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Facebook just launched Atlas, a platform that it believes will fix many of the problems with today's cookie-based advertising methods. They describe it as a shift to "people-based marketing".  In this post, I will describe how things work today and how Facebook's Atlas platform will make things better for brands and users.

"What the Heck is...?" is our  series about the most important updates and changes in social media and how it will affect YOUR goals, presence and ranking.

The Problem with Cookies

When cookies were invented, they were a great way to let websites know whether the current visitor had been there before and customize the website appropriate. They are still used this way to save information about the user, such as their logged-in state, information filled out in forms, and other parts of the session that make using a website easier.

Later, cookies began to be used by advertisers to track users around the web. If you have ever looked at a product on one site and then seen ads for it on other sites later in the day, it is because of these tracking cookies.

But tracking cookies don't know very much about the viewer - just the sites they have visited. The ad platforms behind them spend a lot of time building up profiles based on that over time, but they are still quite limited. And there is no way to track the same user easily across devices.

Why does this matter? Because this means that the targeting options for business are very limited - ads can't be easily personalized based on who is viewing them. And for consumers, it means that they are often shown ads that don't really relate to what they are interested in. No wonder they are ignored.

How it Works on Facebook Now

Facebook has done a great job getting users to fill out their user profiles and to constantly update them with all the things that they like and share on Facebook and around the web. Facebook is then able to let marketers target users who match distinct demographics - gender, location, age AND interests. So, the quality of ads on Facebook SHOULD be much higher than those on the web in general. 

Facebook also applies this methodology to content via Sponsored posts in the News Feed, again letting marketers promote their posts to users based on these parameters. In both cases, the content that the user sees can be personalized based on all these characteristics.

The Facebook Ads platform is pretty ruthless in optimizing who sees content and how often based on how well it is performing. So an ad that is getting no clicks will be phased out in favor of ads that do. This means that the ads a user sees should get better over time. So, on Facebook, this targeting and optimization system is already people-centric.

Atlas Brings People-Based Marketing to the Web

Once a user is logged into Facebook, they take that logged-in status to every website that has a Facebook Like button or Share button or any of the other social plugins. That is what lets a user just click the like button without having to log in each time. 

Facebook's Atlas program uses this type of technology to "know" who the viewing user is and their key demographics. When a visitor goes to a website that uses the Atlas platform to display ads, Atlas is able to display a personalized ad based on the demographics that Facebook knows about for that user - their gender, age, location and their interests. And it can do this across devices, since being logged into Facebook is something people do on mobile and on the desktop.

Users get to see ads that relate to who they are, not just the websites they have visited. And brands get to show the right message at the right time to the right users.

What Should You Do About It?

The best way to get started with People-Based Marketing is on Facebook itself.

  1. Segment Your Audience - you need to know who makes up your customers and what their requirements are for your brand. You can do this with full out buyer's personas or just start with some educated guesses and test and refine as you go along.
  2. Create Custom Audiences - Facebook lets you import email addresses to create distinct groups of users on Facebook that can be targeted in ads. But, if you don't have an email list, you can create Custom Audiences on the fly using Facebook's tracking pixels in apps or on websites.
  3. Build Distinct Campaigns - using these segments and custom audiences, create several sets of images and messaging for each group. Then use create a small Facebook Ad campaign for each group and test the effectiveness. The best combination will rise to the top. 
  4. Refine and Relaunch - analyze the results of the ad campaign and refine the messaging and targeting appropriately. Then launch new ads with the updated information.
  5. Take it to the Next Level - with this segmentation and advertising effectiveness data at hand, you can approach a Facebook advertising platform partner and begin a larger campaign either on Facebook or on the Atlas platform.

What do you think about Facebook Atlas? Are you already doing People-Based Marketing on Facebook?

Post by John Maver
October 06, 2014