VentureBeat presents: AI Unleashed - An exclusive executive event for enterprise data leaders. Network and learn with industry peers. Learn More

There’s a significant shift happening where more and more marketers are expanding from targeting Facebook Fans to reaching the people those fans are socially connected to. This change was validated by a recent ComScore report, which is being accelerated by a confluence of factors.

Marketers are realizing that: 1) consumers are becoming increasingly social in new and existing environments (hello Google+); 2) therefore creating massive amounts of social activity data; and 3) the technology and science that processes this data is getting more sophisticated and precise. This innovation can be likened to another “environmentally conscious” revolution (in the literal sense): the hybrid car.

Social is Media’s Hybrid

Overnight we’ve moved from John Wanamaker’s statement, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half,” to an industry-wide targeting capability that enables billions of dollars of marketing to be managed at the impression level. With this power, the onus is clear. Do right by the consumers and employ the best technology possible to enable efficient, welcome, and effective advertising programs.

Social targeting is the hybrid car of advertising–leveraging new technological innovations, dramatically reducing waste (emissions), and improving efficiency, and all the while employing responsible business practices. A marketer’s dream.

Marketers Want to “Off Road”

Like you, brands want to drive wherever they please. While they appreciate that you are committed enough to their products to become a ‘Fan’ on Facebook or ‘Like’ their content across the Web, what they really want is to turn you into an independent promotional engine. And that means going beyond Facebook. Brands are recognizing that much of our social activity actually takes place outside of the Facebook racetrack. For instance, think about how many times per week you view your friend’s Twitter photos. Or, for that matter, share or comment on a blog post?

Savvy advertisers are finding ways to tap into the connections we have with people in those contexts. If the holy grail of brand marketing is turning people into brand ambassadors, Facebook Fan Pages are merely one lane on a closed course. Whereas Brands want to drive their ad dollars responsibly and (so to speak) go off road and have the ability to choose from a variety of options, an SUV, 4×4, Crossover, etc.

Why Shift Gears from ‘Fans’ & ‘Likes’ to the Brand Graph™

With all this time online, we as consumers are generating billions of social interactions each day. Smart brands have taken notice of just how powerful and informative these interactions can be and are looking to their unique Brand Graphs to get the whole story. A Brand Graph reveals the social attributes of existing customers and can uncover large groups of high-potential prospects that are most likely to become brand favorable. Virtually every consumer is social online; required information brands need to navigate today’s social landscape.

Under the Hood, Access to Massive Data: It’s no secret that Google+, Amazon, Facebook and the like have heaping amounts of user data, but in reality, few brands are truly leveraging this data to expand audiences. Why? Most don’t realize what is possible and appropriate from both a technological and privacy standpoint. But privacy controls are solidly in place, and create “win wins” for everyone involved.

For example, marketers are proactively enforcing the highest levels of privacy and standing united alongside organizations such as the AAAAs, AAF, ANA, DMA, IAB, and NAI. Industry-wide, we understand that we’re at an incredible cross-road and if we don’t adopt and enforce strict protective measures, it will be done for us (without necessarily supporting the best interests of consumers and a growing industry).

Vast Social Population + Advanced Technology = a Marketers Road Map: Applying techniques like demo and interest targeting filters feels like we’re looking in the rear view mirror. Recent advancements have been significant; for instance, behavioral, look-alike, and retargeting have more narrowly honed in on how to find and reach a potentially receptive customer. But all of these lack a social element. Enter social targeting and a marketer’s Brand Graph.

This is the bridge between targeting advancements and an increasingly social population. Many marketers are realizing powerful results using their Brand Graph to identify new audiences, share insights that inform program-wide marketing and media decisions, and drive greater efficiencies.

What You Can Expect to See Down the Road

At a high-level, brands will (of course) still market to Fans, but they’ll increasingly look at opportunities to influence and grow audiences and engage with a much broader set of high-value prospects – i.e. users in their Brand Graph. It makes all the sense in the world–after all, if your friend just struck gold at Brooks Brothers, you’re not only likely to hear about it directly from her, but to also go shopping. Brands should drive the best vehicles for each individual journey.

Better, More Relevant Ads: The better the social targeting, the more relevant the ad. Let’s say for example you’re a loyal “America’s Got Talent” junkie, but don’t do much online to exhibit your dedication. You haven’t Liked the network or show on Facebook. You don’t Tweet about it. But, you do talk to your colleagues at work and your friends at dinner about the episode you just watched. Social targeting values these connections that are usually invisible to marketers. It identifies the people that the “America’s Got Talent” devotee shares and connects with most online and let brands put ads in front of those consumers who are most likely to have been influenced.

An Industry Awakens

As enamored as our industry is with social media, very few take advantage of it in a way that really delivers the goods. Unlike how long it’s taken the auto industry to roll out a large selection of hybrid automobiles, the advertising industry is quickly realizing there are new, better models that meet the needs of brands. Social targeting your unique Brand Graph presents relevant advertising to a new pool of socially connected consumers, not just a retargeting pool of predisposed Facebook fans and followers. For perspective, this new pool is typically 10 – 30 times the size of a brand’s original customer base or retargeting audience.

We are past the days when retargeting is “enough.” We have the tools and the insight to truly expand audiences rapidly and, at the same time, have consumers actually “Like” ads and online experiences that are more engaging and interesting to them. Perhaps this could signify a time when our industry wakes up to the realization that online budgets should more accurately reflect the vast amount of hours actually spent online and the medium’s unique power to target precisely. Today, over 350 major brands understand and use their Brand Graph with 33Across.

Let’s face it, the world is social. Every major brand is rushing to determine how they become more social and leverage the influence inherent in their brand – their Brand Graph. What we’ll continue to see is that Facebook Fans become less relevant to major brands as they recognize that there are other vehicles that enable them to activate their Brand Graph and “drive” on their own terms.

Eric Wheeler is the CEO and founder of 33Across, a social marketing company. Eric was previously the CEO of Neo@Ogilvy and Executive Director of Ogilvy Interactive North America.

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.