It feels somewhat uncomfortable to be talking about Facebook’s advanced ad targeting since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, as if, by discussing a potential new feature, you’re somewhat complicit in their dubious data mining.
But advanced data is the key benefit of social media marketing, it’s the new process that marketers have had to learn, becoming amateur data scientists themselves, along with promoters. Consumer expectations are changing, people respond better to more personalized messaging, so the onus is on marketers to utilize the information available to better target their ads.
But now, it all feels a little creepy.
That was my first response when I read the latest report from The Intercept which explains how Facebook's developing a new ad targeting option which would enable brands to target users based on predicted actions – in other words, things they haven’t even done yet.
As explained by Sam Biddle in The Intercept:
“..the [confidential] document touts Facebook’s ability to “predict future behavior,” allowing companies to target people on the basis of decisions they haven’t even made yet. This would, potentially, give third parties the opportunity to alter a consumer’s anticipated course. For example, Facebook explains how it can comb through its entire user base of over 2 billion individuals and produce millions of people who are “at risk” of jumping ship from one brand to a competitor. These individuals could then be targeted aggressively with advertising that could pre-empt and change their decision entirely — something Facebook calls “improved marketing efficiency.”
That capacity is fairly amazing, and would be a great tool for marketers to have - but with all the talk of data privacy and invasive actions, should marketers have it?
There’s little doubt, especially now, that Facebook could provide such capacity – with trillions of data points on billions of users, Facebook has more consumer insight than any company has ever had in history, and as we’ve seen, those insights can be used to create very detailed, in-depth profiles of audience behavior.
Could they also predict what people will do next? Absolutely – in speaking to academic researchers about the potential of Facebook’s vast data insights, they’ve told me that you can model almost anything on Facebook profile data, providing the capacity to work out virtually any habit or psychological leaning, by cross-referencing their Facebook actions alone.
That, essentially, could enable you to predict future behavior. Remember the story from a few years back about how Target’s customer tracking system had inadvertently informed the parents of a teenager that their daughter was pregnant? Imagine that, but on a much, much broader scale. By cross-matching past behavior patterns, and modeling them onto other Facebook users, the platform could absolutely build a predictive model, which would have a very high degree of accuracy.
And as noted, such a tool would be a boon for marketers – but it feels kind of wrong to be excited about it, to consider the possibilities of potentially invasive data. But it’s there, it’s available, and while it is, brands will most definitely use it.
Wouldn’t you like to know when a potential customer is considering leaving, and have the capacity to convince them to stay, through ads alone?
It’s essentially the system Cambridge Analytica reportedly used – but used for good it’s not so bad. Right?
This is the new moral quandary Facebook faces as it looks to continue advancing its ad efforts. In all likelihood, such developments will still go ahead – they might get delayed a little, rolled out with less fanfare. But it makes sense for the company to provide such options.
That is, of course, unless users start using Facebook less, start clicking on fewer ads because of privacy concerns. In his testimony this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook usage rates had not changed since the Cambridge Analytica story broke.
Clearly, there’s still much to come on this front.