MENLO PARK, CA: Facebook is performing a beta test of an enhanced version of its Audience Insights API, which will allow brands to study users’ posts and comments with a view to giving advertisers greater insights.

The extension of the existing marketing tech platform is not expected to be available until next year, sources familiar with the matter told AdAge. The company has not yet announced the development.

However, early ad partners, the title reported, including advertising and media agencies, are searching the network’s enormous library of (anonymised) public posts and comments to explore the themes, topics, and most importantly, brands and products under discussion.

Such a tool could help marketers derive even more insights from the social network, helping them to understand their brands in public discourse. As one agency executive told AdAge, “on Facebook, you know everything about a person from their profile, what they liked and who they connect with.

“But Facebook is not good at knowing what people are saying, what they’re posting.”

Naturally, privacy concerns are front and centre of any such development, and advertisers involved in the testing noted that the network has been taking its time in developing new data products in order to reconcile user privacy with the utility to marketers.

Facebook’s focus has for a long time been on people’s responses to posts (likes, shares, etc.) rather than their content. In part, this could be a reason for the prevalence of misinformation on the platform during the 2016 election. According to Facebook’s KPIs, the content was performing well, despite its content. A new platform capable of searching through the language and content of Facebook would, indirectly, help it to better understand what is posted.

For brands, the data would be invaluable, but the privacy concerns are great. Most people use the platform to communicate with friends, and for many users, their privacy settings are designed to only broadcast posts to accepted friends.

Meanwhile, where Twitter’s 140 character posts are direct and typically quite easy to analyse, Facebook posts are often rambling, some agencies found. “Most of what we saw was garbage,” said one executive. “Nonsensical”.

Facebook’s targeting capabilities have raised ethical questions, and more recently, the attention of legislators following the purchase of political ads by Russia-linked organisations. In response to the attention, the company announced sweeping changes to its transparency policies earlier this month.

Sourced from AdAge, Facebook; additional content by WARC staff