If all goes according to plan, ads on Twitter are about to get a lot more relevant to the people that see them. That's the idea behind the interest-targeted ad system the company has been testing. Having presumably ironed out the kinks, Twitter has just rolled the feature out to all of its advertisers.
Previously, when Twitter displayed a promoted tweet or trending topic, it didn't take into account whether or not that ad is relevant or useful to a given user.
How Facebook Targets Ads
For years, advertisers on Facebook have had the ability to target ads very granularly based not only on demographic data and life events, but on specific interests held by users. The result, is many cases, is advertising that's sometimes eerily accurate and relevant to users' lives. Twitter is now adopting similar functionality as part of its quest to monetize its growing microblogging service.
But Twitter isn't Facebook. On the world's biggest social network, users explicitly declare their interests on their profiles and through clicking "like" buttons woven throughout the Web and apps everywhere. Twitter doesn't have the luxury of such detailed user data, so it must employ other means to target its ads.
The concept of interest-based advertising isn't new, but it is evolving thanks to the social Web. From the outset, Google has monetized its search engine based on people's interests. Early on, users declared those interests on a case-by-case basis by typing in a search query, which Google used to display targeted text link ads. Over time, search advertising has evolved to become more targeted and personalized, as have the competing social advertising models that have cropped up since the early days of Google.
How Twitter Targets Ads
Twitter offers 350 categories of interests from Bollywood movies to gardening. Since users don't specify their interests on their profile, those interests must be gleaned from such things as what they say, who they follow and other user activity. Twitter doesn't elaborate on how it all works, but we wouldn't be surprised if things like favorited tweets weren't factored into the algorithm it's using.
To get more granular, advertisers can specify @usernames of users. Rather than target these people specifically, Twitter will attempt to show ads to users who share interests with those who follow them. The example the company uses is an indie rock band that wants to promote its upcoming tour on Twitter. To do so, the band can use this feature to list similar acts on Twitter and target people with like-minded taste in music. Again, Twitter isn't forthcoming about how that will work, but hopefully it has a way of filtering out pornbots and ghost followers.