Friday, December 12, 2008

Completing the Social Graph

How many connections does a marketer need?

Mark Niehaus recently wrote a piece about the idea of linking social network data with traditional data to create a complete picture of every person in the US.

For a guy who spent a lot of time in the trenches of data analysis and systems; I love the challenge - in fact parts are being worked on right now by numerous players. For instance, we routinely append demographic, psychographic and purchase data to social network profiles to help understand where and how social networks are used.

The marketer in me has a different opinion. A couple of thoughts:

1. While 'data-driven marketing' is great, the ultimate marketing objective is more strategic: How do we design and deliver goods that satisfy people's needs? The risk of using a humongous 1-to-1 database is tempting, but that is one-directional.

2. Influence, the mystical concept of one person's leverage on another (or many), is a function of trust and relevance. This implies that there isn't just one social graph for marketing, but a bazillion - one for each decision being made.

3. Even if we know the connections, the interests, and the purchase history - do we have the restraint to use it appropriately? Sure, the data is public or generated from opt-in but unless we have an invitation to use it; we shouldn't. I was at an open house the other night where Governor Huntsman was also attending and talking with one of our joint connections. But unless someone brokered that introduction I wasn't going to barge in and show him my wares. I had all the data, the interests and connections - but the timing was in appropriate.

4. Data is a like a silent movie - we can see a lot things, but can't hear anything at all. Those verbal cues are critical for developing relationships.

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