Lee Hackett
Lee Hackett 22 August 2017

Facebook’s identity crisis; social platform or DMP?

It’s easy to forget that Facebook isn’t free. That while you think you’re using a social media outlet, Facebook is extracting currency in return. It’s a pretty new denomination, in fairness, but its value is undeniably high in our world right now. The currency you trade with them is your data.

For your personal data and coverage of your actions and interactions, you receive access to a social platform with a whole host of services and applications to play with. You can post, like, comment, message, discuss and argue with strangers till blood comes out of your ears. In return, all of this information is extracted for the purposes of businesses looking to engage with you as well as sell you on their brand and hopefully their products and services.

This is nothing new or groundbreaking to you. At least, I hope it’s not.

My interest is in the conflict which is now at the heart of Facebook and its future. It’s a conflict which has come to light most recently in the wake of some major political upheavals in the form of Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the threat and dissipation of populism in Europe and a whole lot more unfolding around the world on a regular basis.

As the world heats up, Facebook is struggling to balance its dual identity which has data at its heart. The struggle between being a social service for its 2 billion end users and a monolithic business service provider. The latter appears to be winning. But for how long?

Facebook’s data currency goldmine

It seems almost unnecessary to point out the wealth of insight Facebook has about its users and what it can provide businesses about customers and prospects in terms of clever targeting. Facebook is a king when it comes to collecting data, interpreting it and converting insights into action, profit and growth.

As of June 2017, Facebook now has over 2 billion active monthly users. That is a lot of deterministic data they now have access to, ready to use. On top of that, their algorithms get smarter all the time. For the users, it means their feeds, recommendations and suggestions are more attuned to who they are than ever before. Though of course, that is not always a healthy thing, as we’ve since added ‘echo chamber’ to our digital vocabulary and extremism can flourish as a result of completely one sided online environments that offer no counter-perspectives.

But for businesses, the value is clear and obvious. They want in, with their preferred method of entry being through the use of a DMP.

What is a DMP?

A Data Management Platform (DMP) is software that collates and segments information about your clients, delivering it back to you in a way that’s useful for you as a marketer or advertiser. They use first, second and third party data so you can create detailed and accurate audience segments and profiles. You can then target these with relevant and well timed interactions and advertisements across multiple channels and devices. What’s great is that you can also track campaign performance, refine your efforts and better measure your marketing ROI.

A lot of businesses turn to the likes of Oracle-owned Datalogix, BlueKai, Adobe Audience Manager and Neustar for help with this. But there is serious friction between these products and Facebook, and more problems are appearing on the horizon than some businesses would like. It boils down to two key issues; who owns the data and how does it interact with other sets?

Enter Atlas

Facebook is very protective of their data and how it gets used, understandably. Their value as a company is inextricably linked to their data. This is why a lot of DMPs, like those mentioned above, face difficulty in working with Facebook. That’s why in 2015, Facebook bought Atlas from Microsoft. A piece of ad server software that becomes something of a DMP itself thanks to its housing of Facebook user identity data and focus on measurement.

It’s these DMP characteristics which rub up other, external, DMP providers the wrong way. Favouring Facebook ID tracking clearly cuts out cookie based measurement used by other DMPs. It’s a very select list of DMP tags that have been approved, hindering a marketer’s ability to track audience segments completely with anything other than Atlas (which itself has blind spots such as YouTube and Google ads).

You see where the friction lies?

If you want to rely purely on Facebook's definition of audiences and apply that to your measurement and targeting, inside of Facebook, there’s no real problem. Get on board with Atlas, like Ferrero has. Put all your data in its hands. But if you’re looking to mix that data with your own and other sources, the walls come up. Classic Facebook dominance shows up once again.

So what’s stopping them from declaring themselves a fully fledged DMP?

What’s getting in the way?

Again, data ownership plays a big part. Facebook may be a king, but it’s not the only king around. Consider Google. In much the same way, its data is its value. They are in competition with each other, in the data marketplace. If marketers choose Atlas, they’ll find blind spots in YouTube and a wall preventing Google ads being served in its platforms. Marketers will therefore always find their views fragmented and no DMP will be able to pull everything together with any ease.

Then there is the existential problem conflict at the heart of Facebook. It walks the line between social media platform and a business which seeks to generate profit and dominate the data world.

It’s the former which pulls up the reins more than anything. They must satisfy their end user. Even with market dominance and absorption strategies in play, they’re not yet arrogant enough to completely dismiss their 2 billion account holders as surplus to requirement. They can’t bite the hands that feed them too much, too often. Nor do they want to. Privacy restrictions and upcoming legislation changes such as GDPR will always act as a control, as lawmakers work to express the will of the public and counter monopolies and bad practices. As Google’s recent fine from the EU shows, the big four are not immune. Not yet. They must keep their customers happy. Selling out completely as a DMP may be a step too far.


Customers and end users, demand more in return for your data. Keep your standards high and remember the transaction that’s occurring every time you use Facebook and social media across all your devices. Hold Facebook and businesses to account and don’t forget your power. Please don’t ever forget that data is now a currency and therefore an asset.

Businesses and marketers in particular must recognise the inherent conflict in Facebook’s existence and align their efforts to their ultimate purpose - serving the end user. This should get priority, with making revenue and impressing clients and shareholders second. It’s an old fashioned approach, I know, but it has stood the test of time for a very good reason - it works out well for all involved.

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