Facebook creates so much news that it’s easy to miss a new set of features aimed at marketers -- even when those very changes have major implications for how brands speak to you on the social platform. Last week, nestled between the social buzz of the Olympics and ups and downs of its stock price, the social network rolled out a bevy of new ways for marketers to take advantage of things such as your age, interests, gender, relationship status and more to inform how they "speak" to you.
In what some inside marketers have called “a defining moment in social media marketing history," Facebook is now exposing important elements of an individual’s personal and social graph and giving marketers the ability to post in their timeline based on that information.
As a long-time marketer, I had a few instant reactions to this.
1. Facebook must be careful not to scare off authentic personal sharing and people need to be aware that everything is or could be exposed to third-party marketers.
I’m not sure what the public backlash will be if this becomes widely known. To me, it’s one more reason to be completely vanilla in how I use Facebook. I already refuse to use my Facebook ID as a log-in to any third-party app or brand. And what I do on Facebook I do with complete awareness that it will eventually be exposed to third parties.
2. This kind of targeting is already happening -- it just moves timelines into the fold. With the exception of friends of connections, the new Page Post Targeting capabilities are almost identical to the already available ad targeting. In some ways, providing the same capabilities for newsfeed and ad targeting may sway marketers to test post targeting and move away from ad targeting, as newsfeed targeting is “free” (with obvious exceptions like Sponsored Stories). Since marketers can try many different posts with many different targets, it can actually move marketers away from paying for ads if it works.
3. More relevance still doesn’t mean actual targeting. These new features allow for much better crafting of messaging in the news feed. Anything that allows marketers to be more relevant helps the personal experience. While the elements of the social graph that can be used are all useful for messaging, they are only slightly better than nothing for product targeting. Things like age and gender only hint at product-type targeting, and marketers have moved beyond using basic demographics. “Interested in” could be a good step in that direction. However, the full social graph must be mined to support true targeting.
4. Facebook is providing brands with tools for a potential mess. I am not sure how the new features will translate in real life. I can’t imagine that clicking on a link in a highly targeted message in a post will bring me to similarly highly targeted content, especially when Facebook states that “all content will still remain on the Page since this is the only way to allow friends who don’t meet the targeting criteria to see viral stories.” So the Page itself will end up either being a jumble of messages or a generic, untargeted Page. This is similar to clicking on a highly targeted email and being taken to a generic landing page, or perhaps worse. In the end, I am not sure whether Facebook is doing more harm than good.
5. Setting the stage for mobile. Given the rapid growth in the number of Facebook users who only access Facebook through their mobile device, this kind of targeting sets the stage nicely for location-based sponsored posts. This is essential from a revenue perspective, and it opens up entirely new ways for brands to connect with consumers. If you think Web-targeted posts are big brother-ish with these changes, wait until you post a break up from a bar and see a post from a dating site that says “singles are available near you.”
The new Page Post Targeting Enhanced gives marketers more tools to use to drive traffic and potential sales and revenue from Facebook and should be tested. But until Facebook can figure out a way to use the full power of the social graph in a way that does not cross privacy boundaries and includes mobile, its “defining moment in social media marketing history” is still a long way off.