Inside the social graph

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Social media, social networks and now the social graph.  The language might sound modern, yet the concept is timeless. Brad Fitzpatrick, a Google engineer and a respected thinker on the subject, describes the social graph as "the global mapping of everybody and how they're related." Fortunately for marketers, technology not only enables connections between people, but between people and brands. 

Social graphs are not limited to the online space; everyone has a network of friends, family and colleagues that make up a graph. According to Eric Wheeler, CEO of 33across, this graph underlies all communication, be it through a social network, such as Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, or even old fashioned snail mail.

In fact, early research on the social graph, known as the “small world experiment,” was conducted by postal mail in 1973 by Stanley Milgram. Randomly selected individuals in Omaha and Wichita were mailed packages, and then asked to forward the package on to the person in their network most likely to be connected to a target contact in Boston. As it turns out, the average path between two random individuals is significantly shorter than previously believed.

Fast-forward 36 years, and technology has significantly accelerated the speed at which these connections take place. “The small world phenomenon is now instant and pervasive on the Web,” said Wheeler. “You can now stay in touch and manage many [more] levels of connectivity than you could before.”  The same is true for marketers. Wheeler's firm uses connectivity to develop large-scale targeting segments of people who are connected to any given company's customers and prospects, with the end result of serving up more relevant advertising across the Web.

33across is not alone in this mission. Firms such as the recently funded Media6Degrees and Lotame are racing to connect the dots between the social graph and marketers. For Scott Hoffman, CMO for Lotame, the key is to understand the data behind the heavy users, or “participators.” “When it comes to social types of data, the pieces we find that are most effective are participatory activities,” said Hoffman. “We call them “verbs.” Posts, uploads, comments, rates, any time that they are participating with the community, they become an influencer.”

By collecting user data, Lotame then helps marketers to build custom audiences and the ability to target a specific user's profile, while keeping the actual identity anonymous. Most recently, the firm released Stadium, a product designed for agencies to use directly identify and target users.  “The product leverages our core data collection, organization, and targeting capabilities, and put the technology in the agency buyers/planners hands,” Hoffman explained.
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