Facebook has been in the news a lot lately, and not for positive reasons. The European Union found the company guilty of violating users’ privacy. Various social media titans, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, have gone to Capitol Hill to testify in front of Congress and been grilled on breaches in private data and its use.
All of this puts us marketers in a pretty interesting place. Under normal circumstances, we would back away from a media outlet with swirling clouds of controversies – the way advertisers pull dollars from TV programs that have fumbled a social issue – but recent Facebook ad campaigns we’ve initiated on behalf of several clients have performed very well. Next to Google AdSearch campaigns, Facebook has generated the highest returns and done so with great efficiency and very high conversion rates. There is no doubt that Facebook is an effective channel.
But what about that privacy issue? And the controversies around it?
Pew Research conducted a study on this, asking a sample of Facebook users how much they knew about how Facebook categorizes them and how it targets ads to them. Interestingly, 74 percent of users surveyed say they were unaware of the categories that Facebook uses. On one hand, that is an alarmingly high number. Basically, it says 3 out of 4 people at best had a vague notion of what Facebook did with the data collected on them. But wait, there is more:
When directed to the “ad preferences” page, the large majority of Facebook users (88%) found that the site had generated some material for them. A majority of users (59%) say these categories reflect their real-life interests, while 27% say they are not very or not at all accurate in describing them. And once shown how the platform classifies their interests, roughly half of Facebook users (51%) say they are not comfortable that the company created such a list.
So, what does this say to us?
The first thing that jumps out at me is that about a quarter of the people surveyed say the information Facebook has on them isn’t accurate. That means you can assume that a quarter of your Facebook allocation is being spent on people who don’t have the interests you think they do. Compared with traditional media, that is a pretty good number, but still a quarter is a quarter. So, as Big Brother-ish as it is, Facebook still hasn’t perfected its targeting capabilities. And that suggests that Facebook is going to continue to collect information on its users so as to make sure it has correctly categorized 100 percent of its users.
The second thing is the “creep” factor. About half – and I am going to assume that the number is a little exaggerated – are creeped out by the fact that Facebook has lumped them into a category. The reality is that all marketers categorize their clients and customers one way or another: frequent shoppers, low revenue generators, loyal customers etc. There should be no surprise either at the fact that most media for decades have ascribed characteristics to their users. Do you recall the psychographic VALs (values, attitudes and lifestyles) categorizations pioneered by Daniel Yankelovich? This is just a natural evolution of the concept of getting to know your customers and prospects. Now you know more – and that inherently shouldn’t be creepy. But that is a judgment call you need to make on your own.
How do we respond? Do we avoid all this and strike Facebook from our media mix because we are offended by its aggregation of data and categorization algorithms? Or do we use it, assuming – if Pew’s research is accurate – that most Facebook users will continue to be active on the platform regardless of its information collection and categorization efforts?
If you are comfortable with how the social media companies operate, use it to its full advantage. There is a whole host of data and information you can glean from your campaigns beyond just the campaign stats, such as Click-Thru-Rates (CTRs), Cost-Per-Clicks (CPCs) and conversion goals. A lot of that data can be found in Google Analytics, and the rest of it can be found in the reports for the major social media companies, including Facebook and Instagram. (If you need help finding and interpreting them, we’d be happy to help.)
As mentioned earlier, they still have room to improve their targeting abilities. If you haven’t noticed, more data tracking is occurring outside of what you do on your computer. For example, audio computing – I’m talking about the Alexas, Siris and Cortinas of the world – will continue to eavesdrop on your conversations and will, soon, begin to deliver promotional messages. (Every time you say out loud, “I’m hungry” or “Gosh, chicken again,” Alexa is going to chime in with, “What about a Domino’s pizza?”) And as time goes on, you will be able to go beyond just demographics, psychographics and interests. So, you need to be thinking in parallel with the advances these media channels are making as well – in particular when it comes to the timing of your message. In other words, in an overly communicated world, when is the best, most opportune time for you to be in front of your desirable target audience?
We are truly in the midst of a brave, new world, and there is a lot for us to learn. Not only about how we can take advantage of these new tools but also how exactly they operate. Make sure your conscience is clear and that you have no issues with how these media companies provide you with solutions. And, again, if you have no issues, take full advantage of all the insights they can provide you.
As always, if you have questions or want to discuss this topic further, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I happened to be walking through a school the other day, and overheard a teacher talking to her students about Noah’s Ark. As you recall, Noah and his wife invited two representatives of each species to enter the Ark. This got me thinking. Was Kinetics a shining example within our sector; a strong enough representative of our species, to warrant an invite from Noah and his wife? If Noah and his wife judged us against our competition, would they deem us Ark-worthy?
Albeit every organization is a bit different from their competitor, simply because the people who work there are different and its processes might be different. But “a bit” is a key word here. There is a baseline of services and attributes every organization has to have to qualify to compete for customers. Sometimes those services and attributes have to be adjusted to reflect a new competitor, new technology or new consumer preferences. Regardless, there will always be a minimum set of attributes that all organizations have to exhibit to catch the attention of consumers – our Noahs, if you will. Now the question – is the “bit” that is different important to our Noahs and does it set us apart from our competitors for a spot on the Ark? In some cases that “bit” is superior performance around the baseline attributes. In other cases it is the price/value proposition. And, finally, there is that something else – an added feature – that makes an offering stand out. The key is that whatever that difference is, it needs to be significant enough to be noticed, appreciated and judged to be Ark-worthy.
As you head off for summer vacation, when you are inclined, give that question a thought. It’s a big question, because it not only challenges your communication efforts, but also your core value proposition. More changes are coming to the marketplace – the emergence of Millennials as our main audience and the continued incursion of technology into more corners of our lives. Even if you couldn’t get an invitation now, you might be able to earn one down the road.
The following piece was inspired by a conversation I had with Doug Walker, Director of Integrated Marketing and Communications at Washington Adventist University. We were discussing the challenges a smaller institution faces especially in the increasingly competitive world of higher education and what his thoughts were on how they move forward. He put it in such compelling context, I asked him if I could share it with our friends. So, here it is in his own words. Enjoy.
As one school year or fiscal year draws to a close, it’s not too early to start planning for the next. I lead marketing at a small university facing some big competition. See below for the four lessons from the story of David and Goliath I’m thinking about.
Knowledge is Power
David was in the right place at the right time because his father sent him on an errand to deliver a care package to his older brothers and their commanding officer. Having left the food with the quartermaster, he wandered down to the front to pick up the latest buzz.
It’s always good to keep up with the state of play in your industry or market.
You Do You
After accepting Goliath’s challenge to single combat, King Saul offered David his own tunic and armor, which David dutifully donned. After walking around in it a bit, he took it off. It was too big, and he was unaccustomed to it.
Be yourself. Find your niche. As Simon Sinek stresses, “Start with Why.” Be very clear about why you do what you do.
As he descended into the Valley of Elah with slingshot in hand, David stopped at the stream, and selected five smooth stones.
If you’re going to war, go armed and dangerous. That might mean brushing up on a subject you should know, but could know better. It could mean doing more research for an upcoming negotiation. It may be time for that market research you’ve been putting off.
Finally, at the moment of truth, “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.” 1 Sam. 17:48 (NIV)
This is no time to shrink back. Meet your challenges head-on!
Doug Walker is Vice President for Integrated Marketing and Communication at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD.