Serendipity Algorithm and What It Means to Marketers

Last week, I saw a piece by Nieman Labs eloquently define the direction of search Google is perfecting as a serendipity alogorithm.

Then, Fred Wilson’s taste makers post and Gmail’s smarter inbox announcement motivated me to finish this draft for this is super exciting technology.

The gist of the serendipity algorithm is digital intelligence. It is not perfect (yet) but through our repeated behaviors and our friends’ actions, sites and services know what we are looking for. Recommendations and things that are relevant to us is accessible as soon as we log-on or even refresh the page. Nowadays, we should be offended if we have to dig through enormous amounts of noise to find things that interest us.

Look around you, we see it on a daily basis on sites we least expect.

  • Amazon pulls up recommendations based on past item purchases and  browsing behaviors
  • Facebook pulls up content relevant to you by the actions of your friends. If enough people in your graph LIKE or comment on an item, that item floats into your newsfeed, even if you are not friends with the original poster
  • Yelp rises the users you have fanned to ensure you don’t miss what your favorite reviewer said about a particular establishment
  • Twitter pushes Tweets -specifically @replies- into your streams from people who have been RTd


Almost every site and service performs these actions.


So how does this apply to our role as marketers?

We are seeing the medium change every single day. It is our chance to use this shifting paradigm to our advantages, to have a voice heard, a methodology outside of the norm seen… which is the reason social media, the Internet and all these products and services are so exciting.

Every brand, business and even individuals are on an even playing field. It’s about who can best strategize the message, to use social media as an execution tool.

As a marketer and someone who loves this industry, the Internet and my role, it is a bummer to see peers use this medium as a billboard.

That said, I will leave you with words from one of the greatest marketers of our time: the all mighty Steve Jobs.

To me, marketing is about values.
This is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world.
And we’re not gonna get a chance to get people to remember much about us.
No company is.
And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.


Thus, marked the launch of the ‘Think Different’ campaign.
(see the keynote here.) Funny how those words are still relevant a decade later.

So how are you going to think differently?

*added: Kevin Elliff chimed in with a much clearer post than mine. Read his thoughts here.

9 thoughts on “Serendipity Algorithm and What It Means to Marketers

    1. Of course like my6sense — thing is, how can marketers use digital intuition to our advantages and quit treating this space -the Internet- like a billboard?

      Is it in the copy? The headline? Tone? …fundamentals of marketing.

      1. Will marketers stop treating it like a billboard? Many won’t. They don’t know how.

        Digital intuition based on previous behavior can lead to future preferences. Hopefully, content providers, clients, social networks, etc. can tap into stored digital intuition for improved relevance.

      2. Isn’t one of the biggest misconceptions in our field is reliance on technology when emphasis and strategy must be placed on the messaging and the technology as the tools to help deliver the message?

  1. Short answer: Yes.

    That’s why you need liberal arts majors in a world of techies. You and I are oddly bridging that gap. But when you can improve the tech, it removes much of the guesswork. I believe in the people side of things and also appreciate the machine learning opportunities.

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