August 31, 2012 2:48 pm

Rebecca Murtagh

Facebook To Allow Advertisers to Target Customers by Email, Phone Using Data Owned by Brands

Facebook has confirmed that it is preparing a new option that will enable advertisers to target individual customers using personally identifying information. This will appeal to brands who wish to target customers who have not yet “liked” the brand on Facebook.

Inside Facebook was the first to report this feature after it appeared in Facebook advertiser options.

As a marketer, I totally get how desirable this feature would be. However, as a consumer myself, I am always sensitive to respecting the customer, ever-mindful that the integrity of the relationship between the brand and customers is paramount for loyalty and sustainability.

Facebook Hash-up of Personally Identifying Customer Data

Facebook will leverage brand data to target customers on the social media platform. All the advertiser has to have is the email address, phone number or user ID of the customer in order to target individual customers with ads. Data that Facebook may not currently have access to will now be uploaded to Facebook by the brand. This “hashup” inserts Facebook in the middle of the relationship between the brand and customers the brand has already acquired.

Could Transfer of Personally Identifying Customer Data to Facebook Backfire?

How will customers feel about brands uploading personally identifying customer data that consumers have elected not to provide to Facebook in order to target them with advertising? After all, when they subscribed to an RSS feed, made a purchase or created a profile on an independent application they were not told that their data would be uploaded to Facebook. Hash-up or not, how comfortable will customers be with Facebook becoming an uninvited guest in a relationship they created directly with a brand?

This mode of personal targeting is unprecedented. The connection of data not provided to Facebook to enable advertisers to reach customers on the social media platform has even seasoned marketers and advertisers a little uneasy.

Facebook Creates Voyeuristic View of Customer Relationships By Creating a Threesome

From a brand perspective, the goal must always be to earn and cultivate loyal customers. The most effective way to sustain a relationship is through direct communication achieved through one-to-one communication built on trust. This move puts Facebook in the middle of that relationship, enabling a voyeuristic vantage point of the relationship between the brand and its customers. Good for Facebook, not so good for brands.

For brands that have not been able to win Facebook “likes” of customers, this “product” created by Facebook puts Facebook in the middle of the relationship between the brand and its audiences. I’ve always had trouble with this from a brand management perspective. I encourage brands to use social media to build brand awareness and cultivate relationships. Facebook gains more than the brand when the relationship resides on a Facebook page or Facebook store rather than on the playing field of the brand within owned media such as the website or blog.

Do Brands Need Facebook to Earn Likes From Customers They’ve Already Won?

If the brand has earned the trust from the customer to provide phone number or email address why wouldn’t they simply send an email or SMS text message directly to the customer to invite the connection? Doing so will put all related data generated by the user in the hand of the brand. With this new move by Facebook, Facebook stands to gain much more.

Facebook Says it Won’t Access Customer Data

Facebook presents that the hash-up will prevent Facebook from having access to that data. Let’s face it. Facebook does not have the best reputation when it comes to privacy.

Social Media Access to Brands Who Have Not Earned Relationships

Another perspective on this is that brands can use data they have collected from customers, such as email and phone numbers collected in 3rd party API enrollment, email list opt-in, purchase, or any other online transaction in which they provided that data. For whatever reason, these customers may have elected not to engage this brand on social media. Should customers have the ability to control their interaction with brands? And, should brands insert themselves into customer behavior, with or without their permission? Is it implied that the moment a customer provides a phone number or email address that they are no longer in control of  who can reach them, wherever they are active on the web.

Privacy Goes Out the Window

I see this as a slippery slope that could be fine in many contexts. However, if a consumer has purchased a pharmaceutical, or done research on a medical condition that they have wished to keep private, do they really want Facebook to become part of their interaction with that topic, without invitation?
Is there anything in your life that you do not want Facebook to be inserting itself into? How might Mark Zuckerberg feel about his bride’s phone number being used by the drugstore he or his bride have used to fill prescriptions to communicate about related topics? Do consumers that provide their phone number to a real estate company really want Facebook playing an active role in their activity when they never intended to reveal to anyone (let alone Facebook) that they were thinking about selling their home, or buying a bigger home.

No Data Needed

Hash-up or not, Facebook will be compelled to deliver reports to advertisers that will inevitably reveal detail that Facebook has not earned permission to collect about users. And, because Facebook is only releasing this product to “managed” advertisers, you can bet they will glean as much information as possible without enraging privacy advocates.

Who Wins?
So, what do you think…is this a home run for brands and Facebook?
How will consumers react?


About the Author

Rebecca Murtagh: Human First Futurist, CEO & Founder of Human AI Institute, winner of the Inc. Magazine Power Partner Award.

Rebecca leverages decades of experience working with Fortune 500, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, Mains Street, global brands and startup entrepreneurs to help executives, their teams, and entrepreneurs leverage their genius through Human AI to improve productivity, collaboration, creativity and job satisfaction for optimum performance and long-term success.

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