Golden Ticket to Social Media ROI? Identifying User Intent

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goldticket_smallADOTAS – The social media industry is at a crossroads. On the one hand we’ve got staggering growth and incredible valuations for some of the platforms making the headlines, driven by ever larger advertising and marketing spend. But on the flip side, despite all the buzz, the commercial payoff for brands remains somewhat unclear.

This partly stems from a tendency to see success defined exclusively in terms of Facebook or Twitter numbers. If you run a campaign that gets 90,000 “Likes” on Facebook or attracts 40,000 new followers on Twitter, what does it actually amount to? A consumer’s throwaway click of a button cannot and should not be the only measure of success.

The huge success of some social networking platforms has brought a wealth of personal information and valuable data into the public domain – a situation that marketers could only dream of just a few years ago. Consider for a second all the data people publish about themselves online – their name, age, location, hobbies, interests, favourite song, favourite film, etc. – for advertisers and marketers this is invaluable for targeting their adverts, optimising their online campaigns and shaping their messages and strategy.

Now consider the value of that basic demographic information and amplify it a thousand times and you get close to the value of understanding expressed intent. This is no exaggeration. Imagine if brands, ad networks and marketers knew what millions of people were going to do before they did it, or exactly what they wanted to purchase and could target ads accordingly – offering them exactly what they want, exactly when they want to buy it – the potential is mind blowing.

Targeting content and messages to people when you know all their demographic information, as well as their current mood and what they are planning on doing next, seriously stacks the deck in favour of the brands that can tap into that level of insight. Someone posts, “I’m thinking about booking a holiday to Florida, but flights are so expensive” and as soon as its published, an online ad with cheap flights and hotel deals in Florida is served to that person maximising the chances of converting that sale.

Ad targeting has improved in recent years, to the point where brands, ad networks and marketers can make well informed guesses as to consumers’ next steps, based on their online behaviour. But the crucial point is that this is still guess work. Sure – it’s an educated guess backed up by sophisticated behavioural data, but it’s still guessing.

The difference between identifying intent and behavioural targeting is that the former understands and is able to act when someone says “I want to do this” or “I’m going to do this,” while the latter assumes that “because this person clicked X and searched for Y, they will probably be interested in Z”. It’s an improvement on keyword targeting, but identifying intent is so much more valuable.

Realising this potential requires sophisticated technology that can understand even the most subtle nuances in written language and then be able to dynamically serve the relevant ad or content alongside it. Although it might come as a surprise to some marketers or agencies reading this article, the technology to do this is not in a lab at MIT. It’s here and available now.

A new breed of services that leverages advances in semantic technology is providing the ability to automatically understand the meaning behind online content or conversations and delivering an infinitely more sophisticated analysis rapidly and at scale. Using advanced natural language processing technology, such as OpenAmplify’s (my company), it is now possible to analyse and understand all the topics, emotions, actions and intentions expressed by users within text.

One particular service leading the way in this technology renaissance is Radian6’s recently updated insights platform. Announced last month, it is the first social media monitoring platform to actively integrate external data providers in a complete end-user analysis solution. As CEO of one of those partners, this is a technology I’ve gotten up close and personal with, and it is already redefining expectations for what can, and should be, achieved with campaigns.

Marketers who harness this new wave of technology and identify intent in social posts have a great opportunity to go beyond the superficial “brand” engagement that is typical of most campaigns. I’m talking about deep, personal engagement that makes a real connection with users by recognising their intentions and serving a hyper-relevant ad or offer that moves them to action. Boosting relevance naturally lifts effectiveness, proves the value of social media and cements its place at the heart of marketing campaigns of the future.

Having thousands of people “Like” your brand on Facebook is a starting point, but it’s not enough. Having someone like you is no guarantee that you’ll even get to first base, let alone persuade them to part with their cash, and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.

The ability to accurately identify intent within social media conversations is a game changer. It’s the golden ticket to delivering a meaningful ROI that will finally prove social media’s ability to deliver on the bottom line.

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