Sharing data among friends

The social graph is an evolution of retargeting, offering brands the ability to target customers via their social activity online as well as that of their friends.


Brands have been quick to sign up for Facebook pages or broadcast their views on Twitter. But many businesses are failing to capitalise on the valuable data revealed by their customers’ ’social graph’ or ’open graph’, which could allow them to reach a greater number of consumers with personalised messages.

The social or open graph is a way of mapping people online and how they relate to each other. An individual’s social graph may include their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections – anyone involved in their interactions and content sharing. It is not confined to one social network or business. The social graph applies to the entire internet.

Finance brand American Express is testing importing Facebook data into its credit card system in the US to help deliver targeted offers based on social information. Alex Tait, director of international digital acquisition at American Express and chair of the ISBA digital action group, explains: “We are using social data for offers. In the US, you can sign up via Facebook and get offers based on your ’Likes’ and social data.

“Our view is that what feels right for the consumer should be the point of reference,” he adds. “It is no different to being customer-oriented. It is like the traditional marketing aim: a relevant message at the right time.”

The benefits of targeting people’s social graphs or friends of friends online as a means of expanding brand reach was recently explored in research by web measurement firm ComScore, which collaborated with Facebook to find out how effective targeting via the social graph could be compared to standard ads.

Using Social Graph: Sky, Kodak (below left), American Express (below right)

Using its own data and figures extracted using Facebook’s own analytics, ComScore concluded that the social graph throws up two potential audiences: fans of a brand (or those that have chosen to ’Like’ it); and friends of fans, which you can establish by reading the social data.

Targeting this second group – friends of fans – increased the potential pool of customers by 34 times, according to ComScore’s analysis of the hundred largest brand pages on Facebook. Microsoft’s Bing page had 1.7 million fans on Facebook, but by considering the friends of fans, this jumped to 232 million.

Kodak is using social data as a way to humanise its customer dealings. It uses the social graph via Facebook and its agency Blast Radius to encourage people to print the photos stored on their profiles. The graph has given the photography brand a way to link its online and in-store retail business with an upgrade to its kiosks in stores such as Boots to allow people to download their Facebook photos.

Kodak marketing manager for EMEA Charlie Yianoullou explains: “Tapping into the Facebook social graph has allowed us to reach an entirely new customer base and enter a conversation with them about printed photography.”


However, broadcaster Sky says it is cautious about pushing consumers too far in using their social data. The brand was the first UK advertiser to target consumers using Twitter’s full set of paid advertising solutions to promote the third series of US TV show Glee.

Sky’s social media activity is predominantly around the retention of its 10 million-strong customer base. It has used social media agency Jam to create activity that helps existing customers make better use of the huge range of content they subscribe to. Using digital billboards in commuter stations, the broadcaster asked people to tweet questions about viewing. The brand then replied with a personalised recommendation, also shown on the billboard.

Sky head of digital and social media Katherine Drought says that while this has been a good use of social media for her brand, she does not yet see it being integrated into other Sky services, such as its electronic programme guide (EPG).

“The biggest challenge at the moment is how [social data] equates to business key performance indicators.” she says. “A Nielsen report recently found that a 9% increase in buzz will equate to a 1% increase in people tuning into a show,” she adds. “For us, increasing this buzz or net promoter score is key because it can translate into retention.”

The use of social data for personalisation – whether in ad targeting or content – is a key theme for brands. As marketing director Adam Stewart explains: “We use Facebook ’Like’ data to capture friends, age, email address and even mobile number. There is a pool of social data that we can create a database out of: CRM, mobile, email and so on. We’re building our personalisation strategy via email at the moment; we can use the social data to learn about our customers as individuals.”

Similarly, charity British Heart Foundation is using data extracted from its Facebook page and is looking to do the same with Twitter to apply to its analytics strategy around other channels.


Roberto Kusabbi, communities and social media manager at British Heart Foundation, says: “We have a data analyst in-house and use both Omniture and Google analytics. We want to link the two together with social spaces, because we know the audience crosses over. You get similar data for Facebook paid ads as the data on Facebook page, so incorporating data from both paid and non-paid activity is also important.

“The more information we have, the easier it is to say ’It works’,” he adds. “We need to show how this engagement data translates to moving from Facebook to our site and then to find out if the user donated or agreed to do an event.”

Recruitment brand Jobsite – a Brand Innovator of The Year finalist at Marketing Week’s Engage Awards in 2010 – uses Facebook’s social games to expand the reach of its recent TV campaign. In return for gaming credits, players select to watch a Jobsite ad, introducing them to the brand with a soft call to action. It then uses ad network Radium One’s technology to retarget them with a stronger ad, encouraging email sign-ups.

