Why The Intersection Of Social Media And AI Signals Promise And Peril For Marketers

Vivek Bapat

It’s the classic yin and yang of marketing:

Over the last decade, social media empowered brands to infinitely scale – to amass large audiences, seek virality, and communicate for minimal cost.

Now, advances in AI and predictive analytics offer us an unprecedented opportunity to infinitely slice, or micro-target—i.e., use the massive amounts of data created by connected activity to not only reach customers as individuals but also in their real-time context—as a consumer, a parent, a businessperson, or a buyer.

This intersection of social media and AI has created an inflection point for marketers in how they think of campaign and brand management.

In campaign management, marketers have long used market research to segment audiences based on demographics, work archetypes, or location. The limitations of both the data and the opportunities for outreach meant that until recently, we would define a handful of broad profiles as marketing targets.

But now, the ability to recognize roles and behaviors and the power to categorize and shape them for each individual at scale takes the immense power of predictive analytics and AI from the business realm to the personal. When an “individual’s moment in time” becomes a target-rich segment, traditional campaign management is turned on its head.

And this is not a far-fetched dream. Data analysts hired for the last U.S. presidential campaign reportedly identified more than 5,000 “psychotypes” of people interested in their candidate, and they—and, unfortunately, piggybacking foreign actors—were able to create messaging that resonated with tiny fractions of the population. They executed up to 50,000 -60,000 variations of the same messages per day on Facebook reaching audiences of just a few dozen voters in a particular district.

In human interaction, we reach the point of too much information (TMI). We continue to push and test the boundaries of traditionally accepted privacy.  Through social media, there are things we can know about our customers, potential buyers, friends, and colleagues. But, do we really want to know it? And most importantly, do they want to have this information shared with you? And do they even know you might have access to it.

These new rules have broad implications for marketers.

As we hyper-personalize campaigns, we potentially intrude. As we reach out, we potentially manipulate. The firm that worked on the U.S. presidential campaign markets its case studies in other areas. Advice to clients includes recommending messaging that begins with a “negative initial stimulus” followed by a reassuring solution. We all know that understanding our clients’ concerns is critical to addressing them. But, somehow, a “negative initial stimulus” sounds like dog training, not marketing.

As a brand guardian, I see another concern: The dilution of brand identity. As we micro-target, do we risk becoming all things to all people at the expense of our essence–a fragmentation of our true brand values? I picture customers asked to define a brand like the story of the blind men and the elephant. If each customer has only had a limited view, can they really appreciate the whole?

The worlds of social media and AI will continue to grow and overlap. This overlap unlocks unlimited creative potential for marketers to design how brands and people can interact with each other.

But while there is great promise, there is also great peril.

This article originally appeared Common Sense Unplugged.


About Vivek Bapat

Vivek Bapat is the Senior Vice President, Global Head of Marketing Strategy and Thought Leadership, at SAP. He leads SAP's Global Marketing Strategy, Messaging, Positioning and related Thought Leadership initiatives.