Facebook to let marketers see what people are talking about

Facebook. Image courtesy of Bloomua / Shutterstock.com

Facebook. Image courtesy of Bloomua / Shutterstock.comIf you’re in the business of selling something – say, anti-frizz hair concoctions – there’s a good chance there are people out there on Facebook, talking about things such as their poofed-out hair.

But what are they saying and what sort of people are they?

Marketers up until now have been kind of like mosquitoes, buzzing at the window screens, thirsting after that kind of marketing data, which pulses through Facebook’s veins.

Well, Facebook has finally bared its jugular. It’s offering marketers answers to the who and what of its data stream.

Facebook announced on Tuesday that advertisers can mine “topic data” from Facebook posts – in essence, scraping posts (including status updates, for example) for keywords and phrases – as they try to glean insight into what people are saying about their products.

The company provided these samples:

  • A business selling a hair de-frizzing product can see demographics on the people talking about humidity’s effects on their hair to better understand their target audience.
  • A fashion retailer can see the clothing items its target audience is talking about to decide which products to stock.
  • A brand can see how people are talking about their brand or industry to measure brand sentiment.

Facebook is urging us not to fret: the marketers will only be lapping up data that’s anonymised and aggregated.

As such, marketers will be offered general demographic info stripped of personal information to help them determine which specific subgroups are interested in a given search term.

Of course, the term “aggregated” raises warning flags. Even though individual data points are innocuous, they can be enormously powerful and revealing when aggregated.

That is, after all, the essence of big data.

As a US government review of big-data use found last year, aggregated data can be used as a tool to discriminate against Americans in areas including housing and employment, as companies such as Experian pull together what we reveal on social media sites and glue it into our profiles along with our location data and online purchase histories.

But with its topic streams, Facebook is dealing with anonymised data. We might still get slapped with a label – “Imminently Flammable-Haired, 50-ish Females”, say – but one that won’t follow us like a hungry puppy into the halls of the data brokers or into the maws of the target marketers.

Facebook said that it’s introducing topic data to select partners.

Marketers aren’t getting direct access to actual data. Rather, they’ll get analyses and interpretations of the information.

Nor will they be able to target ads directly.

The topics data will only be available through partners of DataSift, which will have exclusive access to the topic stream.

DataSift has created an API for partners to access the stream and is accepting requests from companies interested in using it. For now, it’s only available to US and UK businesses.

Image of Facebook courtesy of Bloomua / Shutterstock.com.