At its annual F8 conference this coming week, Facebook will announce it’s solved a vexing problem for marketers trying to reach consumers on mobile: The sandbox.
Mobile advertising, you see, to date has stunk. The prime reason is that data about consumers — the core of any advertising is the information that allows you to target someone — has been largely missing in mobile advertising. When you use your cell phone, there is large entity called your phone carrier between you and most marketers, and the data about who you really are (gender, age, income, habits) doesn’t get through that intermediary very easily. Now, of course, many apps can monitor your behavior and gather information about you. A weather app likely knows what cities a business traveler goes to, and a news app may be able to build a profile of you based on your content consumption.
But apps don’t talk to each other well, and all the data within each app has been “sandboxed.” This means that the vast majority of mobile advertising to date has been ludicrously un-targeted. Some mobile ad networks claim they can IP target, but that is based on cell tower location, and only good to a few miles. So, like the very early days of web advertising, mobile targeting hasn’t worked well, and mobile ad dollars have not followed.
Except for Facebook.
In 2013 Facebook began rocking mobile advertising with its own system, because of course Facebook is more than a social network — it is a data giant, with enormous profiles of who you are, who you are dating or married to, your friends, your interests, and behavior. If you are logged into Facebook, suddenly marketers have a dreamload of data about you. In Q4 2013, Facebook made more than half its total revenue from mobile advertising.
Facebook is smart, and realizes that its nexus as the main social media platform may not last forever — so it needs to build out new revenue streams. How? By using all that data elsewhere, outside of the Facebook system.
Observers say Facebook will announce at F8 a new mobile advertising platform that allows marketers to use Facebook data outside of Facebook on other mobile apps. This is revolutionary, because for the first time marketers can really target mobile based on robust profile information. Marketers will love this, not only for the targeting ability, but for scale — because now it won’t matter if the consumer is reading her Facebook Newsfeed or checking a weather app, she can be reached across thousands of mobile touchpoints.
The data that used to be sandboxed inside each single mobile app is now accessible everywhere, with Facebook owning the treasure trove. And with 37% of all U.S. consumer digital “media time” now spent on mobile devices, ad dollars will pour into Facebook’s new mobile ad network.
Data is the future of Facebook
Beyond this tactical network, this signals in the future Facebook will be much more than a social network. It has become both the keys to the Internet (you can log on to most major sites with Facebook) and the safety deposit box for your personal information. Facebook is the new Experian, a vast trove of data that marketers can use almost anywhere. If wearable technology takes off, Facebook will be there. If consumers gain enough trust to start buying products through Facebook, the social network could rival Amazon.com in personalization and e-commerce. If Facebook wanted a slice of the $144 billion U.S. television market ($70B in advertising plus $74B in cable subscription fees), it could launch broadcast capabilities with revolutionary data targeting ability.
This is not silly conjecture. Facebook is smart, and somewhere in its boardrooms lies a master, multiyear plan of how it will expand its services carefully using its data bank to protect itself from the inevitable decline of its social network while jacking up its stock price. Networks can only increase in value if the size of the network increases. With Facebook’s direct social users capping out (there are only so many people on the planet), it needs to expand its nodes elsewhere.
Like 1970s Ham radio, social media fads don’t last for long. But the data Facebook has on you is forever. Look for it next month via relevant ads on your smartphone.