facebook knows what you (and marketers) like

last year, mark zuckerberg and the crew at facebook took a sow’s ear of a product launch and produced a silk purse with facebook connect. here’s how, and why the timing is better this time around

if you haven’t yet, chances are you will soon see something called “facebook connect.” the feature allows you to log into websites with your facebook information. sometimes, after you take some action on a partner site – buy tickets to an event, to use an example I have seen – a box will pop up asking if you want to post what you’ve done on facebook. in a blog post last december, mark zuckerberg explained:

facebook connect makes it easier for you to take your online identity with you all over the Web, share what you do online with your friends and stay updated on what they’re doing. You won’t have to create separate accounts for every website, just use your facebook login wherever connect is available.

souce: facebook blog

is it okay if we go ahead and tell people what you're up to?

facebook connect hits the mark

mainstream media and bloggers alike greeted the news with breathless excitement. “let me tell you, has the potential to simplify and enrich social networking in a revolutionary way,” raved pc world. “If facebook can work with its partners to build interesting use-case scenarios that go beyond simple sign-on, it is quite feasible that facebook can out-execute google, myspace and everyone else with its id ambitions,” gushed web savant om malick.

facebook has navigated these waters before, and not successfully. in november 2007, the service announced the introduction of the beacon system. the wording of the press release for beacon was strikingly similar to the facebook connect announcement above, focusing on users’ ability to share more of their online activities with friends. actions taken by facebook users on sites like blockbuster and fandango were inserted into the user’s news feed – just the same as with connect. facebook beacon, however, faced immediate protests and prompted a public relations crisis. so what changed? facebook’s approach, of course. but a shift in market perception was equally important.

the beacon system as launched was opt out. if a user did not specifically decline to have information from partner sites posted, it was posted by default. in fact, there was no way to turn off all the beacon notifications until the company belated responded to user privacy complaints. om malick (yes the same one) and fellow privacy watchdogs called attention to the potential for abuse. facebook quickly changed details of how notifications were presented (evolution shown here in a nytimes column), but the damage was done.

connect, in contrast,  is careful to ask permission before passing information from partner sites to facebook and defaults to not posting. but these changes alone would probably not allay concerns if not for a growing acceptance of facebook, twitter and other user communities. the explosive growth of these services in the past year reflects an increased willingness to share personal information in order to reap the benefits of community – i.e., social networking.

the new grail for marketers – community

facebook’s goal for tracking user behavior beyond its own site with beacon in 2007  was the same it is now with connect. moreover, it is a goal shared by nearly every other ad-supported site from google on down.  the more finely you can segment a target audience, the more you can charge advertisers to reach pieces of that audience. the growing importance of social networking means that today there is another reason for facebook and other community sites to encourage users to share what they do with other community members.

the idea for this post came from a recent article on the readwriteweb blog, “is facebook working on a recommendation technology?” the rww post concluded that it did not appear that such an application was imminent. but hang on a second. isn’t facebook already doing exactly this with applications and fan pages? what makes you want to become a fan of binge drinking, for example, or take an inane quiz? it is the knowledge that one or more of your facebook friends has taken that quiz and/or admitted they might have a problem with the bottle.

every day more businesses and organizations set up shop in facebookland, entreating you to be a fan. and fans can then be targeted with promotions – with higher conversions because viewers have already declared an affinity with that brand. as consumers, we are able to base more and more of our purchase decisions on the experiences of people we trust. facebook and other community sites are in a position to present these recommendations alongside an assortment of offers – a powerful combination.

as a marketing guy, I am all in favor of having a service that shows mostly ads for stuff I care about. even better if it tells me about friends who like stuff I’m thinking about getting. I know there are folks who are uncomfortable with that much sharing. unfortunately for them, I think this kind of thing will be more and more common.

are you on board? think I’m full of crap? what’s your comfort level with behavioral targeting? let me know below!

the qualified yes is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache