information not only to understand who they are, but also to see — and create yourself — the type of content they are hashtagging and retweeting.

Sometimes, if you’re just paying attention to the jabbering class, they may not be who you think they are at all. Burke cites a recent case where an agency was under the notion that “couponing moms” were the dominant segment of a brand’s customer base. “It turns out that couponing moms were only a small fraction of that segment, but just happened to be talking more often than everybody else in that audience,” he says.

To demonstrate the product, Burke prepared an analysis of 99,406 followers of @MediaPost in May. You were then clustered into eight tribes: General Marketing (18%), Tech Founders (15%), News and Entertainment (15%), SM Marketing (14%), Creative Agencies (14%), SEO (10%), Programmatic (9%) and Sports Dads (4%). The ranking of multiple variables — bio keywords, locations, shared links, celebrities followed and so on — can be viewed from within each of these customized groups.

In the overall @MediaPost audience, 19.64% of you are “tweeting users.” We know who you are — and we love you for it — but that 80.36% of you who are “lurkers” tell a tale, too. Or so we've come to understand.

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