Facebook is Totally Obsessed With You

By Katy Edgington (Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn)

Have you ever scrolled through Facebook and seen advertisements or posts that seem eerily relevant to you? Maybe a dress you liked on Nordstrom’s website appeared on your Facebook timeline the next time you logged in, or you’ve at least found yourself in a similar situation. That is because everything you do on Facebook matters to them. Every move you make (e.g. reacting to your friends’ posts, clicking on advertisements, or announcing a milestone) is compiled, analyzed and programmed into algorithms that tailor your timeline experience to your preferences.

Classmate, Nick Hudson (@Aussie_Duck) tweeted the link to an article from Gizmodo that includes a list of 98 things Facebook likely knows about you and uses to direct advertisements your way. The list includes everything from age to home value and property size.

Facebook’s Big Brother-esque practices may seem creepy to the average user, but on the business side, that collection of data is extremely valuable. Facebook has about 1.3 billion users. Every 20 minutes 1 million links are shared, 2 million friends are requested and 3 million messages are sent. Paid content on Facebook has the potential for an unbelievably large reach.

“If you spend $1 a day on Facebook, you will get in front of 4,000 people who wouldn’t have seen you otherwise.” –Moz Blog

And with Facebook’s plethora of targeting options, the Ads and Business Manager tools allow for precise, effective dissemination of content.

So if you’re freaked out by the idea of Facebook collecting copious amounts of data on you and your preferences, think long and hard about how you use the social site and what you put into the Facebooksphere. But if you’re looking for a cost-effective, relatively user-friendly channel with a big reach to get your content out there, Facebook could be the way to go!

This Article Has 22 Comments
  1. Karalyn says:

    Katy,

    You are spot on with this post! Facebook knows some crazy information about each user. Although it can be harmful for my wallet I would rather see advertisements for the dress I was just thinking about buying rather than some annoying pop up ad I could care less about.

    I agree that for a business perspective all the data is very helpful. Users should know that by signing up on any social media platform will end up in their preferences being tracked.

  2. Emily Hamann says:

    This is something that I have been noticing and wrestling with lately. It began a few months ago for me, when I first saw an ad for a t-shirt that had “girls born in October are..” printed on it. When I saw this, I was very excited! I thought that someone somewhere was making apparel to highlight me (because I was born in October)! But then I began noticing it more and more and started catching on to the fact that it was just tailored to my likes and information.
    I did notice that clothes I looked at or brands I followed would pop up as advertisements on my feed, but I really began noticing this when I would see advertisements for things I was researching for classes. Companies I was researching due to campaign requirements began inundating my advertisements and now it has gotten to the point where I really do not even take my ads seriously. I know that they will change in a few weeks and that they are only there because of my activity. So I think that yes it is a great tool for targeting people but it also makes me less excited or interested in the ads.

    • Katy Edgington says:

      That is a great point! I would be really interested to see if there is any data to suggest that people don’t take ads on Facebook seriously because at this point they know that they just pop up based on their online activity. I know I am kind of in the same boat as you–I see the ads, but usually they’re for things I’ve already discovered and if I wanted to buy the product, I would do it on my own.

  3. Jon Fisher says:

    Facebook is definitely starting to feel like Big Brother for the amount of information it knows about us. However, I don’t have a problem with it. As a free platform that doesn’t charge its users, advertisements are necessary for Facebook to generate income. I would rather have advertisements that are tailored to my likes and interests rather than ones that have no relation to me. I’m surprised though that more businesses do not use Facebook to advertise. The amount of reach for the price is a better value than any TV advertisement and Facebook gives businesses such specialized targeting options. Although it may seem intrusive, I think its both good for business and for me.

  4. Julia Hofmann says:

    I have no issue with Facebook using the data I put into it, I mean, I know what I am doing by having an account and being actively engaged with it. I feel like now this stuff comes with the social media territory and yes it is very “Big Brother” but it does not feel out of the norm. I am someone who enjoys seeing my favorite store pop up on my sidebar, despite how dangerous it is for my wallet!

    I think organization’s use of Facebook analytics to target customers is a great idea because it allows them to access their audience in a fairly manageable way and it clearly works, at least… it does on me.

