Getting Active With The Social Graph

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I Scream Social"Social Exchange" is a column focused on the evolving roles of social media in online advertising.

Today's column is written by Andrew Pancer, Chief Operating Officer of Media6Degrees.

The rise of social tools has given the publishing industry an opportunity to leverage connections to increase traffic and time spent with their core audience, while attracting new readers based on their core audience’s social graph.

Just about every major publisher I can think of has enabled social applications on their sites. Some of the more popular are: Facebook, Twitter, AddThis, StumbleUpon and Digg. Enabling the audience to share, tweet and post content to their newsfeed is an excellent strategy, and one I have encouraged in the past. But most sites stop there, failing to unlock the full potential of the social graph.

Instead of simply placing icons on their website in the hopes that readers will distribute their content, publishers should actively push content and messaging to their readers and their readers’ social graph, both on their web sites and throughout social media. Using Twitter and Facebook Connect, publishers can share with readers what their friends are reading and what they are saying about the content.

Some of the folks I have worked with in the past would argue that the volume of information being shared is relatively small and not worth the investment of time or priority. When used passively, I agree that these tools provide limited value for most sites. But when actively built into your online strategy, social graph distribution can become a material source of traffic and revenue. What I am speaking of goes beyond tweeting your latest articles via a corporate Twitter account. While it may be an important tactic, this is just a small start. Below are other tactics publishers should consider using to fully leverage the social graph.

Driving time spent and discovery

To date, most sites display links to contextually relevant and popular articles. These perform quite well in many environments, but higher adoption rates are possible to achive when publishers utilize tools that allow readers to engage with content their friends are reading. Huffington Post is doing an excellent job along these lines. As a reader, not only am I told what my friends are reading and commenting on, I’m also told what articles are the most popular among my network. This is an effective strategy to increase time spent and frequency of visit. The likelihood that I am going to spend more time seeing what those individuals have to say is much higher than that of a random group of people. I’m also more likely to return to the site to see what my friends have read and commented on if I know that they visit the site regularly.

Attracting new readers

Publishers also have the opportunity to utilize their most loyal readers as brand advocates and attract new readers through their loyal readers’ social graphs. Available data, such as friend lists and social connections, can be used to distribute content and promotions to their audience’s social graph. Social connections are quickly becoming the best source of new readers for a publisher.

Driving subscriptions and premium services

Social graph data can be used to market to current and new readers both on and off the site. For example, The New York Times recently announced it will return to a subscription model. As the site begins to roll out subscription services, social targeting can be used to identify and market to the close social connections of current paying subscribers. This needs to be done with transparency and respect for privacy, and I would encourage publishers to offer rewards to their most loyal readers if they opt in to such a program.

Not all friends are created equal

As social media adoption continues, the number of friends, followers and other connections each reader has will skyrocket. Publishers will need ad targeting solutionsthat distinguish shared characteristics among a person’s “friends.” Why is this important? As I stated previously, social connections are a key component to leveraging the social graph and the number of friends I have is inversely correlated to how important each of the connections is to me. When I have a tight circle of connections, I am likely to be influenced by them and what they’re reading. But as that circle grows, I become less likely to click on a link to an article read or suggested by someone I hardly know as I am likely to click on a link to a contextually-related article. Extracting the most important connections within a person’s social graph is becoming critical for publishers.

Active use of social graph data can be a boon to the troubled publishing industry, but it needs to be done with the highest level of respect for audience privacy. When done correctly, it can be a very powerful and lucrative solution for publishers.

Follow Andrew Pancer (@apancer) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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