Did you notice that once you changed your relationship status on Facebook from “in a relationship” to “engaged” ads for wedding dresses, invitations, and other wedding paraphernalia flooded your newsfeed?  Sorta creepy, right?  Here’s why that’s happening: social media platforms take data you provide, and also extrapolate data from your behavior patterns, and serve it up to businesses that target tailored ads to you.  Targeted social media ads get marketers excited about delivering specific content to specific audiences.  However, that uncomfortable feeling is causing some to throw the red flag. “Hey! Get off my lawn!”  Proponents say the personalized advertising experience is more relevant than seeing ads by happenstance that do not resonate with their lifestyle.  New social media practices are sweeping the industry, and putting an emphasis on good, clever content to drive exposure and engagement, so where do you stand?  Would you rather have a personalized advertising experience or would you rather be drawn to ads the old-fashion way, regardless of relevancy, based on clever content?  I think the solution is somewhere in the middle.

At the heart of this discussion is privacy.  How much personal information do you want to give social media platforms?  What do you expect them to do with it?  Lets take a deep dive into a few platforms and talk about their ad experience and what they are doing with your personal information.

Facebook CJRW

At the risk of sounding like the old-timer you saw at a gas station last time you visited your hometown, I remember when Facebook was a tiny ecosystem for universities with an invite to the party.  I was sitting in the Villanova University library, where I was a junior, when a friend told me we had been invited to join Facebook.  We got access with our villanova.edu email address, and basically used Facebook like we use text messaging now.  Oh, how things have changed!  There weren’t games, or ads, or businesses for that matter.  Just classmates.  Now, Facebook is the most popular social media site.  Remember MySpace?  They made that behemoth from the early 2000s irrelevant.  Now, 71 percent of online adults use Facebook.

When people build their profiles and interact with brands, friends, family, and acquaintances on Facebook, the big FB collects data and makes extrapolations about you that allow them to offer a robust advertising system to brands.  Hey, we all gotta eat, and this is how FB supports its 8,348 employees who make sure everything runs smoothly for its 864 million active users.  Given these extrapolations, advertisers can reach an extremely targeted and niche audience relevant to their brand.  (Remember, when you got engaged at the beginning of this post? Well, that.)  Sounds great, right?  Cue the flag throwing.  Some say they don’t want to share this information, but to that Facebook says they are “continually improving the experience.”  Basically, if you don’t like it, you can leave.  And some have.  For some, though, it’s hard to break the FB addiction.  For 2014, Pew reported a significant increase in multi-platform use: “52 percent of online adults now use two or more social media sites,” up from 42 percent in 2013.  Creepy targeting ads haven’t scared the masses from FB, but people are now seeking genuine, non-invasive experiences elsewhere.

Instagram CJRW

Facebook acquired Instagram in the spring of 2012 and many thought the photo gravy train was coming to an end.  Facebook hasn’t completely ruined IG; they are carefully opening up IG’s API to third-party developers and slowly trickling in ads.  In addition to information gained in its ecosystem, Instagram uses information collected on Facebook to target ads to you.  They say, “[Information gathered] might include the people you follow and the photos and videos you like on Instagram, and your interests and other basic info on Facebook.  Everyone on Instagram will see ads from time to time whether or not they’re Facebook users, and basic information from Facebook helps create a more relevant experience.”

Instagram is only working with a select group of brands, like adidas, Ben & Jerry's, Burberry, General Electric, Lexus, Levi's®, Macy's, Michael Kors, PayPal, and Starwood.  Instagram says, “our aim is to make any advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos many of you already enjoy from your favorite brands.”

Brands outside of IG’s inner circle will have to work harder to reach target consumers.  You have to know your audience, be there at the right time (check out this Instagram post scheduler: Latergramme), post beautiful/interesting/odd photographs, and be clever to engage with a target audience.  

Different marketers use different techniques to curate a target audience of engaged followers for brands.  Some will “follow” or engage with different influencers that align with their brand.  Others focus on hashtags or contests.  Some tap other social media sites for followers. (You have probably seen this message on FB, “Hey, we are on Instagram. Go follow us!”) You can also share content from IG to other social platforms as a subtle reminder.  As with any marketing efforts, start with a plan and chose a strategy that works best for your business goals.

Stay tune for our next post. We will compare two very different sites, Snapchat and Twitter. Apples and oranges, y’all!