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Facebook’s ad targeting tools could be a valuable supplement to census data

Official census forms are an invaluable source for demographic data throughout the country, but for trends that occur on the scale of weeks or months rather than years, they’re a bit lacking. But a new study shows that similar data used by Facebook to target ads could help fill in that blind spot.

Sociologist Emilio Zagheni at the University of Washington looked into the possibility, in this case specifically regarding migrants in the U.S. and their movements between states. He’s previously looked at this topici using Google+ and other internet-based metrics.

Say you wanted to know whether East African migrant populations were tending towards settling in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. The census process is completed every decade, which really is too long a time to observe short-term trends that follow, for example, an economic recovery or important bill.

But by using, or rather strategically misusing Facebook’s Ads Manager tool, one can find reasonably accurate and up-to-date info on, for example, Somalian migrants to the Chicago metro area versus outside the city. Facebook has already extracted all this data — why not use it?

This data is, of course, not the whole picture. You’re not finding all Somalian folks in the Chicago area, only Facebook users who choose to accurately report their country of origin and current location. Compared with the data in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, it’s not very reliable. But it’s still valuable, Zagheni argues.

“Is it better to have a large sample that is biased, or a small sample that is nonbiased?” he asks in a UW news release. “The American Community Survey is a small sample that is more representative of the underlying population; Facebook is a very large sample but not representative. The idea is that in certain contexts, the sample in the American Community Survey is too small to say something significant. In other circumstances, Facebook samples are too biased.”

“With this project we aim at getting the best of both worlds,” he continues. “By calibrating the Facebook data with the American Community Survey, we can correct for the bias and get better estimates.”

Facebook trends mirror the census data, but tend to underestimate numbers.

With reliable but scarce ground truth data and noisy but voluminous supplementary data, you can put together a more precise picture than before — as long as you’re careful to control for those biases. Data from other social networks could also be brought in to even things out.

Zagheni and his team hope to refine the ideas demonstrated in the paper so that they can be applied in places like developing countries where self-reported data like Facebook’s is easy to come by but reliable government data isn’t. A “good enough” sketch of the population and recent trends could help with things like prioritizing infrastructure investment or directing aid.

It’s unfortunate that the whole thing required the researchers to abuse the advertising system to expose the data — surely Facebook can provide better access for research purposes. I asked the company whether that was a likely possibility. Zagheni seemed to like the idea.

“I certainly hope that there will be opportunities to work directly with Facebook on this line of research in the future,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch.

The paper describing the team’s work is published in the latest issue of the journal Population and Development Review.

Featured Image: FotografiaBasica/iStock/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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Gravy’s new mobile game show is ‘Price is Right’ mixed with QVC

Following the success of the live mobile game show HQ Trivia, a team of serial entrepreneurs have begun testing the market to see if another game show concept can work, too. Their new game show-inspired app, Gravy, is meant to be a riff on the “Price is Right” combined with a QVC-style shopping experience. That is, the “contestants” compete for discounts of 30 to 70 percent off the products advertised, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. In addition, through a side game, users can guess when the product – whose quantities are unknown – will sell out and at what price. Those who guess closest win a cash prize.

The startup was created by Mark McGuire, Brian Wiegand, and Craig Andler – the founding team behind Jellyfish.com, an older social shopping network that was acquired by Microsoft back in 2007, to help create Bing Shopping. They’ve also paired up on other projects, including NameProtect (before Jellyfish), printable coupons resource Hopster, social network Nextt, and e-commerce subscription retail site, Alice.com. These have either exited or shut down or both.

The team’s efforts imply a clear passion for working with brands, but getting consumers to connect with brands in new ways is far more difficult, as their track record shows.

That’s why they’re now trying Gravy.

The hope is that the excitement around seeing the product unveiled nightly – and knowing you’ll get a big discount if you buy – will become an entirely new ad unit of sorts, while keeping players engaged in a game-show like experience.

