Yesterday, as Facebook rolled out their revamped homepage which delivered new features like real-time updates, filters, and an improved sharing box, another update was quietly occurring behind the scenes. While everyone was busy analyzing the front-end changes to the user interface, Facebook announced to advertisers there were some major updates coming for them as well. According to a Facebook blog post, advertisers are now able to target ads based on languages spoken and the location of users.
Targeting by Languages
The post informed advertisers that they now had access to two of the most frequently requested targeting filters: language targeting and location targeting. Obviously, the language targeting makes sense, especially considering that Facebook is currently available in 40 languages with over 60 more in development. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising that this feature was not available until now.
When a particular language is entered into a box on the ad signup form, the approximate reach of the selection will appear at the bottom. For example, if an advertiser enters in a location of “United States” and the language “Spanish,” the approximate reach will display 1,081,820 – the number of Spanish-speaking Facebook users in the States.
Facebook Knows Where You Live
However, it’s the location-based targeting which is the most interesting of the two updates. Here, advertisers can narrow their focus in order to target users within a certain mile radius of a particular location. This feature is currently available only in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada for targeting cities and/or targeting within 10, 25, or 50 miles of the cities selected.
With this feature, advertisers can tap into the detailed demographics that Facebook users so willingly share along with their age, sex, relationship status, educational background, etc. (You didn’t really think you were just filling that info out to share with friends, did you?)
Will Hyperlocal Ads Come Next?
As advertisers better learn to target narrower sets of users, we wonder if it’s only a matter of time before Facebook introduces a mobile, location-based component to their network which would allow users share their exact (or nearly exact) location within a city. Imagine the possibilities for extreme hyperlocal ads then! What if advertisers could target all the users who updated how they were sipping lattes at Starbucks, for instance? Or perhaps the ads could target users who posted that they’ve checked in at a Vegas hotel for a big conference? These are the sorts of niche demographics that advertisers can only dream about now, but the technology already exists to enable that level of precision.
Today, a handful of early-adopters are currently sharing this type of information through Facebook’s News Feed and status updates courtesy of the mobile social networking service Brightkite. If you’re friends with any Brightkite users, you’ll likely see the location updates pop into your feeds from time to time thanks to that service’s ability to integrate with Facebook by way of Facebook Connect. This relatively new authentication technology allows users to log into the Brightkite service with their Facebook account and then shoot their updates from Brightkite back into their profiles. If Facebook advertisers could tap into the sort of niche demographics that Brightkite could give access to, it could open up a whole world of possibilities for hyperlocal ad targeting.
The only stumbling block to implementing this type of targeting is the same one that always comes up: those pesky users and their sense of privacy. Would Facebook users revolt if, all of a sudden, Facebook knew exactly where they were and served up ads that did too? The Facebook ads seem creepy enough now as they’re often far more accurate and relevant than some users are comfortable with. What would hyperlocal ads look like then? Far creepier, we would imagine. “Do you really need that second Frappuccino? Why not head to the gym instead – it’s only 3 blocks away!” Yikes.
But while it’s true that some users would balk at that level of invasiveness, others would welcome it. In fact, Facebook is actively cultivating a sense among its users that going online is no longer a private activity. By tucking away their privacy controls deep within their settings, they’re encouraging the average user to overshare personal information with people who would have never known them in that way before – people like mom, dad, and the boss, for example.
In time, the sense of openness Facebook fosters among a person’s social – and perhaps professional – network will wear away at that sense of privacy until users aren’t just tolerant of these hyperlocal ads, they will welcome them and they’ll expect them. Google’s recent foray into more targeted advertising will only help further this cause, too.
Of course, in this imagined scenario, Facebook users who want to maintain their privacy would be able to do so – they could just opt-out of the feature. But maintaining online privacy is something that will, over time, become harder and harder to do. There will be more settings to adjust, more configuring of block lists, and more checkboxes to mark. Most users won’t bother with it – they will just adjust to the changes and to the new reality of the smarter (and yes, perhaps scarier) ads.