Social Graphing Impacting Search and Influence

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At this past weekend’s SharePoint Saturday Virginia Beach event, fellow presenter Naomi Moneypenny (@nmoneypenny), CTO for Houston-based ManyWorlds, which develops tools for SharePoint and Yammer around social capabilities, presented a session on social graphing where she shared an example that some of you probably heard through the news: a man noticed that his teenage daughter was receiving numerous junk mail items for maternity-related clothing and products, and confronted her about it, which she denied. As they investigated, it turns out that her purchases at Target had followed the pattern for purchases made by women who were pregnant. Through Target’s social graphing marketing efforts, they had profiled the girl’s purchasing habits and added her to a marketing campaign targeting soon-to-be new mothers.

While mainstream consumers may be shocked by this apparent intrusion into personal information, for those of us working in information technology this is not new. My first foray into consumer data warehousing back in the mid-1990s was all about collecting customer data for the telephone company, working with third-party providers of biographic and psychographic data, combined with our own billing and collection history, and merging that with geographic data to give our analyst and marketing teams the most comprehensive view of the customer as possible.

By the end of the 1990s, I was running marketing operations for another company where we had also added to our arsenal new campaign management and analysis tools to help us further track and monitor customer behaviors and market accordingly. However, we lacked any data surrounding the social relationships between customers. I recall a conversation with members of my team and our IT counterparts, sitting in a conference room in downtown San Francisco and discussing our plans for targeting customers for our next campaign (a DSL G.Lite rollout to the Silicon Valley area) and discussing the expensive and time-consuming efforts of polling customers for social/relationship data. Our decision at the time was that it was cost and time-prohibitive, so we went in another direction.

If you look through Naomi’s slides, she provides some good background on the history of social graphing. While the concept is not new, the worlds of social networking and big data have made access to and utilization of this data more accessible. Target uses it, as Naomi mentioned. Facebook uses it to position their advertising, with many retailed using the Open Graph APIs that Facebook provides so that the ads you see open Facebook somehow follow you to other websites. I guarantee you that social graphing is a key reason behind Microsoft’s massive investments in Facebook.

On a recent news broadcast, they focused on the success of one company whose name is completely forgettable and, frankly, irrelevant, because their goal in life is to understand the analytics around product purchasing behavior from Amazon and other review sites, and to build products based on what people like (and dislike) about those products. They rapidly create and sell small-run consumer products based on social graphing data, and their business is booming. Naomi mentioned a similar company in her presentation, but introduced a new story – that of “affordable couture” clothing retailer Zara. Their model is to monitor purchases, as well as community sentiment around the latest fashions, and then to produce low-cost, high-quality fashion in short-runs. According to Naomi, they release 2 new looks per store (over 1600 of them worldwide) per week (over 10,000 new designs a year) and can go from design to manufacturing to store in 12 days. That’s amazing.

I’m very interested to watch where this sector goes within the enterprise. Its not a stretch to think about how the infusion of social graphing could help improve the results of search, but I’m also interested in seeing how this accelerates the ability for organizations to monitor and measure social influence.

Where else will social graphing take us? What are your thoughts?

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.