Razorfish files Patent to measure Social Media. What do you think?

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We've talked a lot about social influence marketing over the last year and what it means to account for social influencers. From the trends, to the academic research, our client work and our own experiments we're methodically bringing social influence marketing to life for all our clients and for all our disciplines as well. 

Well, now we've taken that a step further with a patent filed on how to measure social influence. This is one more proof point of how measurable and meaningful social influence marketing can be for marketers everywhere. Its not the whole solution but a key piece to understanding the measurement and why and how things go viral. Please tell me what you think about this. Is it a big deal, is it a no brainer, does it add value?

The Data Problem:
Today social media apps (widgets, applications, viral media, etc.) cannot track or account for unique individuals other than those who download the application and those that download the application from a friend. Couple that with the lack of known quantitative methods for identifying key influencers within a social network in regards to a specific application and you’ve got a big problem for the industry. Certainly a billion dollar problem and one that matters a lot if we want to make social influence marketing more real for marketers.

Core Questions We Tried To Answer:
  • What is the value of a key influencer? 
  • How viral or how many generations of influence has my social media application achieved?
  • What is the value of someone who receives a social application from a friend versus someone who receives it via media or a paid seeding strategy?

The Razorfish Incrementing Action Tag Solution:
Our solution is the Incrementing Action Tag which is a set of functions within a social media application that creates a variable that may be read externally based on where the user acquires the application.  When a user downloads the application from the original source, the Incrementing Action Tag notes the source and assigns the downloader the value of first generation (or one). When another downloader obtains the application from somewhere other than the original source (e.g. a friend, other website, etc.), the Incrementing Action Tag looks at the variable (or generation) assigned to the current source and increments it by one; thus making the next downloader generation two or other appropriate generation number.

The Incrementing Action Tag is thus able to identify (via a cookie and unique identifier and not through personally identifiable information) and track social media, identify how far removed (generation) cookies are from the original source of the social media, and identify key influencers (again no PII- see note above) of users of social media. In essence, this technology enables our agency to create a system that allows us to value and reach key influencers across the Internet, regardless of property.  

In everyday language, this is very important as social media spreads through the viral influence. Brands really need to know how and why something goes viral so that when they optimize who their efforts, they can target and seed more efficiently.


Successes Thus Far:
We’ve successfully used the action tag in three instances with three different clients.  We’ve seen as many as four generations of pass-along for these social media applications and are now looking  to begin using the Generational Tag on all social media applications so that we can build our knowledge of social media applications.

Thought this is still in its early days, we’ve definitely taken a big step forward towards tracking social influence across the web and maybe, just maybe, starting to crack a billion-dollar problem. We're excited about it and hope it contributes in its own small way to the evolution of our industry and social influence marketing in particular.

Congratulations to the Seattle team that made this all happen: Marc Sanford, Sandy Schlee, Steve Ebeling, Kelley Maves, David Niffin, Christopher Castle, Frank Kochenash, and Jesse Drogin.

Also visit our Digital Design Blog for more information on digital trends and consumer behavior.

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Akash Author Profile Page said:

Smart thinking behind this, great progress as we've struggled with this exact subject. My only concern is this seems like a info an interactive agency or interactive team would love to have vs. what a client might look for.

Andrea Hill said:

Once again, the folks at Razorfish have recognized a significant challenge in digital advertising (I admire the work that was done on the SOFA paper as well).

I will admit that the idea of patenting this idea seems to go against the whole concept of social media. Social media is about groups working collaboratively, and ultimately the best solutions coming from collective work. Since the idea is based on the need to measure and validate the effectiveness of social media initiatives, I'd want to believe Razorfish appreciates the significance of these practices. However, the whole "patent" thing reeks of opportunism.

I'd love to hear more about Razorfish's approach, and how it is fundamentally different than what is currently offered by Widget Distribution Networks like Clearspring. I hope this information will be shared, either through this blog, or through other means (my email address is above! :) )


mchimes Author Profile Page said:

This is really cool stuff. But here is my question, how does this help you identify influencers? Are you able to track back to the original person who downloaded the widget and then infer that that person was the catalyst for the additional generations. If yes, are you able to find that person again? If not by name, can you find other people that have similar attributes and target them???

Brian Clark said:

Essentially indistinguishable, though, from the way MLM programs track tier recruiters (except for the "download" requirement.) I would think you'd have a hard time convincing people this qualifies as a novel innovation over those systems' prior art, ranging from CJ/BeFree to Linkshare and even older.

Not disagreeing that it is a valid epidemiological tracking metaphor, people have been using this in one form or another for a while. Might be interesting, though, to hear how you address the novel invention test.

