Facebook Patents Clever Way To Advertise Just To Important People

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Celebrities aren’t like you and me. They’re better. Or at least Facebook thinks they’re worth more money.

Convince experts and influencers to like something, and everyone will follow their lead. The question is how to identify who these special people are, and Facebook’s just patented one of the trickiest ways yet.

The idea is that Facebook could watch the rate at which a piece of content like a link is shared, then figure out whose posting led to a sudden increase in share rate in their network. Those people are the influencers, and the people that they discovered the content from are the experts.

Facebook could then target those people with ads and presumably charge businesses a boatload to reach them. It makes perfect sense. Why would it cost the same amount to reach someone famous, powerful, or widely cited as someone whose endorsement won’t sway people?

Influencers can be identified as people whose shares caused spikes in the local share rate

Influencers can be identified as people whose shares caused spikes in the local share rate

Spotted by PatentYogi and Smartup Legal the “Identify experts and influencers in a social network” patent was first submitted by Facebook’s ads head Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in 2011, but was just granted this week. In patent mumbo jumbo it “comprises identifying the first users who caused the non-zero rate of sharing of the element of information to locally increase significantly.”

Other tech giants like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have received patents for this so-called “Influencer Marketing” but none use as clever of a technique do determine who the VIPs are. Google’s looks for volume of connections, Yahoo’s can look at how influential someone’s own followers are, and Microsoft aims to assemble a set of influencers with the largest unduplicated audience.

influencer Marketing patentBut these all have the same flaw. They use connection count as a proxy for influence rather than measuring influence itself. Someone who aggressively networks and builds up tons of shallow connections could be mistaken for an influencer even if no one believes them

Facebook’s method directly measures influence by determining not just who has the most followers, but whose followers re-shared the content. Even if someone had a smaller following, they could be an influencer in a specific topic if their word inspires others to share. And the patent further identifies experts because they’re who first gets influencers to share.

Marketing to these people is obviously quite lucrative. If they recommend something, their followers will parrot that endorsement far and wide. Bosworth explains that “experts and influencers may be identified for any subject matter…at any granularity. For example, experts and influencers may be identified for all types of digital cameras, or only for single-lens reflex (SLR) digital cameras, or only for SLR digital cameras made by Canon, Inc.”

If you’re Canon, the ability to target Facebook ads to people who are experts and influencers on Canon products would obviously stir up more sales than targeting people who simply Like Canon or photography. Virality could make influencer demographics even more juicy than people who’ve shown buying intent by visiting Canon purchase pages.

Facebook doesn’t always productize its patents but this one seems reasonably easy to integrate. The social network could sell these expert and influencer demographics to advertisers at a frothy markup with its category targeting tool.

Klout may have given influencer marketing a smarmy name, but Facebook’s found a way to do it effectively at scale without publicly judging people. And Facebook’s method doesn’t require participation (or even consent). If you’re famous, and on Facebook, now it knows how to put a price on your head.

[Image: Sony Pictures’ Talladega Nights via Insight Creative]