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Yahoo gains social influence-based advertising patent

Yahoo has published a patent demonstrating how advertising charges could be altered on the basis of a viewer's "social influence."

The US giant suggests that marketers could start bidding to gain support from users that have a strong impact on their peers. The application reads, "The level of social influence may be based upon factors such as the number of followers of the user, the number of contacts of the user, and/or the title of the user."

A resultant score, they said, could be deduced from the number of followers and mentions a user has on social networks; an idea that could prove popular within the industry, according to Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of International Marketing Partners.

"This is a new, creative way for marketers to use a multiplier effect to influence how their brands are perceived to ideally lead to sales", said Allen.

However, Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, has expressed his fears over the system, saying, "This is a further extension of the arms race we are seeing between a handful of multinational businesses to comment more data on us in order to sell advertising. We are not customers, we are a product to be monitored, packaged up and sold on to the highest bidder."

Firms such as Klout, Kred and Proskore already offer ratings of how influential users are, but Yahoo's suggestion could help to expand this to a larger audience.

The patent for "social reputation ads" was submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office in December 2011, but has only just been published.

The idea of identifying users with a higher or lower influence over their peers is a notch up from the current system that allows marketers to target ads to specific users, using cookies as a fine-tuning tool.