Social Targeting: Are Advertisers Being Smart or Stalking You?

Photo of man all in black pointing camera in our direction

“Social” has always had a positive connotation to it, but with social targeting, I’ll let you decide.

What is social targeting?

Social targeting is an advertising placement method used by online ad publishers that’s based on your conversations and interactions in the social media space.

Ad publishers use data such as your status updates, tweets, photos and other online actions to help determine your interests and, therefore, determine the relevance of potential ads targeting you.

Social targeting also looks at your connections and the strength of your connections across certain networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Advertisers assume that people you are strongly connected with will share similar interests and then will target them with similar ads.

How social targeting works: An example

You go to a brand’s website or Facebook page and buy a certain product, download something or sign up for a service. When your top friends (people you interact with most on your social networks) go online, they will see ads for the same products and services that you bought, downloaded or signed up for.

The idea is that, as Glen Calvert of Affectv says, “understanding what consumers are sharing, who the influencers are, and who they connected to, provides advertisers with an opportunity to reach consumers implicitly interested in their products, and discover new audiences based on their social connections.”

Creative or creepy?

Making ads more relevant obviously makes a ton of sense. However, as someone who values privacy, I still get creeped out by targeting methods that use planted cookies to track me.

My preference is still semantic targeting—the cookie-less form of online ad placement—which I’ve discussed here before, most recently in The Consumer-Friendly Wave of Digital Advertising.

If you’re not sure what semantic targeting is, read more of what I’ve said in Catch the Wave, the Third Wave of Digital Advertising.

But, I don’t want you to take my word for it. Let me know what you think. How do you feel about being tracked on the web and having that data being used by advertisers?



  1. HookLogic AutoHook (@lead2show) · October 25, 2011

    Social targeting is perfectly acceptable so long as companies disclose what they plan to do with your information when you authorize them to know who you are. It actually can make for a better consumer experience when done effectively.

    • ctmarcom · October 25, 2011

      Thank you for your comment. Well said. That is a fantastic point…ethics and disclosure.

  2. Ryan Gerardi (@yhurg) · October 27, 2011

    Yes I like the idea of social targeting. Everybody has responsibility in it, including users. If you are selective with whom you share your information then you can have more confidence that your information is in the best hands. It’s a great topic.

    Have you ever read, “The Computer State” 1984 by David Burnham? Heavy read but way ahead of its time on topics and issues such as this.

    • ctmarcom · October 28, 2011

      I have not read The Computer State, but now I might check it out. Sounds like an interesting read. Thanks!

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