Working with Facebook Social Ads

So, here at Kinzin, we’ve been experimenting with Facebook’s Social Ads for the last few weeks, and I have a few results to report. Simple stuff first:

  • Click-through rates are abysmal. I was running the identical ad in about 15 different regions (you need to run them as separate ads to get the stats broken out), getting just over 10M views. Our average clickthrough rate was 0.06% (that’s 1 in 1513, for those counting at home). The best we did anywhere was 0.14%.
  • For some reason, we got quite different results (30-50% variance) if we ran exactly the same ad in exactly the same region, configured to show to men alone, women alone, and men and women together. For some reason, both together got much better results than either gender individually. Weird.
  • Again, the same ad: top four for clickthrough rates: Seattle, Portland, Alberta, and NYC. Bottom four: Toronto, the Maritimes, English Quebec, and Texas.

A little more subtle is the results from using “Social Actions”. That’s feature that Facebook advertises as being the differentiator for their ad platform. For those that don’t know what that is, Facebook will insert a blurb to let you know a Friend of yours has a relationship to the app or group that is the subject of the ad. A friend of mine might see, above an ad in the Facebook margins: “Michael Fergusson installed this app yesterday.” This is what Facebook has to say about it:

“What you’re looking at is a Social Ad. Advertisers provide the text, and Facebook pairs it with a relevant social action that your friend has taken. Social Ads mean advertisements become more interesting and more tailored to you and your friends. These respect all privacy rules; advertisers never have access to personal information about you or your friends….”

In theory, it could be useful to know that friends of yours use a particular app. In practice, it’s a bit creepy to see the name and photo of your friend in a banner ad. My advice in short: don’t use that feature. As I said in my last post, we’re still figuring out the rules of etiquette in this new space, but I don’t think Facebook (the company) has it quite right yet. For sure, it’s not right for us and our community.

On that note, I’d also like to apologize to any users of Kinzin applications that were creeped out by our (brief) use of that Facebook feature. We were as surprised as anyone by our negative reaction to seeing it in practice, and we turned it off as soon as we heard that others were feeling uncomfortable about it. We take our role in helping define this new space very seriously, and that role is not to push the boundaries of what’s acceptable, but to reflect the growing consensus of what’s desired.

It would be interesting to hear about other people’s experiences with the Facebook Social Ads. Anybody have anything to, um, add?

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Privacy and Social Networks

ATM Privacy Area, by Cackhanded. CC via FlickrMark Ury has a great post on Privacy at his blog The Restless Mind. As I said in my comment on his Blog, I’d like to make an observation about why managing privacy (and other rules of social etiquette) is even harder than it seems.

Real social networks have actual humans as the end points in the graph. Complicated, technology independent humans. I have dozens, perhaps even hundreds of social networks I participate in, and each one has its own complex rules of etiquette and privacy, even when the membership of the network is mostly or even completely the same. In fact, it’s those rules that really define the network itself: the people I trust with my kids, the people I gossip with at work, or the group of cousins in my family that happen to be around the same age. Each of these is defined as much or more by what we do together (the “social grooming” as Robin Dunbar calls it), as by the membership, which may be mostly or even entirely the same. One reason for why these rules especially difficult to express in software is that these networks (especially the ones most established in my life) are typically multi-modal by nature. Take the network of “the people who love and care for my kids”, as an example: some are in FB, some are email-only, and some (like my Gramma) offline entirely. We humans are very typically very good at picking up on and managing these social “rules”, but often have difficulty migrating those rules to a new or unfamiliar modality of communication. As the number ways in which we can communicate with each other increases (more rapidly all the time, it seems), the harder it becomes to manage the complex social rules that govern human interactions.

Kinzin’s approach to this problem is to build what we call “Virtual Private Social Networks”. You decide on the rules and membership of the network, independent of the communications technology. This is obviously easier with smaller networks, and where the level of trust and familiarity is high, so that’s where we’ve focused ourselves. These Are My Kids lets a network of close friends and family share information about the family’s kids. The rules for privacy are set by the parents, and the invited members of the network can use (nearly) any medium they like to access the network: Facebook, email, postal mail, etc. This way, busy parents can spend their time thinking about what it is they want to say, and not worrying about how or where to say it.

Michael on TV


Pretty lame to post this a couple of weeks late, but I’ve been busy, then I was on vacation, then I was busy again, then I forgot… you know the drill. Anyways, I was interviewed on CBC television for a story on internet privacy. Here’s a link (thanks, Frank): http://gallery.mac.com/flee1#100129.

lab logoSticking with TV Fame, Episode 140 of The Lab With Leo Laporte on G4 Tech TV in Canada includes me doing a segment with Leo, talking about designing and building applications in the era of social networking. That interview will be made available on The Lab website after it airs on television.

My interview on Raincity Radio


Just a quick note that my interview with Dave O from Raincity Studios has made its way to the web. Since that interview, our membership numbers have nearly quadrupled, but the basic message remains the same. Those Raincity guys are a lot of fun – Dave and I bonded over our love of hockey history. He especially loved the vintage 1916 Vancouver Millionaires jersey I was wearing (see pic). Any other Cyclone Taylor fans out there?

