Facebook is leading the charge for advertisers once again with a major move that will allow businesses to gain more information about their audiences based on how they interact on social media. Now, savvy marketers are jumping at the chance to harness that information, and social media users are wary about what this could mean for online privacy.
It’s no wonder why social media has become such a focal point for advertisers. Users tend to check in on a near-daily basis, making it a prime place to achieve widespread visibility, but more importantly, users actively record data on themselves in the form of status updates, content shares, and social interactions on a regular basis. Facebook likely knows many of us better than our friends and family know us, simply because they have access to that data, and now, Facebook is stepping up the ways it’s willing to use that data for its marketing partners.
Facebook is partnering with a data analytics company known as DataSift to develop a new tool to gain insights on user behavior. Known as Topic Data (for now), this tool will actively collect, aggregate, and eventually present information on popular Facebook activities, such as the posts or shares of events, statuses, or other trends. Available to the U.S. and the U.K. for its initial debut, marketers with access to this data will be able to get an idea of how their audience views certain events or brands, and how to customize their messaging to best appeal to that audience.
Gaining information on trends and user activities is nothing new; for years, companies have been using social listening software, user surveys, and other means of acquiring similar data to form conclusions about their audience and adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. However, the downside of these methods is their limited focus and small sample size. Facebook has more than 1.2 billion regular users, which means it has historical data on far more people than you’d ever be able to find on your own terms. As a result, its Topic Data should prove to be far more valuable than similar, now antiquated means of uncovering trend information.
Unfortunately for now, the data is only going to be made available to a select handful of existing advertisers on its platform. Chances are, Topic Data is still in a kind of beta form, and Facebook wants to iron out all the bugs before revealing the tool to the wider network of marketers and advertisers using its platform.
How User Information Is Being Protected
Most active Facebook users would feel uncomfortable knowing all their personal information was being reviewed and analyzed by major corporations. They don’t want their privacy to be infringed upon and they don’t want to be explicitly advertised to.
Facebook directly acknowledged these concerns in its recent blog post, explaining that Topic Data will in no way infringe on user’s privacy rights. Data gathered and presented within the tool is going to be both aggregated and anonymized. That means that not only are individual data profiles masked so that marketers and advertisers cannot see the identities behind the data, they are also collected together so that the anonymized profiles cannot be viewed as individuals; they can only be viewed as a group.
Over the course of the past several years, Facebook has gradually ratcheted up the value and sophistication of its advertising platform. Most of Facebook’s revenue comes from advertisers, so it makes sense that they would want to offer the best platform on the market. Their key advantage, a wealth of user data, is a unique one, so it only makes sense that they would take advantage of that in order to secure greater lines of revenue and a greater reputation among marketers and advertisers in general.
The fact that they’re only rolling the tool out to a handful of high-profile accounts seems to indicate the tool is still in testing, making it complete enough to be used but with ample room for improvement.
When to Expect Big Data for Your Company
Unless your company is one of the lucky few with a sneak-peek-style glimpse at Topic Data before it hits the greater public, it’s probably going to be months, if not years, before you get your hands on that information. In the meantime, you can rely on Facebook’s current data offerings or seek out similar solutions from other social providers. For example, while Twitter offers significantly less user information than its larger, more comprehensive rival, it has made its user data available to third parties for the past five years.
A Course for the Future
Facebook is likely to continue its path toward advancing its advertising options for businesses, and Topic Data is just the latest manifestation of that goal. Expect to see Topic Data hit mainstream marketers and advertisers around the same time that Facebook announces development of some even-more-sophisticated technology.
Should Facebook’s Topic Data be as effective and as influential as they believe it to be, you can bet that every social media network around will attempt to launch their own version of the tool. As a marketer, that means you’ll have more information than ever before available to you, and regardless of how often you use direct social media advertisements, you’ll be able to understand your audience better. Just don’t expect that knowledge to come for free.
This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.