Not many of us can claim to be as emotionally invested in our work as Amy Webb.
The digital strategy consultant visited Hartford Monday to describe how her online search for a husband offers lessons to anyone looking for more effective use of databases, web sites and social media.
Webb found herself in her ’30s, unmarried with no prospects, wanting to settle down with someone and have a baby. She calculated that her chances of meeting a nice, Jewish guy on her own who lived up to her very picky desires were near zero, so, like millions of singles, she turned to Match.com.
Webb found the same online dating nightmare that many have experienced, but that’s where her story breaks away from the normal. She spent months making a her search into a study of database and algorithm science — establishing, for example, that Scotch drinkers were more likely to talk about kinky sex.
Still with no husband, she concluded that online dating, like the digital work of many firms, was not designed to accurately connect products — in this case, herself — with target customers.
“The problem is we have a huge issue with superficiality in data,” said Webb, who spoke at the Connecticut Science Center at the Digital Influencer seminar sponsored by The Hartford Courant and Fox CT. “In my case, I wasn’t looking for a penpal. I was looking for a husband.”
So Webb, who documented her quest in a recently released memoir, “Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match,” took matters further. She found an example of her target husband, then created an online profile similar to that, and documented the types of women whose profiles popped up as likely matches for her fake man.
It was eye-popping for a serious, accomplished person. “If I’m the product, the product sucks,” she concluded with brutal bluntness.
The outcome: A perkier online personality, less frumpy photos and lots of general descriptions, nothing in-depth. “Create curiosity gaps…You need to learn how to flirt with your customers,” she told the Hartford audience.
“My hunch is that 99 percent of the people in this room don’t know who your audience is,” Webb said.
It worked! Webb met Mr. Right, an optometrist who claimed in his profile that he was a baby seal hunter. They now have a toddler.
The grand metaphor has some logical flaws — Webb broadened her geographic search and that might have done the trick without all the rest, for example — but the point is well taken. “Ask your users for an answer to the problem they want solved,” she advised.
Webb’s conclusion supported a general theme among speakers at this and other events designed to boost digital effectiveness: Content matters most.
That’s certainly the case at ESPN, where Rob King oversees more than 400 people creating and managing editorial content for the sports juggernaut’s web pages and magazine. “We really do want to be relevant 24/7/365,” King said. “It’s about having the right conversation and getting down to what we do best: serving fans.”
As with Webb’s dating profile, more is not better. ESPN has cut its number of apps from 34 to 13, and could pare more, King said.
And digital outreach can only reflect what’s behind it. “The biggest influencer of digital is what really happens,” said Matt Fleury, the science center’s president and CEO, “and then what people say about it.”