Social Advertising: Serendipity+ or In-Authentic Engagement?

In recent weeks we have run a number of large-scale social ad campaigns for clients. On both the new twitter ads platforms in the shape of Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets, and also on Facebook running sponsored stories and page ads. One thing that's a common strand across these platforms, and is now becoming more deeply ingrained into Google's own Adsense platform, is the ability to target users based on behaviour, who their friends are, and "their social signals", those social actions we each make day as we like, comment and share out way through the web.

In a conversation earlier this week (see below) with Vicky Beeching (and more of her thoughts on her blog) I got thinking about just how authentic these forms of engagement are. There are two quite clear strands of thought about this.

From the point of the view of the advertiser, we are given an unparalleled opportunity to, (when done well) get messages in front of those who are far and away the most likely to be interested in what we have to say. In ad-land-utopia this means we get a far more personalised user experience, get less shoddily targeted ads in our various streams and feeds, and hopefully get introduced to some cool products and people that we wouldn't otherwise know about.

However we don't live in the mythical ad-utopia, and so in practice it doesn't always go quite that smoothly. In reality, some people make a random action on Facebook, outside their normal pattern and get thrown some curve ball ads for a few days. Over on twitter you talk about your mobile home for a weekend and then spend two weeks getting ads on twitter about upgrading your phone line rental.

Now of course in most cases this is not the result of people being intentionally annoying, but rather them not having a clear understanding of both the technology and the psychology of advertising in social spaces. I mention the psychology element, because actually this is often the most misunderstood.

These social spaces have a certain aesthetic that other advertising mediums do not, which is that despite the 800 million users on Facebook, to each user their profile and news feed is "theirs". We have a sense of ownership and possession over these digital living rooms. Most of you would be pretty upset if I walked into your living room and erected a giant billboard! That sentiment lives online too.

It's also compounded by the increase in mobile consumption of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If the figures are anything go by we are consuming nearly every social platform increasingly via smartphones and tablets - these devices command an enormous (and in some cases unhealthy) amount of personal affection. They walk with us, most people I know sleep with them within touching distance. So when you combine the personal attachment we hold to both of these technologies it's not unsurprising that a bit of bad targeting can really rile some people.

When all is said and done there are of course commercial factors at play here. Facebook shares, now more than ever need to start shifting, stock prices need restoring - and a big way that Facebook is able to justify its existence to shareholders is its ability to monetize its phenomenally sized user base. Twitter is on the same path, and Google will keep step to save both face and market share.

Unfortunately for those who don't like their news feed being overtaken like an FA Cup final pitch invasion, it may be too late - the advertisers are coming. And mainly because they have too. Print circulation is dipping, ad rates going up and marketing directors the world over are taking long hard looks at their traditional "buy big, but everywhere" strategies, because TV is failing to provide the kind of responsive real-time data that social and mobile can. The economics of it all are kind of too hard to fight.

So this raises a question for those of us who look at these things through a lens that wants to see more transparency on the web. Is this feeling of false serendipity duping us? Are we being played for fools? Or as consumers should we be pleased that our data can give us a more personalised experience?

I think however you feel about it, how precious your data is it you, is an important thing for us to wrestle with - but know this, there are only two options. Live with it. Or leave - because the Ad men aren't going anywhere.


Why Facebook wants to be your Social Operating System (SOS)

Last night at Facebook's Developer Conference F8, CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out two fundamental changes to the Facebook Platform, which I think are set to change the social networking game all over again. During the 2 hour keynote, the young founder announced a complete overhaul of the Facebook Profile Page (see mine above) - which will roll out to users over the next few weeks, which features a new layout style called "TimeLine" - described by the developers as "the highlights of your life" - the new layout automatically displays top content from your Facebook profile, for the entire duration of your Facebook life. I.E. - I can now scroll through to the videos / photos / status updates, that Facebook thinks was most important to me right from Day 1 of my time on the network.

Although this feature is likely to get the most attention as it is the most fundamental shift for users on the platform for a number of years - what I think is the real story here is the updated tools for Facebook developers - and therefore media institutions, brands and companies - which is OpenGraph. A new addition for applications developers on the Facebook Platform, OpenGraph moves on from the oversimplified social action of the "Like" button, to giving a far more logical and dynamic taxonomy to social actions on Facebook.

Simply put this means that now I don't have to "Like" something to share on Facebook - an application can have permission to automatically share my actions within that app, in a way that makes sense dependant on the content I am consuming. This means Spotify can tell my friends I am "listening" to a "track", BBC iPlayer (when the app is developed for FB) can tell my friends what I am "watching", or YouVersion (the Bible App) can tell my friends which book, chapter or verse I am "reading".

This addition will certainly improve the online experience for users, however for those of us concerned with the recommendation economy - who want to ensure that our apps / tools / products / brands have prominence on the world largest social network - the possibilities of what can now be done here look endless.

Say I am Harley Davidson (Disclosure: they are a client) - I can now create an app that will track my best rides using my GPS on my iPhone. I can let Facebook know through OpenGraph when I am riding, where I am riding and how fast in real time. But now that app doesn't need to build in the functionality of knowing which is my FAVORITE Route, OpenGraph can work that out for me.

