Social Graph Marketing Deems You Guilty By Association

The holiday shopping season is upon us, and online advertisers may be considering better use of social networks for more effective advertising this year. According to AdvertisingAge, a number of advertising tactics have been developing over the years that take advantage of one’s personal network of friends and associates, both offline and online. Yahoo, for example, has targeted the friends of Yahoo Fantasy players with Fantasy ads, and found an increase of quality click-throughs and uptake as a result. So this begs the question; can socially graphed advertisements predict what online consumers will buy?

Perhaps the more important question is whether or not these socially-graphed ads can influence what we buy. If you believe the old adage of one being guilty by association, then you’ll understand the potential for advertising to one’s friends. This works on the assumption that friends have similar tastes, and that the response to an ad will be more qualitative as a result.

If you think about it, this is how most online social networks, especially recommendation engines, operate. Last.fm for example, offers recommended music based on the content those in your neighborhood have listened to and added to their favorites list. So does this convert to successful advertising? 33Across, an advertising firm, seems to think so. A deal with Meebo offers 33Across more applicable data and more direct access to users. And as we saw with Facebook Beacon, better utilization of one’s Facebook social graph is something advertisers and brands are actively seeking. Services like Grayboxx and MyStrands have proven that some social data can be used for recommendation (and ultimately advertising) purposes without breaching the privacy of individuals, though the mold has been tougher to crack for online social networks, where users willingly share information about themselves and their relationships voluntarily.

There are those that have leveraged social graphs for organic marketing purposes, looking to common interest amongst friends for a more engaging interaction with media spread across a network. But how well would this work for advertisers, when it comes to moving beyond brand-building? While certain data about a user and their social graph may be able to tell us what that demographic will be purchasing this holiday season and beyond, it’s the access to that social graph for marketing purposes that remains more valuable to cost-conscious and effective advertisements within the social web.

Graph image from 33Across