How Smart is Facebook’s Algorithm Really?

On Saturday, as I drove home from Houston I made a quick stop at Arby’s to grab a couple of roast beef sandwiches to eat in the car.

On Saturday night, Facebook showed me an Arby’s ad.

I didn’t mention going to Arby’s on social media, didn’t check in online, didn’t connect to their wifi, didn’t really do much of anything that would have indicated to the internet that I had gone to an Arbys, but hey, I did have my iPhone with me, and we all know it’s constantly tracking me. So it’s possible that Facebook somehow knew I had been there. (That’s a post for another time.)

But, that begs another question. Why show me an ad for something that I had already done? Is the best advertising for Arby’s to show an ad to people who just left Arbys?

I ask because there was another incident last week with Facebook ads that I thought was really weird. We went to see Flogging Molly in New Orleans on Tuesday night. I had learned about the show from their Facebook page, had clicked the “I’m going” button on the New Orleans event page, and even bought tickets online from a Facebook link. Yet, Facebook kept showing me ads for the show. On Tuesday Facebook even showed me a reminder about the show that night that I was going to, immediately followed by an ad for that same show.

Now, I was tempted to just say that Facebook’s advertising algorithm obviously just has some dumb logic behind it. Similar to the way Facebook measures interactions, so if you reply with a Snopes rebuttal of obviously bullshit stories, it thinks you must want more obviously bullshit stories. (BTW, that’s why I simply stopped responding to stupid stories. If you want to pass along stupid BS, I’ll judge you and hide your posts from now on instead.) Except that doesn’t quite seem right. That interaction algorithm is measuring what you respond to, and you did, in fact, respond to that story. It’s not just a dumb logic error, but these ads seem like a dumb logic error.

It also seems like something that should be easy to correct, right? Why should the logic for choosing who to show that Flogging Molly ad to only consider location, and interest in the band, without also throwing in a AND NOT “going” to the event?

Maybe because Facebook doesn’t really care. Their job is not to sell more tickets to the event, it’s to show the ad to as many people who fit the target audience as it can. What do they care if the band, or venue, is wasting an ad display on someone who’s already bought tickets? What do they care if the “expressed interest” in Arby’s was just leaving one with my lunch.

They don’t. Their job is to sell targeted advertising. Never forget that is why Facebook does anything that it does. To collect data about it’s users, and sell targeted ads based on that information. If the information isn’t exactly correct, well, too bad. Who else is going to help you target your audience the same way?

Well, other than Google, who’s in the same exact business!

So when you think about why any social media tool makes changes, and alters things, always remember what the point really is, to show you ads.



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