What President Obama Didn’t Teach Us About Facebook

President Obama’s election generated a huge upsurge in online advertising as a tool by political and advocacy organizations.  “Obama the Brand” became the mantra de jour on Madison Avenue. And the Social Media gurus were almost as jubilant as the President’s campaign team when he won. After all it was social media that won the election. Right.

In ’08 we helped candidates and brands learn some painful lessons about social media. Lessons that remain seemingly unlearned as social media becomes the marketing cure for every ill.  In a recent AdAge article Bling Media, CEO Dave Williams, a ‘facebook agency’ talks about an “increased ability to see which demographics are most responsive to specific brands and campaigns.”  Really? Is that the best we can do?

Because I ‘liked’ you doesn’t mean I ‘like’ you.  Facebook fan pages exploded after the 2008 election cycle. Advocacy organizations were sprinting to become ‘facebooked’. And brands scrambled to put that little logo on their web sites.  But everyone learned the hard way not to mistake engagement with positive engagement. People “friend” causes and brands that they hate. And when they do, you can lose some real friends.

Don’t confuse interests with values. It’s great that Facebook can target audiences based upon demographics and interests. But let’s be clear, targeting interests is not the same as targeting the values and beliefs that define us as people.

Just because a person is interested in soccer and Chelsea football club doesn’t mean they buy foods based upon the value of ‘leading a healthy lifestyle’. They may buy a Chelsea football jersey online, but they’re probably less likely to pick up organic granola.

My network neighbor is not me. Most social networks consist of hundreds of friends, neighbors, relatives and professional contacts. How many of them accurately reflect my values and beliefs? Personally, many of my closest friends (20+ years) share few of my own interests and political views. I buy expensive cars, most of my friends don’t. I fly fish, none of my close friends do. If this is true of my interests, imagine how hard it is to predict my values based on my social graph.

Social Targeting is not Facebook Targeting. It is a common misconception that social targeters are gleaning information from Facebook – the mother of all social networks. The reality is they’re not.

They’re observing an individual who wrote a comment on a webpage, posted a blog entry, or visited an also-ran social network who is willing to share their data to drive revenue. This may be useful in understanding intensity of engagement. But is this all the social graph can tell us? Is this what advertisers think they’re getting when they buy social targeting? No.

Social networks fall short in delivering real people. To understand people, beyond what they do on Saturday afternoons you need to understand their attitudes, what they believe and value. Social Marketing only hints at such depth. But if you looking for to reach your audience based on who they are I know who to call.

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