Is Social Data Good Enough To Be Used By Apps?

Is Social Data Good Enough To Be Used By Apps?

Co-Founder of shopping mag Pickie speaks to PSFK about how companies are using of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest data.

Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 11 august 2012

Much social data is out there, with a recent report estimating that there are over 340 million tweets about shopping every dayPickie, an example featured in PSFK‘s recently released Future Of Retail report discussed how companies are using personal data to create tailored services. Services such as Pickie are tapping into a mix of transactional, social and behavioral data to deliver shopper focused experiences. There seems to be plenty of data available –but is this data good enough to really use? Aren’t our social presences just avatars of ourselves – and inferior to the real thing? We spoke about this question with Sonia Sahney Nagar, the CEO and Co-Founder of Pickie  – a new online magazine that uses social media mentions from users’ friends to create a personalized shopping catalog.

In terms of the socialgraph and the data trail that people leave, what social platforms are companies using to access personal data right now? 

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are the most useful sources of data. Almost all social commerce companies (including Pinterest) aggressively post to users’ Facebook timelines, which makes Facebook an interesting catch-all for actions across multiple social commerce sites.

What’s the big advantage of using this social information?

You can build a very rich profile of users and their connections. For brands/companies/start-ups, at a basic level, this social information gives you the ability to quickly give users a great first-use experience. You can (and should) skip onerous onboarding processes to get users to relevant content more quickly. At a more advanced level, combining datasets you can start to discern things like affinity and ultimately influence.

Do you think people are becoming more aware of their information and want more value from the trade of data with apps and digital services?

I do. If you ask a user for their information (e.g., Facebook data), users expect you to make use of the info to provide a better, more personalized experience.

And it’s not just data, it’s also access that users are granting. Some companies request Facebook access so they can publish a user’s actions to their timeline and drive growth through a user’s social network. eCommerce sites are starting to attribute tangible $ amounts to this — for example, Fab gives users a $5 credit for keeping Facebook timeline sharing on.

What information does Pickie gather? Why?

We use basic information about an individual to make the onboarding process lightweight and then we look at your connections to see what products your friends & the people you follow are mentioning across different social networks. We’re doing a ton of processing on the back-end so these disaggregated mentions are presented to you in a coherent way in your Pickie magazine.

In our app we also ask for some shopping specific inputs (e.g., brand & category preferences). At a macro level we’re also looking at global Twitter & Pinterest data to determine what products are new & noteworthy for the brands our users care about.

Is social data good enough to provide recommendations? Don’t you think that our social profiles are disingenuous avatars of our real-selves? How can companies really work with such bluff?

The data is what you make of it. Social data is good enough to provide recommendations with the caveat that you need to be intelligent about how you filter & surface the data.

To your point, there are a lot of product mentions that are ego-expressive vs. indicative of intent to purchase. Both serve a purpose in shopping. Ego-expressive, aspirational items often serve as the inspiration to start shopping. In this case, you may not want to buy the exact item featured, but might be inspired to shop similar items. Structured data lets retailers or social commerce sites create these product relationships (though not many do the work to do this today). In other categories, like books, the majority of sharing activity is around books people have actually purchased & read. In this case, for example, a ‘like’ of a book is powerful, and when presented properly, drives conversion.

Of note, I believe that social data is a starting point but it’s not a closed-loop system for making recommendations. There are shopping-intent indicators that aren’t captured at scale in any existing social network. We have our own smarts that let us sort, sift and prioritize that, and are proprietary to Pickie.

In terms of back-end work on data, it doesn’t seem like many apps really go to the extent Pickie does. Do you think that people will tire of apps that don’t crunch data in a sophisticated way?

I don’t think data crunching is required for every app. I think it all depends on what value proposition you are promising to your users.

In social commerce, the difference to me is “curation” vs. “personalization.” Curation is a lower technology / data bar. Users expect more manual work. Personalization is a higher technology hurdle, but based on my experience working at Amazon, can deliver huge increases in conversion when done correctly.

There are many apps that promise “personalization” but then don’t do the work. I think people will tire of the promise of “personalization” if apps don’t do a better job of delivering.

Thanks Sonia!


A summary of PSFK’s Future of Retail report is available to view for free – and a download of the full 100 page document can be ordered today.


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