Married Minors and the Future of Facebook

After about 20 minutes of fun it was clear that I could write dozens of posts about the demographics of Facebook. But it’s getting late so for now I’ll only focus on a few fun facts. Thanks to Vince for encouraging me to check out the link -, it made my day.

So all of my readers likely have heard the well documented success of Facebook; and it’s darling status as THE tool people need to exploit for their latest marketing endeavor. What is pretty remarkable is how much data folks are offering up about themselves that Facebook can use to target marketing back to the users. I suppose it’s a lot less than what Google has on it’s millions of Gmail users but it seems everyone’s forgotten about that privacy issue for now.

But there is dark side of Facebook data: it is certainly not clean data. Today I was visiting the page I mention above and it was fun to play with the form that dynamically updated how many Facebook users would see my advertisement. Starting with just over 22 million folks I could slice and dice to my hearts content. For sometime I have been critical of user-supplied data and the reliability of that content, but nothing prepared me for this: 5.4% of U.S. teenagers 13-17 years old are married. That’s right, about 220,000 of the 4.1 millions folks on Facebook in that demographic chose the “married” relationship status. And 7,200 of them are college graduates to boot.

I also dug into some other interesting aspects of the data. Based on figures from the US Census bureau, it seems that nearly 40% of all 13-17 year olds in Kansas are on Facebook compared to less than 9% for the same group in California. In fact, the per capita subscription of Kansas teens is 4x compared to California. Surprisingly New York had the most teens on Facebook. What happened to the Golden State’s high-tech lead?

When you start looking into the celebrated “high growth” segments of Facebook you can really see the reach is pretty low. With less than 1.2 million users over the age of 36, Facebook users in this demographic represent less than 0.8% of the U.S. population for this age group. Considering that same week, syndicated reruns of “Everyone Loves Raymond” was seen by 5.9 million viewers it would seem if you’re trying to reach old people you might want to keep looking.

Okay, throw me from the bus! Yes, you can highly target ads on Facebook. Yes, they have a TON of eyeballs and yes social networking is hot … and yes I have a Facebook account I visit everyday. But all this demographic data is in the end quite worthless. What Facebook really needs is what I call “intentional data” - information about what a user is planning to do. Knowing I’m 45, married, living in 66224 isn’t very interesting. Yes, as an advertiser I can infer lots of things about a person with those demographics but it pales to intentional data. Knowing I read and am in the market for a new car is quite another and far more valuable to advertisers.

Someday in the future it won’t be about who you say you are, it will be about what you plan to do.

UPDATE: Yes I’ve heard from a few of you that teens play around with relationship status. I know that my teenagers’ peers, when in a serious relationship, set their status to married. My goal was to highlight the potential weaknesses in believing user-generated content and the limitations of any demographic data when marketing a product. When it comes to technology there are many who praise and celebrate it’s newness. You would think that with social networking tools we could transcend the 1950’s way of seeing people - as nicely sliced demographic faceless trolls.