Mention “social graph” to social web users, and the two most likely names that you’ll get in return are Google and Facebook.
Popularized by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2007, the accepted definition of social graph is as follows:
The global mapping of everybody and how they’re related… users [can] benefit from the social graph by taking advantage of the relationships between individuals… to offer a richer online experience.
While Zuckerberg was talking about Facebook directly, this social graph mapping isn’t just restricted to the world’s largest social network. The other main proponent of this is Google, specifically with what they’re doing with their Google+ platform.
Understanding how connections online relate to each other, and at what level, allows Google and Facebook to provide a myriad of services and targeted solutions, both for end users and advertisers.
Sponsored stories on Facebook; recommendations of people you might like based on current connections; user specific Google Ads no matter what site you visit; web usage and click action determining product features and smartphone integration. All this and more can be defined by your social graph, the people in it, and the actions taken.
For end users, it’s meant to offer a better experience – you only see the things you want to see, and you only connect with and recommend the people and brands you want to be involved with.
For advertisers and marketers, it makes it a richer playground, since now you have the kind of information at your fingertips that allows you to laser focus your ad spend – demographic, web usage, likes, dislikes, friends, peer recommendations, etc.
It’s the ideal mix of user generated content with an advertorial twist.
But there’s another twist to this social graph power game – and it comes in perhaps the least likeliest of forms in the shape of Microsoft.
Microsoft Gets Real About Social
When thinking cutting edge social media technology, you probably don’t immediately think of Microsoft. Instead, computers, software and smartphones might come to mind, along with the Xbox360.
However, in the last 24 months or so, Microsoft has been steadily adding to its social toolset, with each addition making an interesting statement about where Microsoft might sit in the social graph race.
- In 2010, Microsoft added more social search functionality to its Bing search engine, allowing you to see what friends on Facebook liked and have that appear in your related search results. This was in addition to tweets appearing in search results;
- In 2012, Microsoft bought internal social chat platform Yammer, to strengthen its enterprise social solutions;
- Also in 2012, Microsoft and Klout announced a partnership that would show someone’s Klout score in Bing search results;
- And at the end of 2012, Microsoft officially launched their own social network, Socl, for anyone with a Microsoft or Facebook account.
These alone would offer interesting combination possibilities.
For example, an organization looking to launch a new product with a large amount of fanfare could identify the employees with the highest Klout scores, and use them as ambassadors online to promote the product within the most effective conversations.
Yammer could be used while tracking social search clicks based on friend recommendations, to alert Microsoft sales or service employees or partners to follow up for add-on sales, or enhance the loyalty factor by making sure everything is running as it should be.
These are the simple options that could be used now, to start to build a better understanding of how the social web interconnects users and what it means for business.
Yet it’s the announcement of Microsoft ViralSearch that really ups the ante and places Microsoft right up there with Google and Facebook in the social graph equation.
The Ripple Effect of the HyperConnected Web
Currently in product demo stage, ViralSearch could be Microsoft’s big play when it comes to understanding how the social web works, and what motivates people to do something. By understanding this, brands can begin to understand what makes a topic go viral, and (the thinking is) be more effective at creating their own viral content.
ViralSearch does this by analyzing millions of conversations on Twitter (the only platform supported at the minute), and monitoring the different actions, reactions and – ultimately – results of shared content.
By doing this, ViralSearch can then identify the tipping point of a viral sensation. This shows who propagated the most distribution and resharing – which can help brands identify true influencers.
Not only this, but ViralSearch can dig into multiple levels of connections, or generations of sharing.
Over time, this would allow brands to truly understand what makes a connection so connected; what content do these connections share and talk about; and if historical sharing and discussion can help predict what that person (or persons) may share in the future.
Once brands can identify that information, marketing tactics are completely turned on their head and targeting ad campaigns becomes far more scientific.
The Micro-Level Social Graph
Currently, today’s “social graph” is helping network developers, end users and brands identify what they’re truly interested in, both from a consumer point of view and brands looking to connect with these consumers.
But this is just the start.
As Facebook rolls out its Graph Search solution, and Google continues to place growing importance on its Google+ platform, understanding how people operate and how they connect online is becoming less of a mystery.
Today’s social graph is tomorrow’s micro-level social graph, where interests, purchase intent, archival behaviour and the minutest detail can be identified and reacted to – perfectly identified by the levels of generational actions that ViralSearch displays.
While Google and Facebook may be leading this race at the minute, Microsoft’s activity in the last two years suggest they’re putting all the pieces in place to grab their own slice of the social graph pie.
Who knows – it may even end up being the biggest…