Facebook the ad network. Like? Or fail?

Until yesterday, the only obviously targeted ads I ever saw on Facebook were biologically irrelevant.  And no matter how quickly I swatted them,  they kept coming back, like little stingy things that bite your ankles at barbeques.   (In case you are curious: it doesn’t help if you shout ‘no’ at the same time at the same time as clicking ‘no’.)   My bad Facebook ads aren’t as biologically irrelevant as the ads in my spam.   But they waste my time, Facebook’s inventory, and advertiser’s money.   

But yesterday, ah, yesterday.  Yesterday was different.  Right there in my news-stream, there it was:  an ad inviting me to see a film about Leonard Cohen, at a cinema that is at least sort of close to me – at least by south London standards.   Whew.  Well done, Curzon Wimbledon.   Well done, Facebook.  Finally.

Did they know I spent many immersively enjoyable dark hours with Leonard Cohen when I was a teenager?  Probably not.    Did they know that I recently saw Leonard Cohen at Place des Arts, in the company of the very same friend I used to listen to him with when I was 14?   Again, probably not.  

But they did know that I Facebook-liked Leonard Cohen.  And they’ve made use of this fact in a sensible way.  As it happened, I didn’t drop everything to go see the movie.  But I might’ve.    And that’s a lot closer to my wallet than any other Facebook ad I’ve seen.

This is incredibly powerful stuff.  It’s the reason why Facebook might actually be worth as much as its most flattering estimates.   Or even more. Ok, so far I haven’t personally seen so much evidence of execution.  But the potential is there.  Leonard Cohen proves it. 

Of course even when preaching to the converted there are ways for a message to fail to hit home.   In my Facebook news stream, I’ve also got a heads up about a Manu Chao concert in Seattle, and one in Japan.   I do like Manu Chao.  I also F-like him.     But… Japan?  Seattle?  I live in London.  Well, near-ish.  No go.

Even when it’s done right, preaching to the converted has a limited upside.   It’s in reaching the unconverted – but susceptible – where the true potential of social media lies.   Facebook’s future value relies on its ability to make inferences from my F-likes, and other social graph connectivity, that help it to serve me a lot better.   If it can do this, it can create value for everyone else involved.    If it can’t, someone else will do it for them.   There are plenty who are ready to try.

I heard at Facebook Developer Garage London last week that viral marketing on Facebook just ain’t what it used to be.   I keep on hearing this – mostly at #FDGL.   It’s probably true.

But, sometimes, as one door shuts another opens.   Social graph marketing is a whole new universe of possibility just waiting to be explored.

5 thoughts on “Facebook the ad network. Like? Or fail?

  1. Maybe they are not looking for you to go to Seattle or Japan etc but perhaps a friend (connection) of yours might – your friends will no doubt share similar interests.

    FB advertising can appear quite random … let me have a quick look…I got crisps [well they’re not really crisps] and a credit card – now I might not want these now but there sheer presents exposes me to brand and maybe if I was choosing in the future then these options would be at the front of my mind.

    For me the very tricky balancing act is targeting correctly but without giving the impression they are reading your mind – pop Mega Death on your list of likes and lets see how the adverts go.

    (Everyone likes Leonard Cohen anyway right?)


    • Ambient brand hum is probably somewhat effective or surely we wouldn’t see so much of it. (Surely…!). I do think it is sometimes an excuse, on FB’s part, for not doing having anything more focussed to say.

      Leonard Cohen is popular while seeming to uniquely talk to each of us.

      Maybe ‘like’ isn’t the right word exactly….;-)


  2. Quite a bit of thought (and money) is being applied to the “look at someone’s dog and I’ll tell you all about them” effect.

    Chris Dixon’s site is quite fun to traverse.
    Chris’s blog quite endearingly published what a decent set of angel and series A terms should resemble.

    But in the end, are we any more than the sum of our consumption?

    I’ve heard of at least 3 other “decisionality” type efforts underway to come up with some sort of algo that will become a standard.

    Any social psychologists care to weigh in?


    • Hi, Jane. The dog heuristic is for sure a good one, I think. (Though limited in domain – osso bucco is nice – but not for breakfast every day.) And there’s a lot of it about. I had my eye caught by Visual DNA early this year – very snappy looking – but it seems not to have got much traction. Whether this kind of style/personality profiling provides any predictive power over and above knowledge of previous consumption patterns, or just plain old asking people what they want, isn’t at all clear. But I think that you could also see people’s free choice behaviour in an app as potentially signifying something significant about them, and what they are about. Would be interested to hear about what’s come across your radar in the way of decisionality. In terms of standard algorithms, I do wonder if there will be a standard. You’d think it would depend on the shape of the space. But in the dark all cats are grey, so in early days, perhaps, when we don’t really know what we’re looking at, or for, perhaps one size does fit all. I’m very interested to see how this appraoch plays out when you mix in social graph information. If Facebook doesn’t have a big team on this already I’ll eat LAST year’s pumpkin. cheers, H


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