Topic data allows marketers on the social network to drill down into data of what users are saying about events, brands, subjects and activities, completely anonymized, and Facebook said it teamed up with social data provider DataSift on the initiative.
Facebook said topic data will initially be available only to “a limited number” of DataSift partners in the U.S. and U.K., with the data limited to those two countries, as well.
The point of all this is to give marketers a better idea of what Facebook users are saying about certain topics or keywords, Matt Idema, Facebook director for ads product marketing, told Re/code in an interview. The result will be more relevant Facebook ads, he said, or perhaps even an altered product roadmap if companies find that people are clamoring for one product over the other. For now, Facebook won’t make any money off this topic data, said Idema.
The benefit to the social network is that advertisers will know more about the Facebook audience. And for Facebook, the theory is that companies will be encouraged to use the info to run more ads — on Facebook, so that’s where the money is ultimately supposed to come in.
Because much of Facebook’s data is private, unlike Twitter, offering topic data in a privacy-safe way is a top concern and might explain why Facebook waited so long to offer this functionality that brands have been begging for. To ensure that personal info isn’t divulged, topic data is aggregated and anonymized, so brands can’t know or piece together exactly who said what. I asked Facebook and it confirmed that certain queries that might pull up personally identifiable data like home addresses will be banned. At least 100 different users have to match a query for it to be allowed.
Still, the idea that their private status messages to friends will fuel better ad targeting may irk some Facebook users. There’s no opt-out, and the only way to keep data totally private is to either set posts to be visible to “only me” or not post at all.
Privacy-sensitive Facebook has always trailed Twitter when it comes to monetizing data for business audiences, so today’s topic data news is a big step forward and a fascinating evolution of its thinking. For the world of social intelligence, this is huge news, not to mention a bold and exciting comeback for DataSift, whose future strategy was in question after Twitter pulled its data access (following its acquisition of Gnip). What remains to be seen is how effectively DataSift is able to commercialize this. But ultimately, this deal validates our long-held assertion that social data has infinite value beyond marketing.
Readers: What are your thoughts on Facebook’s topic data?