Keep Your Head in the (Tag) Clouds

Combining behavioral targeting with social networks isn’t a new concept. Since online social platforms host profiles ripe with geographic, demographic, and user-interest data, it’s only logical for marketers to target and build campaigns based on such self-identified interests and preferences.

Fox Interactive Media, for instance, has taken MySpace user data and created a number of enthusiast and lifestyle segments. These segments are then broadly grouped in 10 super-segments with 3 to 10 million members each, according to a published report.

Despite the wealth of info available on social networks, there has been some contention about the accuracy and thus usefulness of user profiles for targeting purposes. It’s estimated that 30 percent of profile information is erroneous because profiles may be inaccurately filled in due to privacy concerns and humor. Just think about all the people you know on your social networks who intentionally make their profiles appear as outlandish as possible. Those with a sarcastic sense of humor often turn their profile page into an irony-laden playground.

What Can Be Used Besides Profiles?

One element of social network sites worthy of marketers’ attention is tag clouds (define). Sites like enable their users to create bookmarks and assign them page tags or keywords. Because people tag and save things that are appealing and relevant to them, tag clouds can be seen as a snapshot of their interests. Such information can be used for targeting purposes and help advertisers orient campaigns.

For instance, the most prominent tags in my friend’s tag cloud are “art,” “culture,” “design,” and “social commentary.” Those tags are pretty representative of his likings, so even if Amazon had no data on my friend’s purchase history, it could still make a sound recommendation based on keywords in his tag cloud. Perhaps Amazon could suggest a book on modern design or a Saul Williams CD. Either one would have a good chance of piquing his interest and potentially leading to a sale.

On a similar note, looking at tag clouds can reveal insight into customer minds. For example, which words do people associate with a given brand? What tone and language are used to describe a certain product? Words are powerful communicators of thought and emotion. Discovering the vernacular that surrounds a brand or product by observing consumer tag clouds can certainly generate some insight on how an audience feels and thinks. Gene Smith, author of “Tagging: People-powered Metadata for the Social Web,” aptly explains why people tag:

    The motivations to tag can be categorized into two high-level practices: organizational and social. The first arises from the use of tagging as an alternative to structured filing; users motivated by this task may attempt to develop a personal standard and use common tags created by others. The latter expresses the communicative nature of tagging, wherein users attempt to express themselves, their opinions, and specific qualities of the resources through the tags they choose.

Tags as Modes of Communication

Tags are also used as a way for brands and companies to communicate with their audiences. The Gothamist, for instance, taps into and Flickr users for photographs and article links. The online publisher actively seeks contribution from the public and requests article links and pictures. If a reader has something to share, she can tag a link in her account with “for:gothamist” and send photos to the Gothamist database by tagging photos in Flickr with “gothamist.” Not only is this a great method for free outsourcing, Gothamist is utilizing tags as a way to connect with its readers. Similarly, marketers can connect with consumers by tapping into their social sites involving tags and serving up appropriate ads based on key words in tag clouds.

Keep Your Head in the Clouds

It’s well recognized that social networks are ideal platforms for gathering data for behavioral targeting. Not only is the info readily available, it is also voluntarily provided — often in great detail. Tag clouds as an additional source of insight into consumer behaviors, attitudes, and preferences will undoubtedly aid targeting efforts. While tags may not illuminate purchasing behavior, they can certainly act as a side dish to the main behavior meal. They help marketers gain a more comprehensive picture of consuming minds. In an industry that seeks innovative methods for slicing the consumer database into meaningful groups, tag clouds can serve as a dynamic way to segment and allow each individual to become part of multiple segments at the same time. Marketers should consider tag clouds as a gauge of consumer interest.

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