“One of the challenges with millennials is their short attention spans, and they don’t respond well to interruptive advertising,” explains Wiegand, of why the team wanted to build this startup. “I don’t think anyone’s really mastered how to monetize live video. So we came up with this opportunity to create this new ad unit where brands could tell their story, and – for seven or eight or nine minutes – create a live shopping event where millennials can tune in and hear that story but in a fun, gamified kind of manner,” he says.

Here’s how Gravy works. Every night, at 8:30 PM ET in the Gravy iOS app, a live host will unveil the product users can buy. Currently, there’s a rotating selection of hosts who work on a per-show contract basis, usually local comedians – not brand reps.

Players are not told how many items are available, but it’s typically anywhere from two to twenty.

Then the price starts to drop. If you buy early, you’ll have a chance to snag it at a slight discount. But the longer you wait, the higher the percentage off will become. However, you don’t know who else could snatch it up first and when. If you wait too long, the product will sell out.

Meanwhile, if you’re not interested in the product itself, you can guess when you expect it to sell out (meaning, at which price.) Those ten or so closest will receive a small cash prize – a split of maybe $200 or $300, with first place receiving the largest chunk.

At least 20 percent of sales are given away to charity – a nod, I suppose, to millennials’ interest in do-gooder style companies. But ultimately, that decision that has more to do with the fact that Gravy doesn’t aim to be a retailer – it’s not another deal-of-the-day destination like Woot!, despite the similarities around generating product excitement.

Instead, it expects brands to donate products and pay a fee for the “advertising opportunity” Gravy offers.

Brands will like Gravy because they get millennials’ attention for seven minutes or more, Wiegand says. “They love the engagement. It’s a highly engaged audience…I have a chance to buy the products, so I’m heavily engaged in thinking about that product. The recall, memorability, and all of the subsequent buzz – tweeting and all the social media that gets created because of that – is great,” he adds.

However, none of this is proven out yet – Gravy is just a couple of weeks old.

So far, around 50 percent of the products it has featured have actually been donated by brands, including 23andMe, 3D Doodler, Tapplock, and others. The rest have been subsidized by Gravy, including the bigger draws – like a DJI drone, for example.

It’s not yet charging for the ad opportunity, either, as it’s hoping to grow the audience first.

The company says that’s already underway. After alerting friends and family to the app’s launch, the games are seeing 600+ players nightly, Wiegand claims, and is growing its audience 15 percent week-over-week. Around half of those who signed up to play are returning to watch around three shows per week, he says.

While the early numbers are promising if true, and it’s clear the team likes to work in the general space of connecting brands with consumers, Gravy still feels – like much of what the founders have created before – designed primarily with the needs of brands in mind, before that of consumers.

A “Price is Right”-style app would be a lot of fun, but this isn’t it – it’s, at the end of the day, an invitation to watch an ad and shop at a discount. That’s not something consumers may want to do every day, long-term – even if you try to woo them with a small cash prize won through a guessing game.

And like Trivia HQ , which has dropped from a top 20 app to the 140’s (by App Store overall rank, the shine may eventually wear off for Gravy, too. Especially because it’s not primarily a game – and millennials, as fickle and short attention-spanned as they may be (really? the generation that binges entire TV seasons in a few days?), will know it.

Wiegand isn’t concerned, though.

He says he gets bored with trivia apps in a few weeks, but Gravy is different.

“I always shop and I always like a deal. The deal industry and the shopping industry are so much larger than the trivia space,” Wiegand insists. “And the thrill of seeing a product that you like going down into the sixties and seventies percent off is unbelievably thrilling,” he enthuses. “We are able to feature things that have the best price on the planet of first-run products…it creates this heart-pounding, exhilarating and experience like, ‘Should I buy? Oh my God, look at this price. I can’t turn it down,’” he says.

The company raised $2.1 million in seed funding from a range of investors, including the founders at the turn of the year. Around eighty percent was outside capital, led by New Capital. The under-20 person team is based in both Madison and Minneapolis.

