Is Facebook the Database of Un-intentions?

Facebook logoJohn Battelle once called Google the ‘Database of Intentions’. What he meant with that was that Google tracks the search terms that people type into its search engine. It catches what they are looking for on the web. Their intentions in other words, hence the ‘Database of Intentions’. It is precisely for this reason that Google works well for advertisers. Searchers have the intent of searching for something. They express their search by keyword and advertisers can bid for these keywords. Thus, advertisers get highly specific traffic directed to their websites at a fair price.

Let’s have a look at Facebook by comparison. As reported by TechCrunch, FlowingData ran an interesting article a few days ago, which showed the sort of applications that are available to Facebook users. Applications are provided by 3rd party developers and Facebook allows them to operate these applications on their platform. In a sense, the type of these applications gives a very interesting insight into the intent of Facebook users. Most interestingly, the vast majority of applications are classified as ‘just for fun’, followed by gaming. Those familiar with Facebook will understand what ‘just for fun’ means. These are all the vampire kisses, hugs, pokes and so forth. I can assure than when you get ‘bitten by a vampire’, there is no serious intent involved.

Today, I read an article by Bob Gilbreath. Bob is a marketing executive who reported on his experience of using Facebook as an advertising platform. Bob’s conclusion is damning. His results for both CPM (cost per impression) and CPC (cost per click) are below industry average, both for targeted’ groups within Facebook and for Facebook as a whole. You can read the whole and well written analysis on his blog. To sum it up: advertising on Facebook in his experience was worse than on any other normal website. Facebook is less effective than the industry average. This impression seems to be mirrored by others whom he refers to, including Chris Anderson, Fred Wilson and Nick Denton.

Wow. Worse than average? How is that possible? Isn’t the theory that social networks are supposed to be highly specific and effective in terms of the kind of traffic that they can send to advertisers?

I still believe that to be true. So maybe this was a Facebook specific problem? Thinking about this, it suddenly hit me. Facebook is the place where people go without any specific intent in mind. This is shown clearly by the kind of ‘just for fun’ applications on facebbok. Facebook users simply go to fool around, ‘just for fun’. Thinking back to Google’s, as John Battelle expressed it, ‘Database of Intentions’, maybe Facebook is the opposite of Google. Maybe, Facebook is the Database of Un-intentions.

If this rationale holds water, then this must make Facebook’s traffic the opposite kind of traffic to Google’s traffic. Given that Google’s traffic is the most valuable of the web, this would make Facebook’s traffic the least valauable. This could explain why advertisers seem to get such a low return on their money at Facebook.
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5 thoughts on “Is Facebook the Database of Un-intentions?

  1. Interesting article. We posted something recently on e-clipsblog about how 63% of consumers refer to the Internet when making a purchase, yet businesses are missing out on an important source of customer insight by failing to analyse information from social networks.

    It seems that 90 per cent of businesses do not use social networks as a means of surveying customer opinion.

    Therefore perhaps Facebook is best used as a source of information, rather than as an advertising platform?

  2. This is a very interesting thought.

    I think may actually already happening. I think that for each product/product type, there are natural places where people go to discuss the products/services. You could got to these places to analyse what people are saying. This could be supported by some clever mood analysing technology to analyse automatically what people’s opinion is. This kind of technology exists http://www.skygrid.com does this for news, for example.

  3. Thanks for the link to my post, Jens. I think this is way beyond Facebook. Do you remember the ad that was on your Yahoo! Mail account today? How about the ad that was on the last web page you visited? It is Google Adwords that is the exception in terms of attention to this type of marketing, because it is the only “mass” example where people find advertising relevant. In other words, when I google something, the paid search terms sometimes actually help me find what I’m looking for. But when I go to Facebook or my Gmail account or to watch a YouTube video, the advertising is not part of my objective – at minimum, it is something we have programmed ourselves to ignore, at worst, it actually stands in the way of our objectives (e.g. video pre-roll).

    Marketers who have hoped that “massing eyeballs” and just throwing up banners will make advertising easy have it wrong. We think they need to shift to a model where their marketing itself adds value, and causes people to choose to engage with it. I’d love your thoughts on http://www.marketingwithmeaning.com.

  4. I agree. If you are able to make advertising useful, then you are on to a winner.

    One other type of advertising that works well for me comes to mind apart from AdWords and that is the email that Amazon sends out that states: “You have bought X in the past, so we thought the following items might be of interest to you.” I read that email because it is actually useful. I have also bought items based on recommendations in that email.

    I will check out http://www.marketingwithmeaning.com/

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