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Online Advertising 3.0: Harnessing Social Media Users For Precision Targeting Of Friends

Do you advertise on your social networks? You might not think that you do, but every time you tweet or update your status on Facebook or post a picture to Flickr, you’re advertising – perhaps not with commercial or self-promotional intent, but you are advertising something: an item of news, a humorous post or a moment from your vacation. I don’t believe that Advertising is bad; but there is bad advertising, the kind that pointlessly interrupts and annoys and leads to no action.

As the Web expands and evolves from a tangle of static web pages towards social and real time streams, Advertising will need to evolve into a suppler and friendlier animal. Google may have perfected Advertising on the traditional web platform, but the door is open to new players who can socialize advertising. It’s not an easy task: the bull’s eye of targeting customers is getting tinier everyday. Enter MyLikes, a start up which has taken on the task of helping advertisers reach their base.

I had the chance to interview MyLikes founder Bindu Reddy (@BinduReddy on Twitter) to explain the service. Bindu is an ex-Googler whose experience includes improving the bidding model for AdWords. She’s someone I’ve known for some time on FriendFeed. Bindu’s goal is to create an advertising service which provides advertisers with an easy-to-use interface without creating the annoying disruptions of irrelevant distractions.

INTERVIEW WITH BINDU REDDY

Who are you? What do you believe. What do you do? Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your passion/interests.

Hi, My name is Bindu Reddy and I am the founder of MyLikes.  In my previous life, I was a Group Product Manager at Google and was in charge of product managing a host of Google Apps including Google Docs, Blogger and Sites.  I love hanging out on social media sites, making new friends and Belgian beer :) . I also passionately believe in the idea that real users with genuine recommendations/endorsements are the best ads for a product / service.

Before we discuss your latest venture, MyLikes, tell us about how Likaholix started and what got you interested in social software/networks.

Likaholix, was a private beta version of MyLikes. Most of my great discoveries/experiences in life are via recommendations/endorsements from friends and influencers I trust in a particular topic. With Likaholix, we wanted to provide a simple and easy way for users to share what they like with the people they know. I am also an avid user of Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook and believe that social networks are instrumental in connecting people with each other in useful ways.

MyLikes is your latest venture which seems to have morphed/grew out of Likaholix. What is MyLikes, who is it for and why should people join?

MyLikes is a word-of-mouth advertising platform that aims to connect advertisers with influencers. We provide bloggers a better and more effective alternative than AdSense.  By creating Sponsored Likes which is in their voice and engaging their audience they earn more money-per-click on MyLikes than with other types of ads like AdSense and banner ads.  Anyone who has a blog/website or a twitter account should join MyLikes. People who want to advertise their product / service via word-of-mouth marketing will also find MyLikes useful.

We’ve all heard about controversies over social media advertising and sponsored tweets. What distinguishes MyLikes from other Advertising services? What features does MyLikes incorporate that build trust and ensure relevant and appropriate ads are delivered? How does MyLikes work?

With MyLikes we want to bring relevance to the world of social media advertising and wanted to create a network that is useful for all parties – consumers, influencers and publishers. MyLikes has a unique pricing model that incents influencers to be relevant to their audience, gain their trust and increase engagement. We do this by setting the influencer’s cost-per-click based on an a MyLikes Influence score.

The influence score is initially calculated based on the Influencer’s twitter stats but is constantly adjusted based on the his/her historical click-through-rate. The more users like a particular influencers’ content, (sponsored or otherwise), the more they click on it, which in turn increases their cost-per-click. By bringing an analytical Google-style perspective to this space we aim to make word-of-mouth advertising useful to consumers, influencers and advertisers.

We want our users to genuinely recommend what they like and not just push “impersonal and non-targeted ads” through the twitter stream. We have also found in the preliminary analysis that pushing these types of ads are pretty ineffective. The web is much much bigger than Twitter and we really want to evolve into a word of mouth advertising platform for the web and not just Twitter.

You were part of changing the AdWords bidding system. How would you compare the needs of Advertisers today to the days before Twitter and Facebook? How do you see Advertising evolving? The Web is growing at accelerating rates: new social services keep evolving and it can be hard to tell what the Web will look like in five years. As social media becomes a more common presence in our lives, there seems to be a merging of personal and business, profession and entertainment. How can advertising continue to be a productive aspect of marketing with the many changes we’re seeing in the Web?

Advertising to-date has been all about impersonal messages that have been pushed to us everywhere we go. A lot of users don’t want to see any more ads. The real way advertising is going to evolve over the next few years is to become part of the “social / web fabric”.  Ads should be no different than any other piece of content on a web page. Ads should be relevant, engaging and useful to the audience. In the social world that translates to user-recommendations (both sponsored and not). As the web becomes more social, people are going to discover more and more new things via their friends and will use search less and less as a discovery tool. Sponsored Likes from MyLikes help users discover new things that they may find useful.

Twitter seems to be a new kind of Web in itself, one which may become a ubiquitous communications utility. Do you think Twitter – in its current form – has a solid business prospect; or do you think the service needs to evolve into something larger? The current Web interface seems to limit the to scale of advertising, while third-party applications bring their own limits. How would you counsel Twitter (or Facebook even) on their business model?

I think Twitter should focus on what they seem to be doing best – a great medium for individuals, companies and celebrities to build and communicate with their audience. Some of the communication is one-way, while others have more conversations. My favorite business model for Twitter is this: Let users bid on keywords to be shown in a featured users box along with search results. The idea being that people use Twitter to communicate with their audience and would be willing to pay to build their audience in a targeted way. It fits in very nicely with the mission of their site (communication platform) and in an age where engaged audiences and not pageviews is key, it could be a great business.

THE FUTURE OF SOCIAL ADVERTISING

Getting the attention of those you seek out is becoming increasingly expensive: it’s now easier than ever to turn you off if you’re noisy and annoying and obnoxious. In fact it now can turn on you. And yet, Advertising is an important way to nudge the right people into awareness of who you are and what you can do. The Web needs funding – that’s the reality of economics.

So, what do you think? How do you see Advertising evolving? What would turn you off? Would you consider using a service like MyLikes?

*This blog post was originally published at Phil Baumann*


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