As Facebook looks to scale its $1 billion profit for 2011 reported in its IPO filing, its data on about 845 million users is its chief asset. But the company has been restrained in what it offers fan-page owners. It provides aggregate data on the makeup of a fan base, including age ranges and top cities of residence, as well as a breakdown of how fans were acquired.
But for all that marketers can glean from Facebook's Insights API tool, they can't tap into interest-level data unless they enlist researchers to search public information on fans' profiles. They also can't easily segment a specific fan group to determine whether their path across a page led them to buy something. And it's laborious to marry Facebook users to a direct mail or email database.
Facebook is still largely a black box, and it's been suggested that advertising dollars would flow more freely if it were more transparent and allowed marketers to turn on third-party tracking. But given its privacy history and recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Facebook will probably be circumspect about tracking.
Here are three approaches for marketers looking to derive more data-driven value from their Facebook presence:
Build a social app
Marketers can be on the level with consumers by obtaining their email addresses, friends lists and other profile information through apps that require an explicit opt-in. Compelling tie-ins exist for brands looking to do email marketing.
Ben Bloom, a digital strategist at Wunderman, offered a hypothetical scenario of an airline app that would capture when its fans "liked" a competitor and trigger an email that sent them reward points. "In the best case, it's an even exchange of value," he said. "You'd want consumers to be excited about this application."
Facebook-powered apps can also be executed on owned sites and collect the same data categories. For example, an app developed by Social Amp for 1-800-Flowers.com shows users their Facebook friends with coming birthdays and can send a weekly email digest.
The downside to apps is that they typically cost between $10,000 and $50,000 and have low interaction rates, according to Yoram Greener, head of analytics at social-media agency Big Fuel.
"Apps are probably the purest organic way you can have Facebook fans opt in and then provide you with their email address and other PII [personally identifiable information]," Mr. Greener said. But "not a lot of people will do it."
Hire someone to 'scrape' user profile pages
Social-media analytics geared toward helping brands and agencies make their Facebook data actionable is an expanding cottage industry, and big agencies are likely to be using a cross-section.
"We're in the early days of [social] analytics and need all the help we can get," said John Montgomery, chief operating officer at Group M Interaction. The agency is executing a global audit to find "the tools that are the most useful" in making sense of social-media data, he said.
Research company MotiveQuest monitors Facebook conversations and other online forums for Group M's automotive clients to identify brand advocates. It layers its findings on sales numbers, and looks for the correlation between advocacy and higher sales.
A startup, Fliptop, pairs companies' customer information, such as email addresses, with Facebook and Twitter IDs. One marketing implication is the ability to target emails to active Facebook users and incentivize them to be fans of the brand's page, said CEO Doug Camplejohn. He noted that all data gleaned by Fliptop is publicly available through a Google search.
Such data-scraping technology is getting more sophisticated, and Mr. Greener said that Big Fuel can track users who click on an ad or another link that takes them beyond Facebook's ecosystem, though he noted that it's an expensive execution that they've done on a limited basis.
For example, Mr. Greener said, an automaker could "cookie" users who click on its Facebook ad, and then serve display ads when they visit competitor sites, the assumption being that they're close to buying a car.
The end goal is not to get PII but to know where people are browsing "so we can communicate with them effectively before they get into and after they leave Facebook," Mr. Greener said.
Spend big on Facebook ads
Facebook typically gives top advertisers early access to products. That special attention extends to interest-level data for marketers spending at least seven figures, according to someone familiar with the deals.
That data include results from polls Facebook occasionally conducts on behalf of advertisers that surface in users' news feeds.
According to Facebook spokesman Brandon McCormick, the company's ultimate aim is to make interest-level data more broadly available.