Understanding Audiences

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Facebook’s approach to sharing data is changing, says Kunal Merchant, Audience Insights Partnerships Lead at Facebook. Facebook is now developing new ways to provide user data, which was music to the ears of the few hundred social data experts in the room. We heard Kunal discuss the role of data at Facebook internally – “Data is Facebook’s religion… Nothing is published, developed, or acquired without data to back it up” – and externally – “Users are the most important thing by far. If we’re going to present our data to the public, user safety is the most important thing and won’t be compromised by anything or anyone or for any dollar amount. If it’s going to compromise user experience, Facebook won’t do it”.

Too much data, though, can be paralyzing and overwhelming, especially for start-ups and small firms that must sift through it manually. With increasing access to data, said Mr. Merchant, must come better tools to interpret  it. Facebook isn’t trying to simply provide or distribute the data – the “firehose”, he called it – they’re trying simplify data-driven decision-making.

Everyone wants the firehose, but what do you do with that?

Facebook, as we know, has changed the way advertisers reach their audiences, but not the content audiences are served. Throughout the next decade, Merchant said, content will catch up to targeting: “Big steps have been made in reaching the right people and the right times, but content needs to be better.” Of course, as audiences get smaller due to improved targeting, just as much new content must be created to remain relevant to these increasingly specific audiences. The Creative Platforms department at Facebook, Kunal said, is developing tools to make creating relevant content scalable and easier for ad agencies. This nascent industry, we heard, is only beginning its life-cycle.

If we’re treating social data as a real-time focus group, we’re being unfair to ourselves. Real focus groups take months and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we’re fine with that. Anything with social has to be immediate. If anything, we need to spend more time examining what we have.

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