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The Dark Side of Facebook Custom Audiences: Facebook UserID Scraping

Posted on January 01, 2014

So, I am sure by now you have heard about all the cool things that online marketers can do with Facebook Custom Audiences already. If not, here's the scoop; you can now start importing your email database into Facebook, and use this to generate target audiences for advertising!

You can do this in two general ways:

Target to the actual list: The easiest way to use this feature is to just target and reach all the members already signed up to your email list. This can work great if you have a really big, or well converting email list, and reach those users who are signed up, but may not yet be following you on Facebook. Target users who are similar to those on your email list: Facebook takes all the information relating to your existing database, combs all user profiles, and tries to determine other similar and like-minded people that it assumes will be interested in your offering based on their profile, Likes, comments, and user history. I won't go into too much detail on this one, but the above tends to work best if you have quite a large list, and is certainly proven to work amazingly well. Some more information can be found on the following blog posts:

So, what happens if you don't have an email list? Or you do, but its either tiny, or you just want to have a bigger reach? We'll there are a few options, but you will need to come over to the dark side of Facebook Advertising.

A little disclaimer: The following has been tested to work, but we take no responsibility for it being either approved by the Facebook Terms of Service, or it being completely unethical. Use at your own risk, we take no blame if your account gets banned, or you get a nasty legal letter in the mail!

The Dark Side of Facebook Custom Audiences: Facebook UserID Scraping

Every Facebook account, no matter what the privacy settings are, has a unique UserID associated with the account, If you comment on a post, like a picture, like a page, that UserID gets left behind. When you are using Facebook Custom Audiences, you will notice that you can either upload a file of email addresses, or a file of UserID's. The latter, with some know how, can be accessed and used to target all kinds of things.

So how can you get these elusive UserID's? The simple answer is to scrape them. Now you can do this one of several ways, and at the time of writing several of the more popular tools have shut down due to pressure from Facebook, but a few options still remain.

Build your own script: If you have the know-how, or the resources, a script utilising the Facebook API can be built relatively easily. This is the best option if at all possible. Online Facebook ID scraper: The only one left I was able to find that still works relatively well is: Never mind the ugly website – it works as promised. Just plug in any array of Facebook URL's and receive a list of the users who have engagement with the content on Facebook. In terms of the types of things you can scrape:

  • Fan pages
  • Events
  • Groups
  • Posts
  • Images
  • Videos

But what can you do with that? All you need is a little imagination and you have some amazing targeting options, for example you can run ad campaigns:

  • To the fans of competitors pages
  • To fans of similar or alternative products to your own
  • To event attendees of an industry conference that is in town
  • To event attendees of an event similar to yours
  • To members of group that might be interested in your product
  • To members of group that might be interested in your business services
  • To members of group that might be interested in your event
  • To users who liked a specific post relevant to your business services
  • To users who liked a picture of a product that you sell
  • To users who liked or commented on a post that talks of a problem your product or service solves
  • In addition to all of the above, you also have the option to market to similar audiences of any of the above, which effectively doubles the reach of anything you do.

So what are some cool real life examples on how you could hypothetically use this technique? (Note: None of these are real campaigns, just hypothetical ideas)

Case Study: Geelong Football Club

Let's assume Geelong want to gain a bigger share of their supporters who may not yet follow them on their Facebook page.

The current Geelong FC Facebook Page has 115K fans, but they feel they are missing out on some of their supporters who are on Facebook, but not yet engaged with the page.

The AFL page has 639K fans, some of which are assumed to be Geelong FC Fans. To tap into some of the Geelong FC fans who follow the AFL, you would simply need to find a post that relates directly to the club in question. The most recent post is 'The Cats clawed their way home in a nailbiter!' which had over 2,000 likes and 84 shares, and some of these users will not already be fans of the Geelong FC page.

Using a Facebook scraper, the user ID's can be pulled from this post, a 'Custom Audience' created using this list, and run some very targeted ads to the users to incentivise them to like the Geelong FC page.

Case Study: Nike Air Max & The Iconic

The Iconic sell lots of different Nike sneakers. They want to reach some dedicated 'sneaker heads' to sell them some of the Nike Air Max they have in stock.

First step is to find people talking about a product you sell. In this case the obvious step is to find an official post: 'Nike Air Max Lunar1'

Using a Facebook scraper, you can pull all the people who liked or shared the post on the official Nike Air Max page, who reside within the required delivery areas, and then target them with Facebook Ads about the same or similar product that they sell.

In addition, you could run a 'lookalike audience' on the data set scraped, and target them with the same or similar ads.

Case Study: Honey Bar & Gluten Free Patrons

The Honey bar is a popular restaurant and watering hole in South Melbourne. Steve recently uploaded a post talking about their Gluten Free Food options 'A gluten free option – Risotto of chorizo, baby peas topped with char grilled king prawns and paprika oil'

To expand the reach of this post to an audience who enjoys Gluten Free food. A fan page with many fans is 'Gluten Free Recipes 24/7'

By finding a similar recipe post like 'Grilled Shrimp Salad with Lemon-Chilli Dressing…', scraping the users who liked this post for their user ID's using Lagmiles scraper and targeting Melbourne-based users who liked this post, as well as using a similar 'lookalike audience'

Case Study: Trevor Young

Trevor Young (a Melbourne Content Marketer) is running a workshop in Melbourne at the end of this month.

In the push for more tickets, the need to find new audiences to target increases. What you could do is find a post on a large content marketing organisation such as the Content Marketing Institute that has 40k fans and target them.

The CMI recently ran an in person event held in Sydney. If you were to scrape the users who saw, and liked this post 'It's happening! Day 1 pre-conference workshops have come to a close, with the big event starting on Tuesday in Sydney. Exciting!', scraped the users who liked this post, and ran ads along the line of 'Missed the CMI Event in Sydney? Come see Trevor Young' as well as utilising a similar audience, you could potentially hit some very interested and targeted users to come to the upcoming event.

Final Note from the author

Scraping Facebook user ID's is frowned upon, and may or may not be something that Facebook approves of (they don't…). So the above is provided on a 'use at your own risk' basis. As marketers, it is up to us to decide how far we push the boundaries between what we should do, and what we can do. We'll leave it up to you how to use all this.

About the Author

James Richardson

Sales Director

James Richardson started his online career by running online Sports Fan sites (luckily none are still online today), with the pinnacle of the site being a write up in the Sunday Herald Sun 'Wired' column.

His professional career began at a ASX listed company, Melbourne IT, where he held various senior roles across the Sales and Marketing teams, before deciding to venture out on his own.

Running several successful online websites and businesses himself, he is well placed at understanding your business needs.

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