By Matthew Klein

April 17th, 2015

Facebook recently announced that they will soon allow certain partners access to new types of data on the conversations that people are having on the network.

Facebook is calling it topic data. It will be keyword based, and it will give marketers insights about the demographics of the users who are discussing specific topics.

The data will be accessible through Facebook partner Datasift, which will make it available to a limited number of its partners in the US and UK to start through its Pylon program.

The news is a change for Facebook, which has generally allowed less access to data about what users were saying because so many posts on the network are private.

How will it work?

Facebook topic data will provide anonymized demographic data and insights from all posts and status updates, except those that are only viewable by the poster.

Facebook gave the example of a company that sells hair products. They could use the topic data to get demographic data about the people who are talking about having frizzy hair, and could base their ad targeting on that data.

Techcrunch reports that the data will include sentiment and location data, mention volume, and words that are often mentioned along with a search term. Datasift said companies will also be able to access engagement data.

This kind of topic data could hope brands hone targeting for their ad spend, potentially increasing its effectiveness (and, Facebook probably hopes, driving them to increase it).

The data could also prove to be a valuable research tool in and of itself. Learning more about the people who are talking about your brand and topics relevant to it can improve the focus of marketing beyond Facebook as well.

The major draw is of course Facebook’s 1.3+ billion active users and the huge amount of content they generate. Having a pipeline into all this data could provide significant insights for broader queries, as well as valuable information for fine-grained queries, which can be difficult to get meaningful data on.

For example, it stands to reason that a query like “love (brand),” with Facebook’s big user base, would be enough to return meaningful results (there have to be over 100 results for information to be returned), which could help brands learn more about the people who felt very positively towards them on Facebook.

Techcrunch did also note that it wouldn’t be possible to directly target ads based on the data returned from queries (You’ll have the information that 10,000 people are talking about your brand in a region and see demographic info on them, but you won’t have an option to push ads those exact 10,000 people).


Datasift will process Facebook data and provide results and insights to its partners

More data, more emphasis on privacy

Before this change, Facebook allowed companies, through third party data providers, to listen to publicly made posts on the network. Usually through tools built to monitor multiple social channels, brands could get aggregate data on keywords—brand names or topics relevant for their audience, as well as the mentions themselves.

In the new setup, specific mentions made in public posts will, it seems, no longer be available.

In its place will be the aggregate topic data. This data will not include all of the context that the keyword data did—brands won’t be able to see which specific users posted it or read whole posts. But it will increase the volume of data drawn from significantly, as it’s not limited to only public posts.

It looks as though Facebook is betting that this will better balance the interests of users and advertisers—user data will be completely anonymized here, but brands will get insights from a wider swath of them.

A new direction for Facebook data?

This brings the data about user conversations that Facebook offers a little closer to what Twitter does—essentially gives access to the full “firehose” of tweets.

The way that people use Facebook and Twitter seems to me at least to be converging, at least to some extent: On Facebook, people are sharing more and more third-party content and posting statuses that are meant for larger number of friends, making my news feed resemble my Twitter timeline more. But the use cases for the networks will never be completely the same..

Facebook’s update here seems to be acknowledging this, offering access to more data, but keeping it anonymous. Facebook is it seems hoping that this will be better all around—more useful to marketing partners and more secure for users.

We should see soon exactly how it looks, and if, as we hope, it will make Facebook better for both users and brands.

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