Gravy is on the App Store here.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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PlayingViral helps marketers grabs millennials’ attention with quick, interactive surveys

PlayingViral founders Steven Wongsoredjo and Michael Rendy

Millennials have been accused of possessing shorter attention spans than goldfish. Though that claim is questionable, online marketers know display ads and even sponsored content are no longer enough to attract twentysomethings. PlayingViral gives brands a new way to lure young consumers with embeddable surveys and quizzes that use machine-learning algorithms to reach the right audiences.

The second Indonesian company accepted into Y Combinator (after bill payment platform Payfazz), PlayingViral finished the accelerator program last month and is now getting ready to expand in the United States, Canada, Brazil and other markets.

PlayingViral is part of Nusantara Technology, a tech and media group that develops marketing tools for clients, including Proctor & Gamble, that want to reach young Indonesians. So far, the company has received investment from former Sequoia Capital partner Yinglan Tan through his new firm Insignia Ventures, former Indonesian Minister of Trade Mari Elka Pangestu and Y Combinator.

Both Nusantara and PlayingViral were founded by chief executive officer Steven Wongsoredjo and chief product officer Michael Rendy. About a year after launching Nusantara in 2016, the team began to realize that “the online media business has the potential to go big, but it’s hard to scale because it lacks a human touch,” Wongsoredjo told TechCrunch. PlayingViral was created to fix that problem.

PlayingViral’s personalized, interactive content is intended to attract users who are jaded by banner ads. For example, a property developer used PlayingViral to create a survey that tells users what kind of house they can afford based on their income level and location. Other customers have embedded quizzes that reward players with discount codes. There are hundreds of dialects spoken in Indonesia and PlayingViral relies on its machine-learning algorithms to adapt content to different languages and decide where they should be placed in Nusantara’s online media network. It also analyzes what keywords, graphics and colors get the most engagement, helping brands refine their marketing strategies.

An example of PlayingViral’s interactive content is embedded below, while demos on PlayingViral’s site show its other uses, including text message stories and Mad Libs-style quizzes.

 

Wongsoredjo says PlayingViral became profitable just two months after it launched in January. Clients include Singapore Airlines, Garuda Indonesia and Nokia. Its biggest competitor is SurveyMonkey, but PlayingViral differentiates by focusing on more informal and shorter surveys. Of course, other companies are also developing interactive embeddable content, but Wongsoredjo says PlayingViral and Nusantara plan to future-proof themselves by building more comprehensive data sets about what captures millennials’ attention than their competitors.

“If someone wants to copy us, they have to do a lot of experimenting,” says Wongsoredjo.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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In-office medical advertising startup Outcome Health reportedly misled advertisers

Some employees at Outcome Health, which provides advertising for pharmaceutical companies in screens within doctors’ offices, allegedly misled advertisers by charging them for ad placements on more video screens than the company had installed, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

The startup installs screens in doctors’ offices free of charge and then runs advertisements like those for pharmaceutical companies, charging for the ad placement. According to the report, the company seems to have inflated the number of screens that ads ran on to advertisers, allowing it to generate additional revenue. If so, this would be a huge misstep in terms of internal governance for the company, especially as advertisers (like pharmaceutical companies) look for new channels to promote their products.

The Chicago-based startup said it raised $500 million at a $5 billion pre-money valuation from Goldman Sachs and Alphabet’s investment arm CapitalG in May this year. The company started in 2006 but had not taken additional capital prior to this financing round. The screens in doctors’ offices also run content beyond advertising. Benchmark Capital partner Bill Gurley poured heavy praise on the company and its CEO, Rishi Shah, around the time of the financing round.

Outcome Health certainly isn’t the only startup in the past few years we’ve heard have major problems internally. Zenefits skirted regulatory boundaries, eventually leading to the ouster of former CEO and founder Parker Conrad and investors cutting the valuation of the company in half. There was also the massive Theranos fiasco that another Wall Street Journal report exposed, which led to heaps of lawsuits hitting the company. The Journal story on Outcome Health says it “found nothing to demonstrate top executives’ involvement in the alleged misleading of advertisers.”

We’ve reached out to Outcome Health through multiple channels for additional comment and will update the story when we hear back.

Featured Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

News Source = techcrunch.com

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