Social Media and Creepy Advertising

4 03 2010

OK, so one of the really interesting things about social media is that by using the user information available on the social media site, advertisers can more directly target their customers. Good so far, right?

What’s not to like? Instead of spending millions to darken the sky with advertisements on an increasingly fragmented media space, advertisers who really understand social media can pre-qualify customers before sending an ad to them.

Sounds good. The problem is when advertisers take personal information and use it to get your attention in ads. This can be intrusive and scary when advertisers run an ad that is not really interesting or relevant to you but uses personal information to get your attention. Example: “Are you a fan of Eddie Izzard? We are looking for Eddie Izzard fans to try our new male enhancement product.”

The problem here is that they are using the fact that I am a fan of Eddie Izzard to promote a product to me that I have absolutely no interest in.

So, how do you avoid the “Creepy” factor in social media advertising while leveraging its ability to target customers?

  • The message has to be both interesting and relevant to the customer
  • The product has to be both interesting and relevant to the customer
  • The ad has to provide value in the eyes of the customer

Examples of useful ads:

  • I am notified of the next Eddie Izzard performance in my area because I like Eddie Izzard.
  • I am notified of useful baby products because my site says we just had a baby.

Example of a creepy ad:

  • I am a fan of Tower of Power and get ads looking for Tower of Power fans who want to refinance their homes at unbelievable rates.

There is a fine line between useful and creepy.

As the Web 2.0 business model moves more towards free services that monitize through advertising, this line will be tested with inceasing frequency.

  • We get ads today in Facebook that use our profile information.
  • If you use Google Mail (gmail), you will receive ads that key off of what you have said in your emails.
  • The next frontier is mobile. As more and more people use smartphone to augment or even replace laptops, the trend is toward cheap or free apps that monetize through advertising.

What Should Social Media Sites Do?

  • Police the types of advertising carefully. Bad behavior by your advertisers will reflect badly on you.
  • Let users rate the ads they get – and react to that information.
    • Useful
    • Not Interesting
    • Creepy

See related New York Times article.

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