Hacking Into the World of Big Data on Social Media

Anaïs Cooper-Hackman
November 1, 2017

It’s no secret that social ads and analytics have become the most valuable asset in digital marketing. Data is giving rise to a new economy that relies on audience participation feeding the knowledge machine we rely on, to get results.

Now data may not seem like the sexiest topic in the world, but I’m here to tell you it can be with the right perspective. Do all-star conversion rates make ya sweat? Does the idea of every person your ad hits clicking turn you on? Exactly. Big data can get you there.

Whether you’re just getting started or you’re triggered by the words “a/b testing,” social advertising is a force to be reckoned with.

Image via Venrock

Every single move you make online leaves a trace (Incognito Mode ain’t saving ya), and by collecting and analyzing those patterns, companies are able to get a more accurate picture of who their content is reaching and how their audience is interacting with it.

For example: Say I’m more likely to click “going” on a Facebook event than my coworker Grace, as she’s more interested in watching videos on her timeline. Facebook will start targeting me with more event response ads while directing video view ads at her. Serving Grace an event ad would be a waste of budget, as she’s not very likely to make that final conversion (i.e. click “going”). Analyzing this behavioral data is one way platforms can refine targeting and ensure results.

So in short, why is data valuable to your company’s digital marketing efforts?

Well, among many, many other things, big data allows us to see detailed demographics about the people who engage with our social channels. Think: Age, race, gender, location, income, device used to view content, job title, relationship status, hobbies, interests.

It also includes audience behaviors compiled through collection techniques like Facebook Pixels. A pixel is a piece of code that can be placed on a webpage to track what kind of folks file through. After months of data collection, the information collected by the pixel can then be used to form retargeting ads.

Have you ever placed something in your cart on Amazon and left the web page without making a purchase? Of course you have, I mean Amazon is like the digital version of walking into Target. You end up with everything except the item you came for. Now how many of you have logged onto Facebook later, only to see an ad for that exact product in the right hand column of your newsfeed? That’s a retargeting ad in practice and Facebook will keep on sending them to you until buy.

You know they are out here mining for your data. Image via David Parkins/The Economist

Data allows us to place tangible value on our marketing efforts in an unprecedented way. It can be difficult to convince people of the value of social, and analytics give us the hard numbers we need to make a case for the value of  advertising in this space.

Before the rise of big data, marketers would cast out advertising campaigns and cross their fingers. Now we can see exactly how many people viewed or interacted with our content, something previously impossible. When advertisers place messaging on billboards and in magazines, they can only make rough estimates–based on highway traffic or circulation numbers–of how many people their ad would reach. But now we know not only how many people our messages reached but what elements of an ad they responded to as well.

The way I see it, targeted social advertising doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As long as there’s transparency about what is being collected and when, I don’t mind Facebook diving into my data and doing the work of finding trendy e-tailers that fit my style, for me.

As the importance of big data continues to grow, so will the scale and attention to detail of the collection techniques.

So how could these data collection techniques possibly become more intelligent?! You’ll have to wait for part 2, dropping later this week.