The social graph: what it is and how brands can use it

The social graph: what it is and how brands can use it

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There is a temptation to think that the ‘social graph’ is a new thing or something that Facebook created. It isn’t. It is simply a way of mapping out how people are connected – their friendships and interests. These connections are obviously of interest to anybody who wants to understand an individual (or group of individuals) better.

Amazon.com’s use of Facebook’s social graph is a good example of the opportunities it offers to brands. It is simple but incredibly successful. If you connect your Amazon account to Facebook your homepage changes – rather than recommendations of products you might want to buy, it now shows you the five friends who have birthdays coming up and recommends products to buy them based on the social graph. This solves two problems for the consumer – remembering birthdays and helping you decide what to buy for them. Clever use of your connections and data to make shopping simpler for you.

Ultimately, whilst it is useful for marketing, the social graph should be helping brands to offer more targeted products and services. We’re in a world of information and choice overload; not everything is of interest or relevant to me and I’d like you to use what I choose to share publicly to help me navigate this.

A very simple example from the travel industry would be IFE on planes. Most systems these days have so much content that however good the user experience is, it is difficult to navigate your way to things you might be interested in viewing during the flight. The airline knows where you are sitting and if they had access to your Facebook social graph they could personalise your own IFE based on what they know you like. So somebody who said they liked rom-coms won’t necessarily be shown horror movies in their personalised list of content.

How brands can make most use of the social graph

However the brands that will make most effective use of the social graph will not just be those who make use of the social graph, but those who successfully combine social graph data with their own data to produce truly unique data sets that will help them to better market to and better serve their customers.

Competitors are able to get the same social graph data as you are, so you can differentiate what you know about people by overlaying your own internal data on them. Imagine you are a hotel brand – understanding the social graph is useful as you will get to know what people like, who they are connected to and can tailor products, services and messaging to this. But imagine how much more useful it would be if you combined this social graph data with the data you already know about people. You have a much richer data set and can start to use the data from the social graph more intelligently.

Photo credit: Naughts & Crosses anyone? II by Lucia Whittaker