3 Reasons Facebook Graph Search Is Not A Marketer's Dream

Facebook has the demographic data on around a billion people. Theoretically, it's a marketer's dream. But not so fast.

Facebook's new graph search was launched at a press event last week with a great deal of fanfare. After all, Facebook has the demographic data, the likes and dislikes of a billion people. Theoretically, it's a marketer's dream.

But as we gradually get accustomed to seeing brand ads over on the right side of our feeds, we're also seeing unwanted brand postings in their midst. I've set all my settings to public, liked a bunch of brands, and signed up for every new release of a Facebook product, so in theory I'm the best example of who Facebook might be looking for.

However, I am not. And one day I will grow tired of following Facebook's continual erosion of my privacy for its wealth creation and change my settings.

If you are in charge of a brand marketing budget, even a small one, I'm not telling you not to spend some of it on Facebook, at least enough for a good test. But here are three reasons to consider carefully how you use those dollars, and whether graph search will have enough ROI for you.

1) Privacy issues. Many people I know already dislike Facebook and don't use it very much. The most radical privacy enthusiasts have already deleted their accounts. But most people don't really want to delete their accounts and lose track of all their high school friends. So they lock down their settings. I was surprised to find out in a poll of 55 college students in my "Business and Future of Journalism" class, no one had their settings to public except me.

These are our digital natives, the ones Mark Zuckerberg thought would be the easiest to re-train on the issue of privacy. Not so, however. If you are using Facebook Graph Search, it will only uncover public information, so you may still not have access to the demographic you seek.

In the enterprise, things are worse. Many corporations have blocked Facebook because it's such a time suck, which means people with regular income and good credit probably can't use it (much) during the day.

2) The ethereal nature of "likes". Another thing Facebook Graph Search is designed to uncover are brand "likes." In fact, all kinds of "likes." But because people "like" your brand doesn't mean they will engage, or buy your product.

For example, I used to belong to a group of friends called "25 Likes," the entire purpose of which was to get enough people to like your page to convince Facebook to give you a custom URL. People also "like" things because there was a one-time offer they wanted to participate in, or because "liking" something made a friend happy. The most savvy people are already scrubbing their timelines and deleting their "likes." So those "likes" do not always translate into real life likes. The "likes" are better on Yelp, or Amazon.

3) What does Facebook do for you? Last but not least, there's the problem of the consumer's willingness to keep contributing information when said user doesn't get anything in return. Who is willing to keep making Facebook better? At bottom, only those who will get paid to do it. It's the same reason people who want to fill out surveys are the worst participants; they're the people with empty lives and nothing better to do, not the ideal customer of a global brand—except for very few. And motivating customers can get expensive.

Another personal example here. I go to Starbucks every day. I may or may not have "liked" them on Facebook, though I do like them enough in real life to give them $5.00 a day. In the past, they'd give me surveys and I always filled them out because I got a free drink. That equation mattered. Now they only offer me a dollar off—20% off a low ticket item—for the fifteen minutes that will take me. My time is worth more than $4.00 an hour, so I don't fill out their surveys anymore.

Facebook and its brands are going to have to figure out how to compensate consumers for giving up information—perhaps the same way Safeway does by giving you Club Card discounts in exchange for information about what you buy every time you go through the register. Safeway and I have an equal relationship in which I trade my buying information for perpetual discounts and they use my information, along with others, to determine their inventory management. (I didn't mean to slam Starbucks here, because they do compensate me in other ways—a free drink every dozen if I buy them on my app.)

But you see what I mean. When someone figures out how to give me exactly what I need when I log on to Facebook, I'll contribute my data. At the end of the day, my students have told me that between paying for news and tolerating ads, they think the lesser of two evils is advertising. Maybe we will some day see a choice: pay for Facebook and keep your data privacy, or use it free and be the product. But we're not there yet.

[Image: Flickr user Ivana Vasilj]

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