Facebook Rolls Out Audience Insights, Expands Targeting Capabilities

Appealing to audience-obsessed advertisers, Facebook just expanded its ability to target users based on their demographic traits, geography, and purchase history.

Unveiled on Thursday, the new Audience Insights service can analyze trends across Facebook, which the social giant considers relevant to brands’ current and potential customers.

“Previously, we just had the targeting options in the 'create tool' that had an audience estimator,” a Facebook spokeswoman explained on Thursday. “Now, with Audience Insights, these capabilities are actionable so advertisers can understand the reach of these capabilities, as well as how big the targeting groups are.”

That differs from the company's existing Page Insights service, which only looks at user interactions -- like “likes,” comments and “shares” -- with a brand’s official Facebook Page.

Marketers have recently expressed frustration with Facebook over its continued watering down of organic reach rates, including the rate at which users see posts from Pages they “like,” in their news feeds. Regarding the issue of organic reach, a Facebook spokeswoman insisted that the launch of Audience Insights “doesn't have anything to do with that.” 

Whether Audience Insights and similar targeting improvements will overshadow such frustrations remains to be seen. 

Along with users’ geographic location and primary language, Facebook is now tracking users’ age and gender; their “lifestyle,” education, relationship status, job role, and household size.

The Pages that users choose to “like” tell Facebook a lot about their interests, tastes, and tendencies. 

Purchase activity -- from the things people buy to their preferred mode of purchase (online or in-store) -- is obviously valuable to brands. How frequently people log onto Facebook, and what device(s) they use to connect, can also be telling.

Brands can also track custom audiences based on those behaviors and characteristics that they choose.

Audience Insights began rolling out on Thursday within Ads Manager for all domestic marketers, while global access is expected to follow in the coming months.

Anticipating privacy concerns, a Facebook blog post clearly stated that Audience Insights would only examine audience data in “aggregate,” rather than on an individual basis.

Audience Insights “surfaces aggregated information people already express on Facebook, along with information from trusted third-party partners -- like Acxiom -- through our partner categories targeting,” the blog post explained. “Like Page Insights, Audience Insights shows information about groups of people without the need to share which individual people are in those groups.”

Despite continuing concerns about user growth rates, Facebook looks healthier than ever. The company’s outlook is further improved by the fact that most marketers plan to increase their social media budgets.

This year, 77% of U.S. marketers plan to spend more on social channels, according to a recent report from Forrester. About 51% said they plan to increase their social budgets by 10%; 15% said they will increase budgets by 20%; 10% said by between 30% and 40%; and 1% said by 50%.

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