In Social Media You Are the Product

What's going on behind the curtain at your favorite social media site?
What’s going on behind the curtain at your favorite social media site?

Facebook announced Tuesday that it had started a small test to let advertisers and agencies use Facebook Exchange (FBX) to serve retargeted ads — specifically called “Page post link ads” — to your News Feed, which, of course, is Facebook’s prime real estate. These ads take into account people’s browsing behavior outside Facebook, as captured through cookies, with the aim of offering up messages about products they’ve already shown interest in.


Queue Facebook User Privacy Freak Out

Every time news like this hits people become privacy freaks. Forget the fact that we all willfully post pictures of our kids, check-in at our favorite cool-guy-hangouts, and post updates from every corner of the globe. We still like to pretend that what we do online belongs to us.

Let me be clear, you are not a social media customer. You are the product. The only reason Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and yes… innocent little Snapchat even exist is to collect data from you about you so that these companies can turn around and sell that data about you to companies drooling to pay to place an ad on your phone, tablet, or computer.

That’s it.

You think it’s free and they just magically make billions of dollars?

Heh. Cute.

Well… cute, as if the Easter Bunny’s job wasn’t to bring you a little basket of resurrection eggs, but it was to sell the time and place your family eats dinner to a telemarketing company.

My mamma taught me that nothing in life is free.

Remarketing is Hot

Right now, the only thing with high ROI (return on investment) in the internet marketing world is something called behavioral retargeting or the industry term, remarketing.

Remarketing is simple, intuitive to the user, and very powerful. Let’s say you are looking at a trip to Paris on Travelocity, maybe you cruise over to Amazon to look for a Lonely Planet guide to Paris in another tab. Both Amazon, Google, and now Facebook have stored cookies in your browser which send back to your account what you are searching for while you’re logged in, even if you aren’t using the site at the time.

So, the next time you go to a website that serves Google ads, browse Amazon, or go to Facebook… guess what ads you’ll see? Ads for the hotels and tours in Paris I already looked at.  That’s remarketing… it’s serving you ads for things you are looking for even when you aren’t directly looking for them. As a marketer I love these ads because all its doing is asking people to come back and buy stuff they probably really want.

Wait! That’s annoying and intrusive and I’m pissed about that. Why do they do that? Because you click on them at a higher rate and complete transactions at a higher rate than any other way an ad is served. It’s not based on a hunch or a theory… it’s based on actual data for billions of ads delivered. They are doing it because it works and you like it even though you will say you don’t like it.

So why is Facebook doing this now?

With 1 billion active monthly users, Facebook is a behemoth in the social media landscape. But it’s also a behemoth in the web marketing world.

In truth, Facebook is late to the remarketing party. Amazon has been perfecting this technique for several years and Google has offered it to Adwords users for about 3 years.

Simply put, they are doing it to keep up with their competition in the web marketing world.

You are the product and they needed to do this so they could build their new office in Menlo Park.

Bottom Line: Can I Stop This?


Your only real option is to stop being the product. But you’re so hooked on the dopamine of notifications that they know you can’t do that.

Sure, you can make sure you sign out of Amazon, Google, or Facebook every time you leave the site. Sure, you can delete your browsers cookies every time you sign out… but you won’t. (All of those sites & makers of browsers are making it harder and harder to do that. On an iPhone it’s nearly impossible to sign out of Facebook and Twitter as both are “baked in” to the phone themselves.)

A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social MediaWant to learn more? Marko and I have a whole chapter dedicated to this topic in our book, A Parents Guide to Understanding Social Media. We’ll teach you how it all works and how to help your kids navigate their digital lives.

p.s. I have cookies on my blog. They are looking at your soul. And they are judging you because you are listening to a Justin Bieber, Drake, and Taylor Swift mix on Pandora right now.






9 responses to “In Social Media You Are the Product”

  1. Ruth Avatar

    I’m so thankful for our history, Adam. I bought 3 of your books today to give to my daughters to read for their own tweens. It’s so nice to see ministry going into the next generation yet again.

  2. Chris Marsden Avatar

    I only listen to that music to stay relevant.

  3. […] You are the product they are selling! […]

  4. […] You are the product they are selling! […]

  5. Cheyenne Merced Avatar
    Cheyenne Merced

    “They are looking at your souls”___ (deep)

  6. […] question: should I trust social media with my information? And how is it being used? As Adam Mclane states, “We still like to pretend that what we do online belongs to us”. But does […]

  7. […] 2013 Adam Mclane made a pretty stunning observation: “In Social Media You Are the Product” It’s important to know, as a user on a community, what your value to the platform […]

  8. […] Well, mostly because it helps us all move away from centralized social media platforms like Facebook and X. Platforms where the primary customer is advertisers and not regular people like you and me. Platforms where you and I are the Product. […]

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