Posts Tagged ‘social networking’

Her likes are real, but she is not

OMG cant wait 2 have sum Kraft Anything Dressing & Welch's Fruit Snacks 4 dinner lol

Facebook’s business model, like that of Amazon, Google and myriad other network-driven companies, depends to a great extent on having good predictive algorithms for what their users will respond positively towards. Amazon uses characteristics about you and your past purchases to show you things that maybe you’ll want to buy; Google and Facebook want to show you ads that will be relevant and effective.

But with Facebook, it’s not just ads; they also use algorithms to determine what things you might want to like, what events you might be interested in, and which people you might already know. Generally, when those people come up for me, they’re people who have some connection to my family, school and work networks — I may know this person, and Facebook tells me we’ve got 12 mutual friends. Occasionally, though, I get people that I have no clear connection to, and sometimes I’ll click through to see if it’s someone I’m connected to locally or through some group.

Today I got the one seen in the screenshot to the right (names and images obscured). Who is this? It’s a young lady who apparently graduated from Lyndon High School in Lyndon, KS, in 2010; she has three Facebook friends. She has an extremely common last name, which is shared by two of her friends. Two of her friends are also part of the Lyndon High School network. Now that seems weird. Needless to say, I don’t know her. I’ve spent a total of about nine hours in the state of Kansas, and none of it in Lyndon, which is about 30 miles due south of Topeka.

But check out the things she likes: PetSmart, Honey Bunches of Oats, Seattle’s Best Coffee, etc. Everything she likes is a retail store or a consumer product in the food and beauty sectors. How many 20-year-olds do you know that have three Facebook friends and like Snausages? So I’m pretty sure this is a bot, designed to get slow-witted, 30-something men to check out how Country Time Lemonade can bring a little excitement to their lives. This is a pretty interesting tactic if that’s what it is, but you’d think a cross-promotion with a record label and a TV network would make the thing look a lot more realistic.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 16:52, September 10 || No Comments »

Twitter as a micro-targeted mobilization tool

Higher rates of Twitter usage for blacks and for sub/urban dwellers, but neither category is anywhere near as strongly predictive as age. (Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project)

Yesterday I mentioned the turnout uncertainty of Barack Obama’s young and black supporters, built at least partly on the perception that their votes aren’t needed to get Obama over the top. These aren’t people who need to be persuaded to vote for Obama, but they do need to be persuaded to vote. We know that simply being asked to vote does a surprisingly good job of getting people to the polls, which suggests that the Obama campaign to target these would-be voters with a GOTV message. Traditionally, this is the domain of the campaign’s ground operation, but is that still the best or only thing to rely on?

The demographic make-up of the “unlikely” supporters makes Twitter a potentially attractive venue in which to build a new kind of targeted messaging strategy. Looking at the most recent available data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (from August 2011, unfortunately), the familiar Twitter usage pattern emerges. Overall usage is about 9.3% of the population — that’s the entire population, not just Internet users, which is the denominator Pew generally uses in their reports. But there’s a clear racial difference, with blacks using Twitter at an 18.4% rate and non-blacks at 8.0%, and an even stronger age relationship. Of those in the 18-24 group (who were mostly not old enough to vote in 2008, keep in mind), 14.4% use Twitter; for 25-34-year-olds, it’s 16.4%, and after that it drops off considerably.

But the big finding for a social messaging campaign is that race and age interact — blacks in those youngest two age groups use Twitter at rates of 33.3% and 22.6%, respectively. Not surprisingly, the division between urban/suburban and rural somewhat mirrors the racial division. The two youngest age groups respectively have 20.3% and 17.2% usage among urban and suburban residents, but just 8.3% and 10.2% among rural residents. Compare this all with Facebook, which sees no race or community type relationships — only age — across its 60% overall usage rate.

The greater prevalence of Twitter in cities suggests something of a geographic bias to its structure, and that’s something that could be leveraged in a GOTV campaign — after all, the “get out” outcome is a pretty key part of such an operation. But its social messaging structure would also be key, allowing the campaign to create starting point messages that could be retweeted and shared throughout a trust-driven social network. Twitter’s differences from Facebook come into play here, as well. Because Twitter is just a message-sharing platform (as opposed to a game/calendar/affinity/etc. platform), it could encourage the spreading of GOTV messages, particularly to individuals who might use it primarily for non-political purposes (e.g., following celebrities or talking with friends).

These messages would be received not by a representative part of the population, but disproportionately by young city-dwellers, meaning they could be targeted with that audience in mind. In fact, once the network is built up, individuals could potentially be targeted with messages tailored either for themselves or to be spread out to their networks. In a way, this approach is the opposite of what they did in 2008 with the site, which facilitated connections within the context of the campaign, and only between those already committed enough to come in and sign up for another social network site. Targeting existing Twitter users and their extended, potentially local networks would bring the campaign to the doorstep of the loosely affiliated voter.

Filed: We R in Control || 8:38, August 21 || No Comments »

The black box of Facebook

Facebook’s latest innovation is its new Lightbox-esque picture viewer, a very slight change in comparison with the recent big profile changes. Some are predictably annoyed by this change, but it’s an interesting illustration of the inability of any large web organization to ever let well enough alone. Unlike other media, the web is in a constant state of flux. People inside Facebook would probably tell you that this is part of an effort to capitalize on the intense user interest in using the site as a Flickr/Picasa/Imagebucket alternative. But really, those are pretty diverse services serving diverse markets and needs. Instead, I suggest the following is at play.

First, Facebook, the site itself, is a fairly complicated thing. Together with the databases that power it, understanding the site is a big undertaking, and one that requires a decent-size permanent staff of coders. And even if it weren’t that complex, it’s the kind of thing you probably wouldn’t want a bunch of freelancers coming and going on anyway. So you’ve got all these in-house hackers, occasionally doing something big and visible like the new profile, and often doing lower-visibility things like optimizing site speed, developing new ad opportunities, etc. But some of these folks are interface specialists. They just did the new profile. Do you suppose Facebook wants to pay them to sit on their thumbs until it’s determined that the user base is ready to tolerate another significant interface change? Probably not. They need to be working on and changing something in order to justify their salaries. And that’s fine, because a) users have consistently shown that their initial annoyance will subside without any significant number of account deletions, and b) some seemingly minor interface changes that are hated at first become major deals later on (e.g., the news feed). If this really is just about Flickr, well, Flickr is constantly updating, too. So is Google and everybody else. And before you know it, the market has produced a non-stop interface churn.

(And yes, after more than a month, this is what gets me back to posting.)

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 23:56, February 19 || No Comments »

The charge of the like brigade

In my particular position as a journalism professor who studies and consumes a lot of political media, I’ve been hearing from many corners that social networking is vital to political campaigning and the future of the news industry. No one ever seems to be able to tell me why, and I remain extremely skeptical. I consider this new Trilogy Interactive report a bit of vindication:

[Trilogy] found only a slight correlation between social media popularity and success in the Senate. That correlation “effectively disappeared” in House and gubernatorial races. … Trilogy says the Facebook margin of victory only explained about 13% of voting results. For gubernatorial races, that correlation is even lower, with the strength of a candidate’s Facebook presence only explaining about 0.8% of the vote margin. And for House races, there was actually a slight negative correlation, meaning a stronger Facebook popularity was associated with a smaller margin of victory.

And the visuals — first Senate, then House:

Senate/Facebook chart

House/Facebook chart

On a semi-related note, I’m presenting a paper called “Sarah Palin Likes This: Discussion of the ‘Death Panel’ Note in Social Media” at the annual MAPOR conference this weekend.

Filed: We R in Control || 16:29, November 17 || No Comments »