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What does Facebook actually know about me?

We’ve all thought it: “is Facebook listening to my conversations?”. With that in mind, I decided to open the can of worms so that you don’t have to. How much does Facebook actually know about me?

A quick, tantalising introduction: yes, it probably knows the sound of your voice. Without too much exertion, it could also:

  • Tell you your Candy Crush stats from 2012
  • Pick you out of a crowd based on your appearance
  • Show you every conversation you’ve ever had (I went there – turn back now, weary time traveller)

In this blog, I’m going to be focusing on interests, because they dictate much of our experience on the platform, including the ads we are served.

In turn, it might have something to teach us about how we can best use it to target the people we want to reach.

How it works

In short, no, Facebook is not listening to you. Not only would that be a serious breach of your privacy, but it wouldn’t be efficient for them to do so. They know enough about you based on your activity.

Everything you engage with formulates your future experience. Watched 15 seconds of a dog video? Expect more coming your way soon.

Sure, it can feel absurdly accurate; almost as though you’re being listened to. But if you’ve spoken to a friend about a specific pair of running trainers, then you see several ads about the brand they mentioned, don’t be too fearful. Here’s why:

  1. You and your friend, as keen runners, might already be fans of similar brands
  2. Facebook not only knows what you like, but what your friend likes too
  3. If your friend has visited the site, engaged with ads, or even added a product to their basket, then you’re a natural next step in terms of the brand’s targeting

Facebook targeting can take many different forms, all available to you through Ads Manager:

  1. You can target people based on their interests, which is what we’re focusing on today – i.e. running, cycling, personal finance – this is based on their activities and engagement with content on the platform
  2. You can target people based on their behaviours – i.e. business owners, page admins, frequent shoppers – this is based on their behaviour on the platform
  3. You can target people based on their demographics – i.e. women ages 45-55 who live in Bristol – this is based on the demographic details they have entered on their profile
  4. You can target people who look similar to an existing audience – i.e. people who have the same interests, demographics and behaviours that your page fans have – this is called a Lookalike audience
  5. You can target people who are friends/family of an existing audience – i.e. people who are friends or family of your page fans – this is called a Friends and Family audience
  6. You can target people who have engaged with your brand off the platform – i.e. people who have visited your website recently – this is called a Pixel audience
  7. You can target a database – i.e. a mailing list – this is called Custom audience

Time to download my data

If you want to follow along at home and do this yourself, you can download all the information Facebook has on you. Here’s how.

Once downloaded, you’ll be greeted with a whole host of folders, some more intriguing than others:

What does Facebook know about my interests?

For this exercise, I am going to focus on ‘Ads and businesses’. Here is where you’ll find all the data the platform holds about your interests.

It’s probably worth noting that I don’t use Facebook in any substantial personal sense. I’m on it every day managing advertising campaigns for our clients, but I don’t post on my personal feed. I tend to quietly scroll, watch dog videos and engage with friends’ posts now and again.

After viewing my interests, it seemed a mixed bag:

  • Some are bang on: ‘Animal welfare’, ‘Coffee’, ‘Advertising’, various festivals, fashion brands and bands.
  • Some are abstract and weird: ‘Artisan’, ‘Colours’ and ‘Noun’ (?)
  • Some are baffling and way off target: ‘Major League Baseball’, ‘Space (Latin American TV Channel)’ and ‘Capri pants’ (???). I laughed.

These interests are directly targetable. I could employ all of the above in any type of campaign I was running on Facebook.

With so much nonsense in there, it did make me wonder: how accurate is Facebook interest-based targeting? After all, it takes up a huge proportion of the work I do.

I then analysed all 624 interests and determined how many were actually applicable to me in some sense.

480 were highly relevant interests for me. A 76% accuracy isn’t bad at all.

How can we use this to our best advantage?

When you consider the fact that interest-based targeting is only one option out of at least seven targeting methods, the accuracy is even more appealing.

Interests can even be layered to increase accuracy by ‘narrowing’ down your targeting.

Here’s where focusing on your ideal client really comes into play. As a financial adviser or planner, it’s essential that you define your client personas as part of your marketing strategy.

Once completed, you can use this in incredible detail in your targeting. You can ask Facebook to really narrow down your interests-based targeting to only reach your ideal client. For example, you can target people who are interested in:

  • ‘Personal finance’
  • AND ‘Mortgages’
  • AND ‘Retirement’

Then think about their ‘lifestyle’ interests and layer those too:

  • Where do they shop?
  • What newspapers do they read?
  • What hobbies do they have?

By doing so, the chances of reaching the sort of individual that you want to increase.

What’s more, it’s important to remember that Facebook works hard to deliver ads to the right person. An individual’s defined ‘interests’ are an intricate combination of:

  1. The posts, videos and articles they have recently engaged with
  2. The activity and interests of their friends and family
  3. The activity and interests of everyone on Facebook

So, there we have it. A tiny section of Facebook’s knowledge about us is quite illuminating; it certainly encourages me to be more creative and explorative when it comes to interests-based targeting. And interests are just the tip of the iceberg!

Want to try it yourself?

If you’d like to know more about how we can help you to reach your ideal clients on Facebook, get in touch by emailing or calling 0115 8965 300.

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