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Facebook, Targeting, Recency, and You
By: Jeff Louis
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Have you ever come across an ad on Facebook and wonder why it was targeted at you? Some of my favorites include various vixens who have been -- without my knowledge -- searching for me. I don't know why, because I'm pretty sure we have not met. I'd remember.

The ads, while ridiculous, must return some sort of numbers because they're still running. Didn't Facebook say they were going to scrutinize ad networks? 

The reason I bring this up relates to consumer-targeting capabilities possessed by social media networks. Every time I see a non-relevant ad, I have to wonder. However, I don't have any problems with ads on my page in general, nor do I hold any thing against the advertisers. That's not it.

What irritates me is Facebook has so much user information that their ad targeting should be spot-on. Unless some company comes in and wants to buy run-of-network ads (RON), I should see ads relating to my interests, corporate life, demographics, location, lifestyle, and attitude.

If Facebook is accepting RON advertisers, maybe they need the money, though I have to question the decision of both parties. RON ads on a site that offers accurate targeting seems to me an extremely ineffective method for reaching consumers. Yes, I do understand that a sale is a sale, and sales equal revenue. However, there's a point where the money is irrelevant in comparison to the brand or a site's health.

Remember being told to steer clear of people who were of questionable moral fiber? There was a reason your parents told you that. While the income may be a great short-term remedy, the long-run effects in terms of reputation and respect may hurt Facebook's future.

Imagine General Electric touting their green efforts on profile pages of those interested in the environment. Imagine have same those ads run alongside those of women in tube tops who were allegedly searching for you. I'd be hesitant if I were GE's marketing manager. When associations begin to negatively affect the medium, the message, or the brand, it's time to make a decision.

Do I believe Facebook needs money? No, I think they have a lot of unsold inventory. I suppose it's theoretically possible that they're low on cash. However, Inside Facebook just released estimates that the social media powerhouse was on track to cross the $1 billion revenue mark in 2010. Their 2009 estimated ad revenue was just above $700 million. (Facebook does not release earning information.)

It seems that many of Facebook's ads have zero targeting, raising questions as to the ad's intent. Is it for branding? Is it a game or a spam site? Is it simply a company that has no clue where we're going with social media?  It could a mixture.

Ads that have absolutely nothing to do with me, my interests, or my life get tagged as being offensive (by me). I'm offended that Facebook keeps serving them to me. This Facebook "featurette," basically an opt-in/out, allows users to choose the ads, or ad types, they will see. If you click  the "close" (X) button, a window and drop-down appear, asking why you closed the ad.  

Some of the choices are: misleading (no one really Googled me), offensive (the woman who Googled me is a whore), or totally irrelevant (I've never worn flannel panties). While not a perfect system, it's a brilliant because each opinion you render is saved and categorized, defining a better "picture" of you for Facebook's advertisers. 

As the site continues to gain information about user's online behavior, this data will be put into buckets so that advertisers engage Facebook to reach a certain audience. Facebook will be able to provide several methods of reach a unique, or niche, audience. You're just one member or an audience comprised of millions of consumers who appear to have the same characteristics you do. 

Like Doppelgangers, these groups exhibit attitudes, opinions, incomes, site preferences, education levels, and activities that are complements of you. Over time, this information is refined and eventually depicts an accurate picture of an audience, including an image of who they are, what they buy, how they buy, as well as when purchases are made. Advertisers should use this picture to target their ads at you, your lifestyle, income level, age group, etc.

Think about that for a second. Instead searching for a product or service online, online retailers will cater their offerings to you based on the data provided by Facebook. The ads will be tested, optimized, and repackaged until they achieve the desired result (a click). Of greater importance is the fact that these ads will be for products that are relevant to your Hierarchy of Needs. Remember Maslow?

The following statement may seem obvious, but until recently, it's been impossible to predict: "The simple idea that advertising influences the brand-choice of consumers who are in the market for the product. It’s about how we think advertising works." [emphasis: mine]

Erwin Ephron, the man behind the quote, is describing a concept known as recency.

OK, it's time to pay attention, because this is where we, as an industry, are going. 

Advertisers with the ability to answer who will enter the market, as well as where and when will kick the crap out of the competition. It's like legal insider trading. The crucial role that social media fulfills is it bridges the gap between the predicted entry versus the actual entry into the purchasing cycle (market). By monitoring conversations between consumers (buzz), advertisers can decipher the who, when, and where. 

Let's pretend that you're preparing to buy a new house. If advertisers are listening to (monitoring) social media, and not talking about themselves, over a short period of time they can determine:

  • Who you are.
  • Where you live.
  • Time frame or timing for purchase.
  • Type of house you'd ideally purchase.
  • Your progress.

Social media provides all these answers. By filling in the blanks, advertisers are left with providing you the house you are looking for at the price you're willing to pay. 

In essence, social media answers questions marketers best guessed before. The goal is to fish when the fish are hungry, in the right location, and at the right time. Marketers possessing the ability to understand the profit potential behind social media, the vital importance of relevance and recency, while also having the capabilities to execute as needed on this information, will revolutionize their companies.

Who needs a million impressions when you can sell a house with one?


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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