Roughly five months into my job as TheStreet’s director of social media, I can tell you — firsthand — that Facebook advertising works incredibly well for a brand/multimedia organization such as TheStreet. In fact, I argue that if Facebook’s platform doesn’t work for you, you’re simply not doing it right.
Well, good for them. Over here on the receiving end it isn’t so pretty. For example, here’s my latest ad pile at Facebook:
A few questions:
Where does Facebook get the idea that I want to cheat on my wife, to whom it knows I’ve been married for almost 23 years?
Why would Facebook sell an ad to an advertiser that would rudely suggest that there is a chance in hell that I’d ever cheat on my wife?
And why would anybody want to be told, over and over again, as the AARP ads always do, that they’re old?
Maybe it’s because they’ll sell anything to anybody. Or maybe it’s that SeniorPeopleMeet and SeniorsMeet simply buy exposures across the entire “senior” demographic, regardless of what Facebook’s intelligence might say about individuals in that demographic. Clearly Facebook doesn’t mind, regardless of the reasons, which is worse than insulting: it’s stupid and wrong.
It’s hard to imagine a company that has more “big data” about its users than Facebook does, or better means for delivering truly relevant ads to individuals. And yet Facebook’s advertising is mostly ignored, unwelcome or worse. Yes, its advertising program has made Facebook financially successful. But that success masks other failures, such as the very high percentage of misses, many of which have negative results. I see no reason to believe that these failings won’t also be leveraged into the company’s new advertising ventures, covered in the news above.
I’ve been told by adtech professionals that a funny thing about their business is that Google and Facebook are terribly jealous of each other: Google is jealous of Facebook because Facebook can get especially personal with its users, while Facebook is jealous of Google because Google can advertise all over the Web. And yet both are missing real human relationships with their users, because the users are not customers. They are the products being sold to the companies’ real customers, which are advertisers.
What’s keeping Facebook from offering paid services to individuals — or Google from offering more than the few they do? Here’s one reason I got from a Google executive: it costs too much money to serve individual human customers. This isn’t verbatim, but it’s close: If our users were actually customers, we would have to support them with human beings, and we don’t want to make less than $1 million per employee (Yes, that was the number they gave.) And yet, all advertising-supported businesses could benefit a great deal by having at least some of their users become subscribers.
Start with the money. How much would Facebook make if the company offered a subscription service that came with both no advertising and better privacy protections? Depends on the subscription price, of course, multiplied by the number of people who go for the deal. Maybe one of ya’ll can give us some run-ups in the comments below.
Then look at to the signaling issue. Real customers can send much better signals to Facebook than mere “users” can. They can offer real feedback, and good ideas for improving services — the kind of stuff you get when you have a real relationship, rather than a vast data milking operation. For example, a company with human customers can hear, personally, how they’re screwing up, from people who care enough to pay for services.
I’ve dealt with a lot of highly successful companies, and they all risk the same problem: getting high from smoking their own exhaust, and thinking their shit doesn’t stink. Facebook is there right now. And they are making the same mistake that AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, MySpace and countless other online services did when they were high and thought their shit didn’t stink. They assumed that occupants of their private habitats love being there, and wouldn’t leave. In fact many inhabitants of Facebook only tolerate it, or are there because it’s what works for now, or because lots of their friends and relatives are there. But they can leave, and so can their friends and relatives, as soon as attractive other choices appear. Which is inevitable.
Everybody has limits. Facebook is hell-bent on testing them, apparently.