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What a Facebook Ad Network Might Look Like

  |  August 14, 2012   |  Comments

When is it coming and what will Facebook utilize for targeting?

Right now the big story is how Facebook stock is getting slammed and mobile is going to kill its ad model. While I agree that the stock may have been overpriced, I think a lot of people don't really understand the true potential of Facebook's future when it comes to the billion or so members a) layering transactions and b) launching an ad network that will rival the Google Display Network.

So let's explore item B here - mainly the potential of a Facebook ad network. Facebook doesn't need to clutter up its website or mobile app with tons of ads. The real potential is being able to target its profiled users on the entire web and mobile ecosystem.

The Facebook Network

Back in June some noise was made about Sponsored Stories showing up on Zynga and what that implied. It implied that the Facebook Network was looming in the future. But I still think people are underestimating the potential of what Facebook could unleash. Just imagine having the ability to apply all of the detailed profile information Facebook has on consumers to a standard banner run of network buy! Furthermore, imagine that you're not relegated to just Sponsored Stories, but that you could use Sponsored Stories, standard banners, and even rich media!

You want to advertise to your Facebook fans and pull them back into your fan page - done! You want to advertise a sci-fi flick to people who have liked sci-fi moves - done! You want to reach men ages 21 to 27 who are into extreme sports - done! You want to reach people who fly a lot - done! You want to reach single females ages 30 to 40 in New England - done! You want to reach Mandarin speakers living in the U.S. to sell them pre-paid phone cards - done! You want to reach consumers who have liked products that are complementary or competitive with yours - done! Facebook is building one of the largest databases of consumer profiles the world has ever seen.

So How Is Facebook Gathering All This Info?

We build our Facebook profiles in countless ways via its site, our behavior, and the social graph. Here are some of the ways Facebook gathers (or could gather) information on us either directly (when we voluntarily let it know) or passively (when it is simply tracking behavior). (Disclaimer: I am not saying that Facebook archives all this information, but when it comes to building our profiles these are things that Facebook could do and I believe it will do. If I missed anything please add it in the comments.)

Facebook may be (or could) gather profile data in the following ways:

  • We tell Facebook our basic stats when we register - age, sex, location, relationship status, etc.
  • We tell Facebook what we're doing and talking about when we post things - so it knows what we talk about.
  • Facebook knows what brands we have an affinity for when we "like" company brand pages.
  • We tell Facebook things we like or find interesting when we hit the "like" button or share things.
  • Facebook knows what other sites and applications we use when we use Facebook to sign in or post our actions.
  • Facebook knows what we do in the real world when we check in - it knows what airports, restaurants, events, and stores we visit.
  • Facebook knows the computers and devices we log in with and use - Mac, PC, browser, iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle, etc.
  • Facebook knows our friends and families.
  • Facebook knows where we work and maybe even what we do.
  • Facebook knows what sites you visit via the thousands of sites with already installed share code, "like" buttons, and fan widgets.
  • Facebook knows where we are if the location services on our phones is on.
  • Facebook knows if we actively respond to advertising and what we, as individuals, respond to.

Seeing Your Profile Details

Want to see this in action for yourself? Check out the list of things Facebook knows I like. You can see yours by simply exploring the items in your About tab. Here is how to explore it and a few screen grabs of mine:

To find this section, go to your profile, click "About," and then see the "About" drop-down. Now explore!



As you can see below, Facebook knows a lot about me based on what I have "liked" and shared. It also encourages you to "Share Your Interests" to reveal preferences more in line with its targeting selects.


Facebook knows where I work:


Facebook knows who my family members are (want to get a bunch of people in the same family talking about a brand or product?):


If you look at all the ways Facebook can gather data, you'll see how it has the ability to apply incredibly granular and even obscure targeting selects to its community, and because of its size still deliver these ultra-targeted audiences with enough volume and consistency to make creative and banner versioning all worthwhile.

Now let me address the paranoid, Orwellian conspiracy theorists: this column is not meant to imply Facebook is some nefarious Big Brother. The reality is Google and your credit card company know as much, if not more in some cases, about you and your digital and real-world habits. Trust me - searching the web is a far more private activity than expressing yourself on social. Why do I say this? Because everything you do on Facebook (for the most part) is public - you are sharing it! Facebook is not selling that information directly, and doing so would kill its company - it's just putting people in targeted buckets and categories and letting people display ads to them.

So I'm not writing this column to say how scary this is. I'm writing it as a marketer to open people's eyes to what I believe will be an excellent opportunity to target consumers with highly relevant advertising. I personally cannot wait to leverage it!


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Harry Gold

As founder and CEO of Overdrive, Harry Gold is the architect and conductor behind the company's ROI-driven programs. His primary mission is to create innovative marketing programs based on real-world success and to ensure the marketing and technology practices that drive those successes are continually institutionalized into the culture and methods of the agency. What excites him is the knowledge that Overdrive's collaborative environment has created a company of online media, SEM, and online behavioral experts who drive success for the clients and companies they serve. Overdrive serves a diverse base of B2B and B2C clients that demand a high level of accountability and ROI from their online programs and campaigns.

Harry started his career in 1995 when he founded online marketing firm Interactive Promotions, serving such clients as Microsoft, "The Financial Times," the Hard Rock Cafe, and the City of Boston. Since then, he has been at the forefront of online branding and channel creation, developing successful Web and search engine-based marketing programs for various agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Harry is a frequent lecturer on SEM and online media for The New England Direct Marketing Association; Ad Club; the University of Massachusetts, Boston; Harvard University; and Boston University.

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