How well do your Facebook friends know you? If you’re like most users, only about four people in your social media network can be considered your “real” friends. The truth is, your “friends” and followers just don’t know you that well—but the app you’re using might.
For marketers, it’s no secret that social media apps are hotspots for collecting personal data. These are applications that mandate people to share personal details about themselves, identify their interests, and emotionally react to posts they encounter. It would be a grievous missed opportunity if their head engineers weren’t keeping tabs on all that user data.
So why are social apps so invasive when it comes to these details? Is there an ethical line that should be drawn? And how should you, as a marketer, approach this data?
The Value of Personal Data
First, let’s look at why personal data is so valuable to social media sites in the first place:
- Advertising. The vast majority of revenue enjoyed by social media apps comes from advertising. The better-focused and more effective this advertising is, the more their business users will be willing to pay for it. Facebook, in particular, has taken advantage of this by allowing advertisers to target users of hyper-specific qualities, down to their individual interests and past behaviors. The more data these platforms collect, the more money they can make from advertisers.
- Content curation. Plus, platforms can use data to produce better, more intelligent newsfeeds, which keep their user numbers high. Last year, Instagram became one of the most recent platforms to roll out a newsfeed algorithm that prioritizes posts based on a number of factors, including user engagement history and perceived preferences. The more a social media app knows about you, the more personalized the content it can show you, and the more likely you’ll be to stick around and keep coming back.
- Future applications. Social media apps may be hoarding user data for other, future purposes. You’re voluntarily giving up most of your information when you sign up for these platforms, so social media companies may be able to use them in even more innovative ways in the next several years.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen increasing trends in multiple areas of user data on social media. Companies are collecting more data than ever before, and are working to process that data in more accessible ways. For example, most platforms are constantly refining their advertising platforms to allow for even better, more specific targeting, and are rolling out new ways to view the results of those campaigns to simplify the process.
Soon, it will become possible for any company with enough money to learn anything they want about their target populations, even down to the individual level—that is, if users are willing to accept it.