Should Advertisers Be Angry When Facebook Sells Their Fans To The Competition?

Larry Kim, CEO at search engine marketing company Wordstream, has a question for Facebook's ad sales people: Why do you sell advertisers' customer lists to rival brands?

Kim noticed that ad buyers on Facebook can target users by "Interest," and that plenty of interests are actually brand names. Thus, Coca-Cola could, if it wanted, target anyone who listed "Pepsi" as an interest in their profile.

This doesn't sound too distressing. But Kim frames the issue like this:

It’s an outrage because advertisers spend tons of money and effort to build up a following of thousands or millions of Facebook fans, which can then be exploited by competitors.

Meaning, say I invest millions in marketing and content development efforts to build up a following of a million people who are interested in my product. A competitor can now exploit that money and effort and specifically target those qualified buyers and try to snipe them away from me.

These are my fans! I did hard the work of getting them to subscribe to my fan page, I do not appreciate Facebook giving other competitors the chance to message to them with ads.

Here's Facebook's audience-buying tool, showing the page on which you can buy ads targeting Pepsi's fans:

It should be noted that Kim has a vested interest in clients who advertise on Google, a rival to Facebook.

A spokesperson for Facebook says that, in fact, advertisers cannot buy a rival's fan list -- only those users who list a brand as an "interest":

Targeting ads to all fans of a Page is the exclusive right of the Page's owner, through Connections targeting. This limit is in place to respect the time and resources brand owners put into developing and promoting their Facebook presence. Keywords from Page titles may be included in targetable Likes & Interests for other advertisers, just like any other profile content. However, Likes & Interests targeting won't include all the fans of Pages you don't own, which is why the estimated audience is often smaller than the number of fans of the Page, or certain terms may not be available at all.

And, of course, it's not as if Google doesn't allow something similar. Advertisers are allowed to buy ads that are triggered when someone searches for a rival company. But Kim believes there's a qualitative difference:

There are certainly some similarities but I think where it is different is as follows:

The stronger your brand, the less people will need to Google you. Google is generally more about helping people find stuff - when you know what you’re looking for and don’t know where to get it from.

Facebook is a bit different - the more I invest in building up a following, the more I’m exposing my customer list and making that available to competitors.



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