Facebook Lets High-Rolling Brands See What Users Really Think in This Elite Program

Only top advertisers allowed

Facebook is giving select brands exclusive access to information gleaned from its 1.3 billion users, letting high-rolling advertisers find out what consumers really think based on comments and other telling social activities, according to industry insiders familiar with the special program.

The brands and their marketing teams get to dive deeper into Facebook and its unprecedented ability to gauge public sentiment thanks to the marketing program called Grapevine, according to sources. Which brands get invited to the program depends on their bankroll, one industry source said.

"The advertisers spending in the millions on campaigns or a half-million dollars for one ad, that's who has access," this person said.

Grapevine seems appropriately named because it's where brands can hear anonymously from the masses. The program also is another indication that Facebook marketers go as far as their money will take them, and their spending dictates not just how many users they reach but their understanding of those users.

The brands that get access to programs like Grapevine are the same ones that Facebook lavishes with special attention, helping their ad creative through "spark sessions"—individualized marketing workshops.

Just last week, Facebook updated privacy and News Feed policies, telling users more plainly about how their data is used and brands how their messages are distributed. Advertisers have steeled themselves to the fact that their posts reach few of their followers unless they pay to promote them.

Facebook says it does not share information with any advertiser that could identify an individual user, so all marketing reports are anonymous.

Update: Industry insiders said data analysis from Grapevine was "qualitative not just quantitative." For instance, a shampoo brand could get insights into what Facebook users are saying about frizzy hair and then tailor ads based on that sentiment. 

"It tells them what people actually are saying and thinking," according to the source with knowledge of Grapevine.

The tool is similar to what Twitter does with its "firehose" of tweets, sifting through the torrent of information to track public sentiment. Twitter bought Gnip earlier this year to get a better handle on that data for marketers, and it licenses access to the full stream of information to a select few firms.

Facebook does not license its data to outside parties, and unlike Twitter not every post on the social network is public.

Facebook has the largest user base in the world, and its ability to measure consumers' attitude is invaluable, industry players said. What marketers do with that data is where it gets interesting, another source said.

The tool is still in its early stages, but eventually could become like a giant focus group for brands to know exactly what users think of them and their products.

"You [could] monitor it if you're a brand and see people's perceptions of you, if sentiment goes up or down, and when sentiment gets to be extreme one way or the other, you're looking for that outlier," the source said. "It's an early-warning system for you."

Facebook already has a similar sentiment analysis program open to some media partners like BuzzFeed, who used it to gauge the public's attitude around the elections.

The public sentiment tracker will be a key component for brands as they plan their holiday campaigns, a source said. "It's big and it's something you were never able to do with Facebook before, and now you're able to add more key metrics to what success looks like for different campaigns," the source said. "Even for TV commercials, you can see what's buzzing on Facebook."