DevlinD said:

I regard Razorfish as a technology leader in the marketing and advertising industry. It is a shame however that you guys have approached this from a traditional corporate perspective and tried to patent it. Patents are useless when trying to implement an open standard, which is essentially what this would have to become in order for it to be useful.

The idea is great, it could be have a very significant revenue model behind it. However with companies like Google already looking into techniques to measure influence, the considerable reach and resources (and to implement this idea you must have those) they have will play a big role in it's adoption.

In my opinion if Razorfish really wanted to contribute to the evolution of influence marketing they would have open sourced this and let the minds of the world take it places that otherwise would not have been possible under the control of a single company.

I love the idea though :)

I think it's a perfectly legitimate business decision to patent your Intellectual Property. In 2006, Waggener Edstrom applied for a patent on the Narrative Network in order to protect our approach to measuring traditional and social media. We're happy to share our IP with clients, but not with potential competitors.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for the feedback. I'm not sure if I agree over the fact that just because we're talking about social media nothing can be patentable. Firstly, this isn't troll patenting and it doesn't need to be open source for it to be valuable. (Is Google's Pagerank open-sourced?) This is also similar to vendors with unique tools for measuring influence (think of all the brand and monitoring vendors) and others like Unbound Technologies that identify influencers within social networks. None of those solutions are free or open source. They're proprietary because a lot of thinking, development time and testing went into them. Its their intellectual property and many of them are rooted in specific patents too if it is new and unique.

In this case, it is a new way of measuring the influence across the web with specific functions defined to put a value on the influence anywhere it maybe taken place. We're figuring out how best to use it. Nevertheless, I appreciate your thoughts and opinions.

DealerTrack patents a unique process for electronically negotiating and locking loan terms between banks and dealers. It's novel, unique, discrete and... indefensible caving on the first appeal.

While this is a slick counter that helps measure pass-along, Brian Clark is right. You'll have an uphill battle defending it.

Consider DevlinD's route open source-ing it. Otherwise, it's a recipe for distraction and paints Razorfish in an unfavorable light. Witness the focus of these posts.

Shiv Singh Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for your feedback. I'll keep everyone updated as we use the technology in more places and operationalize it further. Its exciting stuff and obviously there are always two ways to look at intellectual property (in this case in the form of a concept and actual code and formulas) and how it should be made available.

Augie Ray Author Profile Page said:

I have deep reservations about the concept of patenting a concept or process. We saw such wasted time and money and a supression of progress as people tried to extort money with claims they "owned" everything from e-commerce to one-click purchasing to consumer ratings systems. I like the thinking of ther Razorfish idea, but the very concept of patenting something that allows you to meaure how others are sharing (rather than owning) information and ideas seems very ironic.

V said:

Er...so what's the patent for? Doesn't it work unless it's patented or is this about self-promotion? Not that we care out here but call it what it is. The patent has nothing to do with measurement and everything to do with yet another agency trying to differentiate their services when they all off the same stuff in a different ziplock for freshness. Boo.

Rahul B said:

I think tracking media usage and influence is valuable and would benefit marketing companies (of course) and also maybe help artists who create the content.

Why the brouhaha over patenting? I think a company's innovation and investment should be protected with patents. Why does everything need to be open-source?
Whether the patent actually holds is another story but the principle is totaly valid.

Patents can help monetize the technology which in turn benefits everyone involved, which is a good thing.

The major argument against patenting is it will limit widespread adoption of what could become a standard. Widespread adoption makes this far more valuable in the long run since influence requires comparables- lots of them.
Tracking recurrence of cookies is nothing new so I seriously doubt this is protectable. Also the current environment in IP law is very unfriendly to process patents.
interesting idea though...

Martin said:

I like the measurement aspect. But I'm not sure about the learning/applying aspect. David Armano has written a few times about the fluid nature of influencers - while I may be hugely influential to my peer groups in one sphere, I am essentially ignored in many, many more.

So you be able to identify an influencer/maven for a particular category, brand or product, this doesn't mean thay are of any value to anyone else. There is also the possibility that if the brand went to social media properly, with an open mind and ready to converse, these influencers would become apparent fairly quickly anyway. You mention that you have piloted it with a couple of clients - I'd love a bit more detail!

@Shiv: What you are talking about is very similar to ForwardTrack: http://forwardtrack.eyebeamresearch.org/

It seems very insightful. But is a patent really necessary? I think this is something that a lot of people are going to find useful.

S said:

Think about the implications. This could be te next Nielson ratings system for social networking. Creating a measurement tool for social media campaigns would be great. Track back to key metrics and increases or decreases to guage success. I am interested (patent or no patent) to see how this evolves.

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