What’s Your Deal, Partner?

“Social Exchange” is a new 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.

I Scream SocialAs we head into 2010, privacy and brand safety will continue to remain at the forefront of marketer and consumer concerns. With these issues in mind, our industry made excellent strides last year. For example, Google and Yahoo rolled out preference management solutions. NAI and IAB ran consumer education campaigns serving hundreds of millions of impressions to the general Internet audience. Adsafe and Double Verify emerged to assist marketers and hold publishers and networks to a higher level of accountability. The list goes on.

Social targeting companies have also gained momentum in 2009, as marketers are seeing the tremendous ROI they can deliver. As the newest players on the block, social targeting companies have an opportunity and an obligation to establish best practices and set the standard for respecting consumer privacy while delivering strong results for marketers.

Because social targeting solutions are relatively new, there are still a number of important questions that marketers need to ask to understand the data used to target display ads. Here are a few of those questions:

1. Where is the data collected?

Marketers should understand where a social targeting company gets the social graph data it uses to target ads and get assurance that obtaining that data does not infringe on consumer privacy. Individual vendors may not be able to reach the desired audience for every brand. If the original audience base doesn’t match an advertiser’s needs, even the best social targeting solutions will not be very effective. I speak in greater detail about consumer privacy in the next section.

If the data is purchased through data exchanges or other third-party data providers, marketers should know if the data sets are unique or a commodity. They should also ask how the data would help meet their specific needs. If a social targeting company does not provide a custom audience, marketers shouldn’t pay a premium price.

2. What data is collected, and is the social targeting vendor committed to consumer privacy?

Marketers need to know what information is used to target their campaigns. Not all data is equally valuable. Targeting based on a person’s interests or friends doesn’t mean these attributes will perform, and to be sure that a social targeting company’s technology will add value to a media buy, marketers should ask for case studies and supporting research that justifies a vendor’s data and targeting capabilities will be successful for their brand. This will also help reassure them that ads aren’t targeted using questionable data. The use of PII and merged offline data are controversial tactics and marketers should inquire if a company is using PII and has consumer privacy in mind.

They should also know whether a social targeting company is a member of NAI or Trustee. If the company is not a member of these organizations, they should find out why. Any company a marketer works with should post explicit ways for a consumer to opt out on their services. This option should be available on the company’s website as well as on sites they partner with to collect data.

3. How will that data be used?

Marketers should strive to understand what algorithms and technology are used to deliver their message. If they don’t understand how the technology works, they should ask questions until it is very clear how the data collected is used to target ads. Otherwise, they risk paying a premium for a commodity service that over promises and under delivers.

4. Where will the ads run?

Marketers should make sure that the social targeting vendor understands their needs and can build an audience that fits their objectives. Will the ads run only on social sites or across the web? If certain sites or categories are unacceptable, they should communicate this to the vendor before executing a campaign.

Another thing to consider is the quality of inventory being purchased. Some vendors highlight their ability to deliver results at a fraction of the normal media cost, but this is neither smart business nor good for the long-term health of the industry. If a vendor’s technology platform is strong, the company should be able to perform for the marketer, while ALSO paying a premium rate to get the best inventory available through the exchanges or their publisher network. If a vendor is highlighting a huge ROI lift due to a mix of performance and cost efficiency, this may suggest that their technology is not as strong as it could be and the advertisements may be running on low-value inventory.

Social targeting is a revolutionary development for marketers. Its promise is incredible, and it will be an important part of the marketing mix in this coming decade. Let’s start off on the right foot by developing solutions that deliver results for our marketing partners, yield improvements for our publisher partners and show respect for the consumers we are trying to reach.

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

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  1. Good article, but self serving or not? M6D offers very little on your site about how you live up to these standards. Care to comment on how much exchange inventory you use, and how and where you collect data, etc.

  2. Steve,

    Thank you for the comment. Media6Degrees actively works to live up to these standards. Here are a few ways we do that:

    For starters, Media6Degrees observes the connectivity between browsers. We don’t know anything about the individual or their connections. We don’t know or collect information regarding gender, age, location, interest or friends. The company only observes key data attributes, including recency, frequency, reciprocity and proximity between browsers to target based on the inferred preferences of individuals who are connected online.

    Media6Degrees has developed custom data partnerships with numerous social media companies—ranging from social networks to blogs to photo sharing sites. If you use Ghostery or Firebug, you’ll see our pixel instrumented on our partner sites. We are compliant with the terms of service of our partners and their privacy policies and collect almost 100% of our data through direct relationships with social media companies. While we have experimented with data purchased through data exchanges, we do not regularly use them. We don’t work with any offline data providers.

    Media6Degrees is a member of the NAI. We were audited in the fall and passed without any issues. We offer an opt-out option on every page of our website, as well as the NAI opt-out page. We require all partners to post a link to the NAI opt-out page in their privacy policy and also were launch members of the NAI-Firefox plug-in.

    100 percent of our advertising is purchased through ad exchanges. This allows us to only buy the impressions we want. We partner directly with publishers and networks to purchase their inventory through the exchanges. This allows for an easy implementation of our solution and allows us to pay a premium for the impressions we purchase.

    Hope this helps,