Teens and the Internet

The Pew Internet and American Life Project published a study of Teens and Social Media in late December, using data captured mostly in 2006 (so the stats on Facebook usage in particular are probably low). Great subtitle: “The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.”

Some quick hits:

  • 64% of online teens ages 12-17 have participated in content-creating activities on the internet, up from 57% of online teens in a similar survey at the end of 2004
  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.

  • Girls are more likely to Blog across all age groups. 35% of online girls blog, and even younger girls (32%) blog more than older boys (18%). Boys are more likely to use YouTube, and twice as likely as girls (19% vs 10%) to be posters of video content.
  • 55% of online teens ages 12-17 have created a profile on a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace; 47% of online teens have uploaded photos where others can see them (remember this data is from 2006).
  • Most teens restrict access to their posted photos and videos (77% say most or sometimes)– at least some of the time. Adults, somewhat surprisingly, restrict access to the same content less often (58%). Maybe they don’t know where to find the privacy settings.
  • Posted photos or videos are the launchpad for conversation. Nearly nine in ten teens who post photos online (89%) say that people comment at least sometimes on the photos they post.
  • Phones are still prominent in teen social life. What Pew calls “Multi-channel teens” layer each new communications opportunity on top of pre-existing channels. These multi-channel teens are slightly more likely to use landlines “every day” than the broader group(39%/46%), and twice as likely to use cellphones(35%/70%), IM (28%/54%), SMS (27%/60%), and send messages over social networking sites(21%/47%). The use of email is interesting: 14% vs. 22% – both very low compared to the other forms of communication.

The whole study is worth a read. It’s short, but interesting.

Is the world normal?

Last week, 24Hrs Newspaper published a story about Kinzin’s Facebook plugin Are You Normal? in their print and online magazine (see the great photo on the left, by Rob Kruyt, that accompanied the article). In the article, I’m quoted as saying that we’ve reached 90,000 people around the world. Thanks to the power of the network effect, as of this writing we’ve already passed 220,000 (from 184 countries!) and still going strong.

The point of this post is not to toot my own horn (at least, not only to do that :-), but to mention for your interest that the next set of survey questions we publish will be written in part by our user base. We’ve had questions submitted from Finland, Spain, Greece, Australia, and the UK so far. I’m very excited about this in particular. As with many things, when we’re talking about what’s “normal”, what we choose to measure is often as interesting as the results.

I’ll keep you posted as things progress…

You can’t have small without the big


Robert Scoble, in response to comments made by Evan Williams, creator of Twitter, at Web 2.0 asked the question: “why would anybody want a social network with only 10 friends? Seriously, don’t we already have this? It’s called a family.” Williams was talking about creative constraints. Limiting the scope of a social network (TuDiabetes), or limiting the size of a message (Twitter/SMS). I’m surprised, frankly, that Scoble would make such an obtuse comment. That I have lots of friends isn’t a reason to not use Facebook, and that my family exists says nothing about the modalities of communication I use to “groom” my relationships with them (to borrow a term from Robin Dunbar).

TuDiabetes for example is a small network (recently passing 1100 enthusiastic users), constrained in scope to the issues related to living with Diabetes. That it is small and constrained makes it more valuable, not less.

On the opposite end of the scale, The Economist recently published an article called “Social Graph-iti – There’s less to Facebook and other social networks than meets the eye“. I think it’s intended to be a cautionary article about “irrational exuberance” in the social networking space, along the lines of the recent New York Times article. There’s a lot that’s right in the Economist’s article, but I disagree with a few things. I think the author doesn’t understand the nature of social networks in this respect: we can and do belong to many at one time (as we have since before there were “humans” at all). Many of our social networks, in fact, are built on top of other, existing networks. For example, the management team I work with at Kinzin is a small network built out of my larger “business associates” network, which is part of my “everybody I know” network. It overlaps with my “close friends network” and my “co-workers” network, and so forth.

But unlike other networks, social networks lose value once they go beyond a certain size. “The value of a social network is defined not only by who’s on it, but by who’s excluded,” says Paul Saffo, a Silicon Valley forecaster. Despite their name, therefore, they do not benefit from the network effect.

Mr. Saffo is both sucking and blowing, though, using “Social Network” to mean two things at the same time: the sum of all the users who are members of a particular social networking application, and all of the connections that each individual member has on that network.

My personal network doesn’t scale for all the reasons that I’ve written about previously in my commentary on Dunbar’s Number , but Facebook’s network doesn’t have the problem in the same way. It can contain every human in the world, and it doesn’t lose value for me (at least not the same rate or in the same way), because I only need it to be able to find everyone in the world who potentially could be my contact, I don’t need everyone to actually be my contact. It seems to me the Economist doesn’t account for the fact that we all have multiple overlapping networks, containing people that in the end all are drawn from the same pool, namely all the humans in the world. If I’m trying to maintain 10 different social networks (friends, family, business, acquaintances, etc.), it’s helpful to have the underlying system contain all the people in all the networks. So Facebook having 6B members helps me to better create the 10 person network that represents my geographically dispersed family.

Everyone’s trying to make it simple: “Irrational Exuberance!”, or “Everything’s Really Different!” The reality, as it usually is with humans, is much more subtle.