The True Power of Facebook Social Influence
By Maja Martin
Facebook’s recent announcement that it has filed a patent to ‘identify experts and influencers’ in its network is yet another clever move by the company to monetize its vast user base.
This latest move effectively puts a larger price on an individual’s head if they are famous or deemed ‘influential’ – something which often goes hand-in-hand. Google, Yahoo and other players with huge amounts of data currently rely on the number of connections an individual has on their platforms to determine who is an ‘online VIP’. However, these companies know that a high number of connections does not necessarily equate to a high influence rate. Facebook’s patent shines because it looks at who shares popular content (the influencer) and identifies the origin of popular content (the experts).
Facebook’s patent is likely to result in a range of interesting scenarios and developments for marketers. The first is the acceleration of the burgeoning online hierarchy. Facebook users have long had value to different brands based on simple factors like their gender, age and where they live. By identifying and assigning value to their ‘influence’, Facebook has potentially opened a Pandora’s Box of new factors marketers will need to consider when identifying targets for their campaigns. Factors such as what content these influencers share, when they share content, who reposts it, why they repost it, where the content originated and whether the user’s influence is increasing or decreasing could just be the tip of the iceberg. Marketers will need to adapt fast to these changes. Marketing campaigns will become increasingly complicated to sell to brands, and ad tech will need to adapt quickly with a lot of testing to work out the best ROI.
The ability to identify ‘influencers’ and ‘experts’ is incredibly useful for brands. However, these labels and positions are very dynamic. The influence of a user can increase or decrease rapidly. This poses a further challenge to marketers: how do they ensure that an ongoing marketing campaign remains flexible enough to adapt to the changing fortunes of influencers? Similarly, Facebook has a challenge to ensure that they maintain an environment which is conducive to growing the number of influencers on its site. This may become more difficult as social media users are notoriously fickle. Users may not enjoy having more content shared on their news feeds, especially if there is a noticeable increase in marketing material. The challenge for Facebook is to ensure that the quality of content targeted at its influencers and subsequently shared is of a high quality. This may mean that Facebook puts a higher burden on brands and marketers using its database to supply better content.
This development is good news for ad networks. However, there is a potential issue that some users deemed as ‘influencers’ may feel uneasy at the fact that their popularity has been commoditized. Similarly, ‘regular’ users may not be keen to learn that they aren’t as valuable to Facebook as their influential counterparts. Some influencers could resent their new position and decrease the amount they share. Other users could become suspicious about whether the content their influential friends are posting is actually of interest or purely marketing material. Although it’s likely these concerns will only be felt by a minority of users, it will be important for Facebook to bear them in mind nonetheless.
Facebook has always been canny when it comes to developing relationships with advertisers. It recognized early on that selling advertising space was a key way to making money and this latest development will no doubt be a further boost to its coffers. However, whether other social networks will follow suit and also start charging a premium for advertising to famous individuals remains to be seen.
Maja Martin is Director of Marketing at cross-channel advertising platform dmg and as a marketing and communications professional has worked in multi-national corporate and in smaller, independent environments in several countries. She has an extensive background in various markets and in managing projects around the world. Maja studied at the Universities of Zurich and Amsterdam where she gained an MA in Communication Studies. In 2013 she joined dmg where she currently leads the global marketing and communications activities.