  5. Great post, Katy. This is something that I have noticed a lot recently and during last summer while I spent my time abroad in Spain. It was like every time I looked up flights or anything on my phone or computer, I would open up Facebook and there would be an advertisement for that exact thing, event, or place. It kind of creeped me out. I think that Facebook is the “Big Brother” of all social media, but sometimes it goes a little far. I guess my problem with the use of Facebooks data is when to draw the line between users privacy and settings.

    I am sure that Facebook has changed its terms and conditions since I signed up for an account in 2008. I am interested to see where this goes in the next couple of years.

  6. Amanda Lam says:

    I have a love/ hate relationship with Facebook ads! I always see things that I put in my cart and don’t end up purchasing, and then end up regretting my decision!

    I also love the article that Nick shared, it’s crazy! For some reason it doesn’t bug my that Facebook knows this information. I low-key want to work at Facebook to see how they deal with this type of information and data!

  7. Marisa Cesare says:

    Good read. I am not incredibly bothered by Facebook’s ability to create target ads that match with my interests, shopping habits, and web history. While its mildly Big-Brother esque, its just a part of social media at this point and brands should use it to their advantage.

  8. Sean Thornberry says:

    Reading this reminded me a lot of some work I’d done with a start-up recently. We were coming to market late 2016 and focused a lot of our paid advertising on targeted markets within Facebook. I had initially perceived Facebook as a platform that was being over taken by other social media, especially Instagram and Twitter. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of engagement on our company page, and the amount of clicks on our website coinciding with the times that we were posting paid ads. For businesses, the information that Facebook collects is drastically changing the way they’re marketing and spending their ad dollars.

  9. Jennifer Kinsman says:

    Hey, Katy!
    I 100% agree with you that Facebook knows a scary amount of every user it has. But, unlike most people, I do enjoy the ads and analytics performs! I think that tailoring ads and content to my preferences is beneficial to me (but maybe not my bank account). I have also noticed that Facebook is good for a wide variety of content. I work for the Emerald Media Group and the posts we post of Facebook usually get the same amount of reach (unless it is a post about a dog). Facebook has found a way to please most users and create a personal experience for each person. This environment creates a place for companies to think more strategically about what it is going to post. Which is beneficial to the user because each company is putting its best content on Facebook to gain the most engagement.

  10. Kylie Elliot says:

    This was a super interesting read! I totally agree that it is scary the amount of information that Facebook knows about us. I feel that way about a lot of social media sites and I actually enjoy a number of advertisements put on social media. I think that having ads that are specifically targeted at me is beneficial because I am able to see products that I am actually interested without having to search for it. Right now mine shows up with a lot of airline flight information and the study abroad website I am using to go abroad this summer because I have been on it so often. All in all no matter how creepy it is that Facebook does I actually think it is very interesting to see what comes up on my feed everyday depending on what I am looking at on other websites.

  11. Olivia Determan says:

    Facebook totally has the classic Big Brother thing going on. It’s pretty creepy that they know so much about everyone. I don’t really find it to be that much of a problem unless they are selling our personal stuff to companies for gains. I get that the analytics help target our ads, which I think is fine. But, if it advanced farther than that I would definitely have a problem. If my dad knew about Facebook analytics and the depth of the knowledge that it retains, he would delete his profile in a heartbeat.

    I personally like the target ads. I find them helpful. Sometimes I browse online stores and get distracted and will later close the page without buying any of the things in my cart. But, Facebook won’t let me forget about them. I will see the items in an ad later that day or week. It’s kind of nice for my scatterbrain.

    Great post!

  12. Erin Petit says:

    Katy,

    Great article! Thank you for putting all the math behind the Facebook algorithm into one post. And while it’s creepy to think about all the things Facebook probably knows about you, it certainly is the future of direct advertising. As a PR professional, it’s good that Facebook has so much data! It certainly makes me want to use Facebook more than, say, Twitter or Instagram when promoting my brand or product!

    Erin

  13. Brittany Melo says:

    Great insights, Katy!

    I definitely got a little creeped out reading the extensive list of things that Facebook knows about users. Despite that, looking at it from a business perspective, it makes complete sense! A lot of companies seek out that information in order to target the right demographics for their campaigns. Some of the beneficial information that companies have access to are: job title, industry, parents and education level – as these can help companies zone in on specific key publics.

    Keep creepin’ on Facebook!

