Photo: By Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Facebook is playing a dangerous game with marketers.When you like a brand on Facebook, you make it easier for that brand to run ads that you’ll see.
But you also make it easier for all of that brand’s competitors to target ads to you.
It’s the dirty secret of Facebook advertising: Like an arms merchant, Facebook makes money from both sides.
Brands with large Facebook fan bases had one advantage: They could explicitly target their fans, while competitors had to target broader “interests.” Starbucks could run ads that only Starbucks fans see, for example. Peet’s, a rival coffee seller, could target “Starbucks” as an interest, but their ads were shown to a broader set of people who have mentioned Starbucks in some way on Facebook.
That advantage may be eroding. Adweek reports that Facebook has been giving its biggest spenders—”priority accounts”—special access to a tool that lets them see what other interests their fans have. They can’t see what interests their competitors’ fans have, but they can see if their fans share an interest in a competitor.
Facebook calls this “actionable information”—in other words, data that can shape how marketers target ads.
One head of an e-commerce company told us that it’s shenanigans like this that have turned him off building a Facebook fan base.
Why spend on accumulating fans when you can just spend money on ads targeting your competitors’ fans?
Of course, this new data could be great for Facebook in the short term—until more marketers figure out they’re being taken for a ride by spending on growing their Facebook fan base.
And at that point, the whole Facebook fan scheme falls apart.
Update: An earlier version of this piece suggested Facebook was changing how it let marketers target ads. That’s incorrect. Facebook is offering some marketers more data that could help them better target ads.