Free Samples

June 23, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Google has nGrams for quick content analysis of words and phrases in “lots of books.”  Google also has Correlate which allows you to trace search strings across time and place and to discover correlations between search strings. 

Facebook too makes information on their users available, though their motive is not so selfless as Google’s.  The do it so that advertisers can narrow their target.  Planet Money had a story recently about a pizza joint in New Orleans that used FB’s data to select the target audience for its ads.
Their first idea was to target the friends of people who already liked Pizza Delicious on Facebook. But that wound up targeting 74 percent of people in New Orleans on Facebook — 224,000 people. They needed something narrower.

The Pizza Delicious guys really wanted to find people jonesing for real New York pizza. So they tried to target people who had other New York likes — the Jets, the Knicks, Notorious B.I.G. Making the New York connection cut the reach of the ad down to 15,000.

Seemed perfect. But 12 hours later, Michael called us. “It was all zeroes across the board,”  he said. Facebook doesn't make money till people click on the ad. If nobody clicks, Facebook turns the ad off. They'd struck out.

So they changed the target to New Orleans fans of Italian food: mozzarella, gnocchi, espresso. This time they were targeting 30,000 people.

Those ads went viral. They got twice the usual number of click-throughs, on average. The ad showed up more than 700,000 times. Basically, everyone in New Orleans on Facebook saw it. Twice.
To get the access to the data, you don’t really have to be an advertiser; you just have to play one on Facebook.  Neal Caren at UNC tells you how.  He used Facebook to compare rates of same-sex and hetero preferences across age groups and states.  His instructional post is here.

(HT: Philip Cohen)

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