Facebook targeting misses its mark

To my mind, the accuracy of Facebook’s ad targeting is best summed up by the Post Office ad I was served this week, encouraging me to send money to my relatives for Diwali.


Whether Facebook thinks I’m Hindu, I couldn’t honestly tell you – I certainly don’t claim to be in my profile. It’s perfectly plausible that the Post Office social media manager’s finger slipped when setting up the targeting fields for this particular campaign.

But it’s also possible that this is a symptom of the wider issue with Facebook’s ad targeting. For me it’s the determining factor in the debate that’s been raging since last week, when a Forrester report prompted the industry to start asking: ‘Is Facebook failing marketers?’

I, like many other people I know, now use Facebook primarily as a messaging platform. It’s an easy way to bring together friends in one place, to organise events and start message threads without having to remember email addresses or lose conversations in the midst of all the direct marketing emails. As a result, I don’t really want or need Facebook to know very much about me and I’m therefore very sparing with the information I provide.

Indeed, this week I decided that, as far as Facebook is concerned, my name is no longer even Michael Barnett. That was my response to its new edict that users now won’t be able to limit who can search for their profile by name.

My interpretation: Facebook is telling me my preference to use it mainly to send personal messages to friends is no longer good enough for Facebook. It wants me to be more ‘social’. My reaction: I don’t care. I’ll find a way around it and remove another piece of personal data from my profile.

Yet Facebook still serves me ads every time I log in, and they’re still targeted ads. They’re not based on my religion, profession or location, because I don’t provide that data, so what’s left? My friends? The groups I am in? The keywords I have typed?

The trouble is that data is a very unreliable indicator of the ads I’m interested to see because it’s all so dependent on timing and context. ‘Social’ ads aren’t much better to me because most of my Facebook ‘friends’ aren’t even people I like, let alone people whose views I trust.

How many other people are there like me on Facebook, who tell Facebook as little as possible and even actively lie? I can’t give you an answer, but I can tell you that their number grows every time Facebook alienates its users with yet another new wrinkle in its privacy policy.

Yet if you’re spending money to advertise on Facebook, you could still be paying to target me despite how little I have chosen to share. Somebody, somewhere, certainly is.

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