Katy Jo Stanton, digital acquisition manager at Jobsite, says using a network via social gaming sites meant that the brand didn’t have to first rely on traffic to its site to be able to retarget.

“The process is around retargeting to people who have interacted with your brand, but it is designed so they do the activities to start the conversation,” she says. “You are not reliant on other channels to bring traffic into Jobsite first.”

The company can also track how people on its network share with their friends, with the ability to see what type of content and with whom.

Through the use of Page Post Sponsored Stories, which increase the distribution of posts among existing fans, engagement with the Love UK Page has also increased significantly

“As well as being able to retarget those that have interacted with your brand, you can also target their social connections,” she says. “The idea is that you can tell a person’s social connections by seeing who they share content with, which can differ between different people.

“For example, with one person, I may tend to share funny videos of cats, but with my boss, I’ll be sharing relevant marketing information and articles. If I then wanted to target with an ad about a marketing product, I’ll be less likely to want to connect with the connection that shared the videos and instead want to reach the boss.”

Being able to understand this contextual layer to content sharing means that brands can be more targeted. “From our perspective, that’s a new way of reaching people,” says Stanton. “The sentiment and meaning you can extract from share data is more human than traditional means of retargeting, which can be very formulaic.”

But while there are huge opportunities for utilising this open graph or wealth of information about how we share with one another, the industry has to balance this with consumers’ expectations about their privacy. A lot of data tracking requires the use of cookies, and brands will need to comply with the European ePrivacy directive, which requires consent to be given by consumers if they are to be tracked.

American Express’ Tait says consumer concern about privacy is very real and that advertisers and marketers need to start understanding the technology behind it.

“The industry needs to raise its game; user choice, convergence and the different technology available means there is so much data,” says Tait. “There is a very real consumer concern about privacy and data collection. ISBA is working with other trade bodies, such as the Internet Advertising Bureau, and the first stage is to have an evolving framework set, so that we won’t be playing catch-up.”

With social media often criticised for failing to offer concrete measurement options, using the data thrown up by the social graph could give brands a justified reason to keep investing in the area. For those businesses that can balance their customers’ privacy needs with the use of their data, the social graph may lead to a wealth of opportunities.

Case Study
Visit Britain

The goal of VisitBritain’s most recent Facebook campaign was to increase the size of the fan base on its Love UK page. The organisation has been active on the social network since 2009, attracting more than 100,000 fans, but to increase this, it turned to targeting friends of friends via Facebook’s Sponsored Stories advertising.

VisitBritain: Taking a Facebook-centric approach to marketing

Sponsored Stories allow businesses to increase the visibility of organic Facebook News Feed stories when they relate to their organisation or business. The campaign ran from 25 April to 1 May, and also used Page Like and Page Post Sponsored Stories.

VisitBritain and Love UK head of digital and social media Justin Reid explains: “They are shown to friends of people who had ’Liked’ or commented on our page, which is the real golden area.”

As a result, Love UK increased the number of people who liked its page from 126,173 fans to 255,751 over the course of the seven-day campaign. In one day alone, 42,000 people liked the page.

Through the use of Page Post Sponsored Stories, which increase the distribution of posts among existing fans, engagement with the Love UK Page has also increased significantly. Feedback on Page Posts has increased by 29%.

The results have caused VisitBritain to take a Facebook-focused approach to its marketing, despite the wealth of other social channels available. “Our overall social media strategy is based on Facebook because that’s where our main successes have been,” says Reid. The Love UK page has more than 500,000 fans.

“The company has three more campaigns set up for the coming year; the next one starts in early June and will again centre on Sponsored Stories,” says Reid. “The next major step change will be to embark on an effective Facebook Commerce strategy, moving towards integrating other digital and commercial channels into a Facebook-centred strategy.”



Katy Jo Stanton

Digital acquisition manager

I work in digital acquisition, which is mainly candidate focused. Our core activity tends to be SEO, pay-per-click and display. We’ve put standard display on a backburner, investing instead in dynamic display retargeting. Social targeting is a similar process.

We got interested because we saw people doing this in the US. We also started to get interested in the gamification trend. That is a bit of a buzzword but it essentially means lots of people from a wide demographic using gaming online and combining that with a rewards-based system.

We see an untapped market in those people playing online games because there may be candidates doing that who we haven’t managed to reach elsewhere.
There’s a contextual layer on top of targeting people this way and that’s a new way of reaching them. The sentiment and meaning you can extract from share data is more human than traditional means of retargeting, which can be very formulaic.

We’ve already been doing some really sophisticated retargeting without social data with retargeting technology firm Struq and have seen the benefits from doing so. We have found that while the volume of people in retargeting goes down, the relevance is much higher, so it ends up as a much less scattergun approach to online display advertising.



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