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How to target the social influencers

How to target the social influencers Tom Hespos

It surprises me that the eventual monetization of social networking sites is still a big question in this industry. It surprises me because I think of the way that we're influenced to purchase products and services, and I can't think of anything that leverages that dynamic better than social networking sites. When we have needs, we often turn to others who have been in similar situations in order to determine how we ought to meet that need ourselves. If those we turn to happen to be friends, all the better.

As much as we might not like to admit it, what we perceive our needs to be is heavily influenced by our friends' needs. You might be perfectly happy, thinking all your needs are met, but if your five best friends suddenly purchase new cars, new Kindles, or a new style of clothing, it's likely that you'll consider buying these new things yourself. To paraphrase George Carlin, rest his soul, coveting other people's stuff is what keeps the economy going.

The influence our friends have over our purchasing habits isn't automatic. Of course, we have to know about our friends' purchasing habits. Once we know Fred bought a new Honda Accord, we have to go through a consideration process of our own. Getting to that consideration in the mind of the consumer is the classic challenge for most marketers.

The influence of the connections we all have is a complex machine indeed. Conveniently, social networks have many of these connections mirrored for us, and can give us insight into influence over buying decisions. In many ways, birds of a feather tend to flock together, and all marketers will need to understand social influence if they want to win in the digital sphere.

Do not take this to mean that everybody who has a profile on a social network is connected to a bunch of other people with identical purchase habits. Obviously, that's not the case. We're all connected to different people who share varying degrees of affinity for the things we like to do and the brands we're connected with.

By way of example, I'm connected on Facebook with some people in my ATV riding group. I'm also connected to a few hundred people in the online marketing business. It would be ludicrous to suggest that I'd turn to the online marketing folks for advice on which tires to buy for my ATV, or to my riding group for advice on which ad networks I should consider for a particular effort. A lot depends on the context of the connection.

It follows, though, that the application of technology might help us discern which connections are utilized for which purposes, and where the lines of influence are strongest. Focusing messaging along those lines of influence would likely be a good media strategy, no?

There are a few companies in the ad networks space that can help us do this quite well. Among them are Lotame and Media6°. It's going to be important to follow the progress in this space, especially for considered products where the influence of friends figures heavily into purchase decisions.

It's also useful to think about prospecting customers along social lines as well. Friends of people who are already customers are more likely to convert than people who are socially disconnected from your product. You can see this in action when you witness how a new brand page wends its way through Facebook connections.

Recently, I saw something on my Facebook page about how a great number of my friends recently became fans of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Facebook's highlighting of that fact made me consider becoming a brand fan as well.

Clearly in this economy, we need to find new ways of making our media buys more efficient. Social data and social connections can be leveraged by ad networks to target our media better and produce superior results. Do yourself a favor and test this out if you haven't yet already.

Tom Hespos is the president of Underscore Marketing and blogs at Hespos.com.

Tom Hespos is President of New York agency Underscore Marketing. He is a frequent contributor to industry trade publications and has been writing a regular column about online marketing and advertising since March of 1998. His clients include Wyeth...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Gadi BenMark

2009, May 07

You're absolutely right in your observations. For online retailers that are looking to harness the power of the social networks of their shoppers, there's already a terrific service out there (well, I'm biased), called TurnTo. Check out www.TurnTo.com or see in in action on a number of sites for examples www.CompSource.com (top right of home page) or www.Artfulwears.com (bottom left of home page). It's a white labeled solution that lets retailers drive traffic and conversions through their shoppers social networks. Not only Facebook, but also Plaxo, LinkedIn, the web mail clients, and even Outlook (for those professionals out there that have not fully converted everything to Facebook yet...).