  14. Jennifer Kim says:

    Katy,
    I honestly thought I was being watched when Facebook would show ads of the sites I viewed and clothes I added to my online shopping cart! This was very interesting to read and it’s true, Facebook is totally obsessed. I agree with you that Facebook could be the best social media platform to get content out there. Mostly everyone is already familiar with Facebook and it is very cost-effective. I will keep this in mind if I ever decide to start a company!

  15. Sarah Johnson says:

    Great post Katy! Honestly I hate when Facebook targets certain ads like this towards me. I always go online to go shopping on like Nordstrom, like you said, and decide not to purchase something and I feel so strong and proud of myself. Then I go on Facebook and see the exact clothing item that I was tempted to buy and didn’t. It is like it’s taunting me and constantly trying to get me to buy it. Facebook is definitely one of the best social media platforms for ads like that, and they do a great job at it!

  16. Mahina Husain says:

    This is a great post! Facebook is 100% getting to the big brother stage. I looked up FitBits the other day and now their ads are ALL OVER my facebook news feed. Like Sarah said above, it definitely is messing with my self-control to not buy a $200 fitness tracker. I guess that is the point of Facebook’s ads, so go them.

  17. Jeff Lockie says:

    Great posts and time are definitely “getting real” in regards to your online search history. In regards to Facebook using such data to target you online, I have to admit, I’m not that upset. In fact, in a way I kind of enjoy it. Like I said in class, would I rather receive an add of the specific new Nike shoes I’ve been dying to get? Or a general ad for Sephora? As a 23 year old male, I am going to have to say the Nike shoes is a much more appealing/effective ad.

    While many will say such a strategy in some ways “invades” your privacy, I would argue I would rather see ads that are relevant to me than generic ads that are un targeted. The fact is that the ads are going to be appearing on your Facebook whether you like it or not, so I’m willing to make the stance that I would rather have those ads relevant to me!! Its enjoyable! So let’s give Facebook and the web a little slack and continue to enjoy our online lives.

  18. Shannon Elliott says:

    Great read! I definitely think that the data behind the information Facebook attains from its users is overwhelming and yes, as you put it, Big Brother-esque. Its odd to me that the controversial algorithm practices behind Facebook are just now gaining traction in the media and amongst Facebook users. Because of this, I think that Facebook may need to manipulate these practices and algorithms in order to keep its users happy. Although, I think it may be difficult to find alternate way to attain the same data Facebook receives in less invasive ways.

  19. McKenzie Edgar says:

    I understand that for PR it is vital to know who your target audiences are but I find Facebook to be a little stalkerish. I think it is so invasive the way Facebook monitors so many different aspects about me. I don’t necessarily want Facebook to have that personal information or provide companies with it. That’s why I am careful about what personal information I put out there on the internet. Facebook ads, in my opinion, are annoying and also entice me to online shop which I should not be doing.

  20. Cydney Chelberg says:

    Katy,

    You bring up a lot of good points about this topic! I personally have a love/hate relationship with Facebook’s targeted ads.

    On one end, as a consumer, I think that it is unethical. I personally find the targeted ads annoying, a little scary, and they distract me by getting me to shop online when I shouldn’t be (which I know is the point). I also find that a lot of time the ads are for items/stores that I have decided against (usually because it is too expensive) during my latest online shopping frenzy, so they only mock me. They make me disappointed in Facebook and that it was a huge institutor and is an aggressively large promoter for the social-media-addicted, materialistic society that we live in (which I also know I am a part of). It comes off as tacky and desperate. The only positive I will admit, as a consumer, is seeing ads that are somewhat relevant to me rather than not at all, because I do realize that ads are vital to Facebook’s existence and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

    On the other end, as a public relations professional in the making, I find it pretty genius that Facebook targets their users this way. Organizations can reach a huge audience for very cheap and I can even see myself using this tactic in my future career.

    But after reading your post and our class’ conversation, am more against Facebook’s targeted ads because I don’t believe that the majority of it’s users understand just how much personal information the site knows about them and that just doesn’t sit right with me. I would like to hope that there are other ways Facebook and organizations can make their money.

  21. Sarah Borchardt says:

    Katy,
    I loved this post! When we discussed this topic in class, I was admittedly a little freaked out by the topic, but nonetheless in fascinated by the way Facebook is doing this. You provided some crazy data, which has me thinking that since it’s happening to everyone, there’s no use in being creeped out when that Nordstrom dress appears on my timeline the next day.

    Thanks for some cool insight, I really enjoyed reading this!

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