Facebook acquired Whatsapp quite some time ago, with the $16 billion buyout creating waves across media – the eternal question was – Why? Why is a social network giant like Facebook acquiring a messenger app, which would supposedly have no repercussions on how users interact on this app. What is the next step here? Supposedly nothing…
Not so fast Facebook.
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend on Whatsapp about a very specific topic and, shortly after, I received a highly niche ad that specifically targeted the exact topic of conversation. Any normal person would feel excited to see an ad so tailored and relevant to a conversation and think nothing of it – maybe they’ll click on it and interact with the page. Not me. No siree. My social media advertising brain kicked into high gear and I decided to conduct a small experiment with my flatmate.
Over the next couple of days, we chose niche topics to talk about over Whatsapp – each topic which we hadn’t previously seen ads for in our timeline and subjects which we had not discussed previously.
What happened next was awesomely weird…
The first topic we chose was about a tropical holiday in Africa. As Facebook advertisers, we knew exactly how to manipulate the system:
Using the right keywords was pretty easy, and pretty soon I got to see this beauty in my timeline:
Now I’m not one to give credit to coincidence, so the test had to be conducted for a third time. This time, we wanted a topic that we would in no way be targeted for. A topic that is very niche and would in no way be considered a coincidence – which is when we decided to adopt a baby – on whatsapp only!
The conversation started pretty smoothly – using a range of keywords – interracial adoption, Asian adoption, single parenting, motherhood. We didn’t want to leave any opportunity unexplored… lo and behold, I give you my gem:
While Whatsapp cofounder Koum insisted that the deal would not impact the ‘values’ of Whatsapp, it’s hard to point out the exact reason for this partnership: “If partnering with Facebook meant that we had to change our values, we wouldn’t have done it,” he wrote in a blog post, “Speculation to the contrary isn’t just baseless and unfounded, it’s irresponsible.”
Baseless? Unfounded? Irresponsible?
I challenge you guys to have a conversation on Whatsapp and see what you see on Facebook. If the social platform is indeed using Whatsapp for keyword targeting, all I want is in. That’s awesome news for advertisers and brands – we can find the people talking about our brands and target them with relevant ads. But as a consumer, I believe a bit of disclosure is much needed on Whatsapp’s side.
So before you have your next conversation on Whatsapp.., remember Facebook might be watching you! Your move, Zuck.