“No company better exemplifies the internet-age dictum that if the product is free, you are the product. Facebook’s customers aren’t the people who are on the site: its customers are the advertisers” (Lanchester). Ever since I read John Lanchester article, ‘You Are the Product’, I have not been able to get it out of my head. Not because his claims are novel or staggering, but because how profoundly true it is. Especially in my own experience, because I am the biggest sucker for Facebook and Instagram ads. I have bought an embarrassing number of products off my social media platforms, and they have mostly been unnecessary purchases.
Here are just a few of the purchases I have made…
But honestly, I do not think I am ever going to stop, if I resist buying something one time it will just keep coming back until I finally cave and buy the dam thing. Here is how the addiction started.
Stage 1: Confusion and Discomfort
When I first saw an item that I had been looking at on Amazon redirected on to my Facebook page I was puzzled and taken aback. How did Facebook know I was looking for a hair straighter? I was viewing the straighter on my mom’s Amazon account so how did it end up on my Facebook page? (This is obviously before I knew how cookies worked). I was creeped out that Facebook retained this information and thought it was an invasion of my privacy.
Stage 2: First Use
As I am scrolling through my Facebook feed a sponsored post for 50-75% off swimsuits initially $40 on a website called Romwe. I was obviously intrigued because it was a freaking steal, but I did not click on it because it was the middle of fall and I had no need for swimsuits. However, a few weeks before spring break the ad resurfaced and this time I immediately clicked on it and bought three swimsuits.
Stage 3: Continued Use
Once I made this initial purchase, I was reassured that these advertisements were not scams I began clicking on more sponsored posts that caught my eye. Instead of getting creeped out about these appearing again, I bought most of the products because I thought I would never find them again.
Stage 4: Addiction
At this point I have become the ideal product marketers are looking for from Facebook and Instagram. Buying products and services through sponsored posts on social media had become a part of my existing behaviors, and they knew that. My social media feeds are plagued with sponsored content and I frequently find myself following-through to the purchase stage of the consumer buying process because—well I am a sucker and—the ads are personalized to my interests.
Or so I thought but I cannot help but see truth in Lanchester’s point that Facebook’s “news feed directs traffic at you based not on your interests, but on how to make the maximum amount of advertising revenue from you.”
However, is this practice really as evil as Lanchester makes it out to be or just an effective way to advertise a product or service to the right target base and encourage the customer to purchase? What is Facebook really doing wrong here? Retargeting is hardly a new concept, Google and online advertising networks have employing it for years, Facebook is just the perfect platform to use the technic. With 1.94 billion monthly active users, among all age groups, and over 70% of Facebook users visiting the site daily, the platform is the optimal place—along with Google—to digitally advertise. Business clearly seem to agree because over 5 million businesses use Facebook for advertising and is the preferred social network for 62% of marketers. (Dane, Klientboost). Facebook ads are also doing superior job of getting customers attention because according to Wordstream, the average click-through-rate for all of Facebook ads is 0.90% and the average conversion rate is 9.21%.
So, what Facebook collects data on its users to target ads and make money? If the business is to survive and continue to make advances as a digital company it needs a big source of revenue. With all the millions of other apps and websites competing to get users attention, it’s unlikely Facebook would do anything that would ostracize its users—such as share users’ private data. Furthermore, in the increasingly consumption driven society we live in, it would make sense that the ways we find goods and services compatible to our interests would be simpler.
On the other hand, could this lead us to consuming and purchasing more than we need, and to continuously placing a higher important on material goods and services.