I have blogged previously about Facebook ads and how beneficial they can be for a brand. Yet today I want to expand on where I believe the future of Facebook ads are heading. Currently Facebook allows you to tailor your ads to suit your product. You can decide who sees your adverts based on a range of criterion including age, location, level of education, likes, interests, relationship status and a variety of other factors. In fact this allows you to ensure that your ads are seen by as many, or as few, people as you want. But what’s the next step? Where are we going from here? 

There’s no doubt that Facebook ads present a new generation of targeted marketing. Previously, if one wanted to advertise to their demographic, they would have to place adverts in local magazines or newspapers. These would only go around to a small number of people and would be best to advertise local stores such as a barbershop or a butcher. If one wanted to advertise a national sale they would put their adverts on national television and national newspapers. Based on research one could determine where their ads were placed if their demographic were children, women, men etc and If they wanted to advertise to a particular clientele then they would have their adverts appear in particular magazines or periodicals. Such was the state of marketing before Facebook. 

Today, as mentioned before, marketers have a wide range of factors that help them pin-point their exact demographic. Just last week I helped a client create a Facebook ad for their new book. The book, which tells the story of the young woman that founded Iraq; Ms Gertrude Bell, would appeal to only a certain demographic of people. In setting up the advert we were able to ensure that the ad would only be seen by those who were over the age of 23, had interests in politics, literature, news or drama and lived in the US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Furthermore we included a ‘Sponsored Stories’ advert which would publish to Facebook friends that had already ‘liked’ the page so that it came with the treasured seal of approval of their friends. This is very important as studies have shown that people are far more trustworthy of a brand or product if it has been recommended by a friend.  

But what is next? How can Facebook truly improve the level of detail that marketers can advertise to. How low can we drill down further to get to our chosen demographic? It may not surprise you but people tend to put quite a bit of information on their Facebook profile. This is what allows consumers to adequately target them. As Facebook expands further and further into the world and gains another billion users they’ll get more and more information. One aspect that will be of interest to marketers is the ‘About’ page on everyone’s Facebook profile. Currently the About page contains a few choice details about the person including their family on Facebook, some favourite quotations, contact details and…’work and education’. That’s where the next phase of Facebook marketing could come in.

As people spend more and more time on Facebook and their lives change more and more often then they’ll reflexively enter that information into Facebook. In fact Facebook encourages you to enter as much information into their service as possible. With the new Timeline view launched last year they are not-so-subtly nudging their users to fill in the missing parts of their lives: from birth to where they went to school to how many jobs they’ve had. With this information marketers will be able to finally cross the last threshold that’s barring them from targeting their customers completely: annual salary. 

It’s not hard to imagine that Facebook hasn’t thought of this (and if they haven’t…I’m more than happy to take thanks in the form of a job at Facebook) but recruitment companies and other agencies often publish the salaries of jobs in a range of industries so prospective employees would have an idea of what they can ask for. If Facebook has the last three to five years of someone’s life on their servers they also have their job history. Starting at their first job in McDonalds they can easily track as someone moves from job to job and, as their level of education increases, they’ll be able to estimate how much money they are earning each year. This means that a marketer would be able to target people who are ONLY earning more than $75,000 per year. This will give marketers a whole new level of information that will allow them to target their ads far more effectively. This will save brands a significant amount of money as their ads will only be seen by those who can truly afford their products.  

But what if we go a step further? What if Facebook also estimates the level of average debt that a person has? The combination of both annual income PLUS student fees and average scholarship repayments could allow Facebook to determine how much money a person brings home at the end of the week. Every school outlines just how much their institutions charge so it’s not hard to imagine that Facebook could hypothesise just how much money the person will have to spend. Going even further when one enters a relationship (or to be on the safe side, gets married) Facebook could combine both level of income PLUS level of debt of the couple and then allow marketers to suggest couples based products. If they announce that they are expecting a child then Facebook could take into account the amount of money it could cost to raise a child and subtract that from weekly take-home pay. If the couple moves to a wealthier neighbourhood (or a poorer neighbourhood) then Facebook could hypothesise that they’re making more money or have just been let go from a job.     

All of this information is publicly available. There would no doubt be a period of adjustment (and working out all of the kinks) but with the data that Facebook is collecting it is a goldmine for marketers. There would have to be a very, very slow roll-out for these services as they are sure to be controversial. However history is often made by those who make controversy.