Another key feature of OpenGraph is the ranking system called GraphRank which is built into the platform - which Zuckerberg claims will completely shift how application discovery works. GraphRank will now change the way a user discovers apps, by showing them updates in their Timeline from apps that are being used more frequently by their friends. Ergo - if my friend Rob, Jack and Ben all use Spotify on Facebook I am more likely to see updates from Spotify in my newsfeed - making me more likely to try Spotify.

All of these new announcements are exciting and truly progressive, and it's clear that the folks in Palo Alto haven't resting on their social laurels. However I think these new developments are merely signals of a wider plan at Facebook. It is a similar ambition that Google seem to have been pursuing for some time with the various projects associated to Android and Chrome:

The Social Operating System

These new "frictionless" experiences, extensive content and business partnerships and open technologies are not aiming to put Facebook at the heart of the web - they are trying to make Facebook INTO THE WEB. Facebook is endeavouring to become even more intimately attached to the social connections and preferences of users. Until now, your friends have been there, your personal content - your photos and videos have been there - but now the rest of the web can truly be there in real time with you. Why go anywhere else? If I have The Guardian, iPlayer, LoveFilm, Spotify and a whole host of other apps right there in Facebook - with all my friends aswell. It seems the new web may well be here. And it's chock full of recommendations. Welcome to the new operating system. It's a social one.

Are Google News Badges another sign of digital laziness?

This morning Google announced a new feature in Google News - Badges. The badges (as explained in the video above) are earned through reading around your topics of interest on Google News - i.e. the more you read on one subject the more likely you are to earn a badge - or add more "Stars" (Google love their stars) to that badge. These can then be shared through social networks (of course) and you can "connect" with others who read similar stuff.

This is yet another example of digital life that is being influenced by the "gamification" trend - the concept of turning previously private activities into to gaming experience where people are either rewarded socially or physically with a some kind of "capital" (If you are playing buzz-word-bingo whilst reading this post then you are likely doing very well by this point).

The question that this development has to beg of course, is do we really need to be incentivised in such a way to consume the world around us? As a world of fairly advanced adults with access to  a rich and diverse media landscape, do we need the digital equivalent of being given a cookie for doing our homework? As much as I am pleased to say that this is another example of the "recommendation economy" at work - I do sometimes wonder if this is encouraging a culture of digital laziness - a condition of the millennial generation that is actively promoting the suspension of discernment, making us all follow the breadcrumbs of "Likes", +'s and RT's.

Tesco create a QR code enabled "subway" m-commerce store

We have all had that moment of being stood in front of a set of train doors, or on a platform, or in line for the bus where rather than checking Facebook for the umpteenth time on our phones, we wish we could be doing something a little more productive. That insight, mixed with market intelligence is what led Tesco in Korea - to create a "Subway store".

Using billboard posters, emulating the shopping experience of walking down a supermarket aisle they have created a store that can be shopped using QR codes, scanned from your smart-phone. We have seen an explosion in QR codes in the publishing and events space, from delivering additional content from Wired to getting scannable tickets at the cinema, but few have made them successfully implement in the UK in the shopping environment, mostly due to the slower adoption of smart phones.

This seems like the obvious next step for QR codes and mobile commerce, the technology is now there and consumer adoption is growning - but will it take one of the bigger players - Tesco maybe - to bring it to the mums and the masses?

Over to you:

Have you actually bought something as a result of scanning a QR code?

How much do you shop by mobile?

Bringing your social life to life: Intel Museum of Me

If you ever wondered what it would be like if your life was turned into a museum exhibition then stop right now, put the credit card away and cancel that space at the Haywood - Intel have sorted it. Their new Museum of Me App - using Facebook connect, will visualise your social life as documented by your activity on the social network - and present it in a video of people wandering the halls of your life exhibit.

To quote Mashable on this one;

It’s kind of a creepy. The museum setting does make it seem a bit like you’ve passed on. And having your Facebook “experiences” stand in for your real life is sobering because it’s so sterile, especially when applied to the museum motif. And to top off the creepiness: There’s that music. The experience might make you reconsider your Facebook activity. Do I want to be remembered mostly for once having Liked a Louis C.K. video?

I see what they are getting at here - there is a slightly distanced element to the whole thing - but personally I found the experience quite moving - seeing friends faces amassed in a beautiful collage, seeing old "Likes" and videos you have shared recompiled in a crisp installation felt less narcissistic to me - and more of a spiritual reflection.

Having now been on Facebook for nearly 6 years, and being part of a generation of people who have been cataloguing life through it's servers (as scary as that may be to some) gives a great opportunity to reflect on one's past - to such a level of detail that before the site's dominance would just not be possible. Friends, relationships, loves and losses - it's all there, and the ability to scroll through and reflect on our own personal histories is a very cathartic and I think healthy experience.

Church, Twitter & Trinity [Audio & Slides]

A couple of weeks ago now I had a great opporunity to share some of my recent thinking on social media for the church - how it affects our attention, our understanding of truth and of relationships - with the wonderful people at All Saints Church, Peckham Below is the audio and slides of that night! Enjoy.

James Poulter @All Saints Peckham - Sociality by jamespoulter

Sociality ASPeckham 220511