SxSW Panel: Harvesting Consumer Intent from the Social Web

To those of you who made it to our over-subscribed SxSW panel, thanks for showing up, for engaging and for expressing so much support. To those of you who got shut out, please accept our apologies. Apparently SxSW did not anticipate the demand for this topic and only gave us room for a few hundred attendees.

I thought I’d share a recap here, as there seems to be no shortage of interest in the interest graph.

We were lucky enough to have Venture Beat’s Jolie O’Dell moderate a group that included Springpad founder Jeff Janer; Vayner Media founder AJ Vaynerchuk; strategist Farrah Bostic, and myself.

Wanting to avoid the pitfall of too many panels – unfocused, rambling conversation — we actually determined our questions in advance, prepared answers and assigned roles.  We even used an interest graph platform, Springpad, to share and exchange ideas.

Panel Thesis

We had point of view that we could all agree on,

  • The interest graph is replacing the social graph as the new frontier.
  • It offers a better opportunity for brands and marketers to connect and engage with prospects, customers and community.
  • Learning to engage, add value, and both learn from and market to the data are the ingredients for success

We then answered eight questions.

How is the interest graph (and with it the expression of intent) going to change how both consumers and brands use social media?

I used a couple of simple examples to answer this. Take my Facebook friend Alison. We share some interests. But if I friend her on Facebook I might find my stream cluttered with updates on shopping trips or cat memes. Those are her interests. However, Alison knows Austin restaurants, business books and social media trends. What if I could follow just those topics? Then Alison would become a true source of knowledge.  And I would have greater flexibility to filter and access the content that matters to me.

For my brand example I used the curious case of American Express. I’ve been a card member for 35 years. Yet on Facebook, they offer me coupons to the Cheesecake Factory and discounts on cruises. Look at my purchase history, American Express! I have never done either of those things. What are you thinking?

If AMEX could tap into my interests, rather than my friends, they would send me useful information on hotels and trips to the cycling capitals of the world. (Note, even after a 60 mile ride I don’t plan to eat cheesecake.)

What are the platforms and the difference among them?

We talked about Foursquare’s evolution from check-ins to recommendations, discussed how The Fancy can actually drive purchase, and showed how Polyvore adds value to online shoppers.

No conversation about the interest graph is complete without a nod to Pinterest, which makes it super easy to collect, curate and post inspirational images, so we gave them a pretty good shout out, too. But what remains missing from all of the platforms but Springpad,* are the enhancements and alerts that help convert interest to action.

There’s more, too. Specialised platforms like Get Glue, along with established players like Facebook, all have something to offer. Right now the field is crowded and getting more crowded, so you have to pay attention not only to what’s hot now but also to what might catch on over the next year.

Consumers are jumping on platforms like Pinterest, but do marketers yet understand the opportunity?

Not really. As they tend to do with most new platforms, marketers treat them as another broadcast medium, injecting their content and hoping for traffic. True, brands fit more seamlessly into the interest graph than the social graph. The former is about what we like while the latter is about whom we know.  But based on the brand behavior we see on Pinterest marketers have yet to realize that these new digital playgrounds are ideal for engagement and adding value, not simply showing off our wares.

Interestingly, Mullen’s recent Social CMO Research reveals that only 13.6 percent of marketers capture preferences or interests in their social media efforts. So there is a huge opportunity.

How can brands and marketers leverage these platforms?

One of the best lines came from Farrah Bostic. “If all you do is show, all consumers will do is look.” That’s a suggestion that we need to do more than post products and links. At Mullen, we recommend that clients foster discovery, learn to engage, and leverage the data. I won’t elaborate here as all the bullet points are on slides 30, 31 and 32.  You may want to check them out.

Are any brands getting it right?

It’s really too soon to say. We don’t have much to go on. But a quick search of brands on Pinterest shows that very few do anything beyond self-promotion. One shout out goes to San Francisco’s ModCloth. Willing to share and post far more than their own catalog, they’re inevitably learning what catches on with their community and offering more reasons to return, pay attention and interact with content.

What could brands be doing?

A lot more. Why not show your expertise in a subject other than what you sell (Burberry on London, Clif Bar on nutrition, Tommee Tippee on baby care) and become a trusted resource.  One of the clear takeaways from SxSW is that all brands have to move beyond branded content and become content brands, starting conversations, producing entertainment, and earning attention. Interest graph platforms are the ideal place to do that. After all, people aren’t there to see their friends but to explore and act on the things that matter to them.

What does success look like?

This is not about likes, followers and RT’s. Most of which mean little or nothing. This is about significant traffic and inbound links. All of which are measurable and can be traced back to your content. It’s about deeper engagement that leads to better understanding of your customers. Imagine being able to market to an individual rather than a segment or demographic. And finally, ultimate success consists of outcomes in the form of purchases and other actions. If you become a trusted source of relevant content, engagement and interaction will certainly yield higher conversion.

How do brands get started?

The list is clear. Explore the sites, establish a presence, don’t commit to just one site, learn conversation strategy, measure and track everything, understand the data, create APIs. And something that I’ve learned from all the startups with whom I’ve worked: get to know the product visionaries behind the new services. While they’re still young and small, they’ll be hungry to please, to teach and to co-create with you.

If you have any other thoughts or ideas, please share.  And help yourself to the deck.

* Note that in addition to working at Mullen, I am the CMO at Springpad.








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Excellent post!We are moving from Social to Interest graph. From "the people I know" to "the people that are similar with me" or "things I like".


Thanks for the presentation! 

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Top notch article. Very much like. Kepp up the good work


@JasonFalls thank you brother. Always good to get a shout out from you.


RT @JasonFalls: Harvesting consumer intent from the social web - Notes from @edwardboches and his #sxsw panel:


@rnadworny Thanks Rich. It's the hot new topic, I believe. Will share more soon.


@edwardboches Can't wait to see what's to come, Edward. Appreciate the blog link, too - there's no substitute for right "from the source!"


@edwardboches Thanks. I read it and really liked the commentary. I just failed on the best link! Good stuff. Going to use in my class.


@edwardboches Looking forward to it Edward. I think this is spot on.