Facebook's massive reach is well-established in the minds of marketers and business owners, but according to Sociable Labs CEO Nisan Gabbay, they often "don’t quite get how pervasive the service is in people’s lives".

How pervasive is it? An analysis by his company, which looked at more than 450m visits to various retail websites, found that more than 50% of visitors were logged into Facebook while browsing.

What's more: even though there was variation of the logged-in percentage across age groups, well over a third (40%) of middle aged visitors were logged into the world's largest social network too.

The takeaway is quite obvious: Facebook users are logged into the site much of the time they're online. The answer to the question, "Now what?" isn't.

Sociable Labs used Facebook's API to determine whether or not a visitor was logged into the social network. But to do more than that and actually make use of Facebook's social graph, website owners would need to integrate Facebook Connect, which allows Facebook users to grant third parties access to their Facebook profiles.

In a retail environment, the opportunities for Facebook Connect-based personalization are obvious. And they're enticing. After all, Facebook has a treasure trove of information, much of which the average user will not supply to every website he or she visits. In other words, Facebook could in some cases be the key to providing a level of personalization that is not otherwise possible to implement.

The question, of course, is whether relying on Facebook makes sense. As DFJ Esprit's Nic Brisbourne notes, "forcing people to connect to Facebook will hit conversion rates and have an immediate negative impact on the bottom line, particularly given that Facebook Connect often seems to be poorly implemented, especially on mobile".

There are also strategic considerations. Yes, Facebook has incredible data that may not be obtainable through independent means, but that doesn't mean that building personalization efforts around it is always going to be sensible, or that a personalization strategy centered on Facebook Connect is always going to be enough.

Savvy retailers will take a broader, more comprehensive look at the situation, cognizant of the fact that overdependence on a third party like Facebook carries risk. And they'll ensure that their personalization strategies take into consideration customers who aren't on Facebook or won't want to connect their Facebook profiles with their shopping profiles.

After all, 50% of visitors aren't logged into Facebook when they shop online, and they're just as valuable.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 November, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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