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.