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What is Social Media Advertising?

By G. Melanson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Social media advertising is a form of online advertising which provides very targeted ads based on information supplied by members of a social media service. While social media advertising has been hailed by some as a revolution in direct marketing, it has also brought about many privacy concerns. These concerns stem mostly from the distribution of member information acquired by third parties, such as applications and other platforms not created by the social media service itself.

The first step in social media advertising is acquiring members by encouraging people to sign up for a particular social medium, such as a social networking site like Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, a video sharing site such as YouTube, a photo sharing site such as Flickr, a blog, or even an email provider. These services will first collect basic contact information from the member, such as his or her name, email address, or phone number. The service will then encourage the member to fill in other fields of information which may be purely voluntary, such as age, gender, location, hobbies, and interests. The more information the member provides about him or herself, the more easily he or she is slotted into a specific demographic for data aggregation and subsequently, targeted social media advertising.

Once data is collected from members of a particular social media service, it may be kept on a secure server for a finite length of time depending on the service’s Terms and Conditions, which must be agreed to upon member registration. The social media service then matches the member’s data with the particular demographic that their sponsors wish to target for products or services. As a result, a social media member who listed “bicycling” among his or her hobbies and “Kansas” as his or her location might then see ads appearing on the service’s website for a Kansas-based bicycle shop. The fewer details provided by the member in his or her information profile, the less targeted the ads will be. For example, if a member indicates only that she is female, she might then see ads for products or services that appeal to a broad cross section of women of various ages, locations, and ethnicity's.

Although some social media members consider social media advertising to be fairly benign if not welcome, the increase in social media use over the last decade has raised concerns about information privacy. For example, sites such as Facebook allow outside application developers to create quizzes, games, and other accessories for members to use in exchange for access to their account information. As the restrictions and policies surrounding what outside developers then do with this information is relatively obscure, some are concerned that it may leave members vulnerable to identity theft, spamming, and other illegal or non-ethical practices.

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Discussion Comments
By Mae82 — On May 13, 2011

I often worry about how much information I am really giving away to games and applications when I sign up for one of their services. While I love to play on social networking sites, they really do have access to a lot about me. I have pretty much filled out everything on those sites, and even though I have privacy settings in place I wonder what’s being given away.

Also, when you think of all your secret questions for passwords, it probably isn't too hard for someone to find those answer buried on your page.

I think we need to have some kind of social networking that isn't supported by social media advertising or applications. Does anyone know of such a thing? Or a way we can be more secure on social networking sites?

By animegal — On May 11, 2011

I am actually happy with the social media advertising that has been targeted at me through Facebook. It's surprising how many local businesses you find that you didn't know about, that offer you products you would love. I have some unique interests, and they come to me now.

I know everyone worries about invasion of privacy, but it is a public profile. I agreed to the user terms.

At least I am getting advertising that I am actually interested in and can give feedback on. It may not be a perfect system, but I believe it is better than just being spammed with messages that have no relevance to your life.

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