All you need to do to cook up a classic example of the word “creepy” is look at today’s targeted ad campaigns. It doesn't take more than a second between the time you look up a product on one site and find it as an ad on your social feeds.
While nearly all social media channels harness targeted ads, Instagram, which Facebook bought for $1 billion in 2012, is leading the charge. Actually, the topic of this article derived from a conversation my girlfriend and I were having, when the topic of discussion all of a sudden coincidentally ended up in her Instagram newsfeed minutes later.
With 500 million active monthly users, Instagram is granting marketers a unique opportunity to reach target audiences. Its users come to the platform to tune into their interests, from fashion and entertainment to health and parenting. Unlike most platforms, Instagram users don’t mind viewing ads that reflect the topics they care about. Combined with advertisers who want ads that are more effective in the audience that they reach, the high demand for targeted ads on Instagram soars.
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Following in the steps of its parent company, Instagram is working to help advertisers and consumers improve the relevance of served ads. The question for most consumers is: in order to successfully do this, is Instagram snooping into their conversations to create targeted ads?
The answer is yes. Here’s how:
Here’s a familiar moment: you’re browsing clothing sites online to see what’s around, and eventually come across some cool pants. You don’t follow through with the purchase. Instead, you walk away thinking “maybe later.” By some unknown magic, “later” pops up as soon as you log into your Facebook feed. Right at the top, there’s an ad for those pants.
Of course, after a few incidences like this one, you’re likely aware that the cosmos aren’t actually aligning and encouraging you to get those items. Facebook and targeted ads are. These “dynamic ads” aren’t just sticking to Facebook though. They’re extending to your Instagram feed too. This means that as long as you’re logged into Instagram, the items you click on will have a say in the ads that pop up in your feed.
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Traditional web advertisements typically use display ads of an image, a logo or a commercial advertisement on a specific site. Marketers using this strategy often cross their fingers in hopes that this tactic will drive users back to a webpage. Sometimes they work, but not as often as dynamic advertisements do. With dynamic marketing, brands can use a simple tracking code to store “cookies” or data on a user’s device. The information that they obtain allows them to display advertisements of products a visitor has shown interest in before.
For the many Instagram users who log in to stimulate and grab ideas, these advertisements prove to be widely successful. Dynamic ads don’t just give users a chance to reconsider a purchase, it also gives them a chance to discover new products that might be similar.
It doesn’t stop at what you view on other sites. Instagram users are receiving targeted advertisements based on the conversations they have with friends.
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Users across the web have long suspected Facebook of using their smartphones’ microphones to collect information and improve targeted ads. Facebook has disputed the accusations, but it's not denying that Messenger conversations are tapped. The social networking giant has capitalized on its massive user base with the introduction of sponsored ads. Using Messenger, businesses are easily grabbing consumers’ attention by displaying “highly-targeted, in-context” ads in their feeds. As a result, Instagram is being brought along for the ride.
In Q4 of last year, Facebook rolled out a new feature allowing businesses to receive their Facebook, Messenger and Instagram messages all in one inbox. The updated inbox allows brands to look into the publicly available profile information of users and assess their previous interactions. The move is yet another example of how Instagram has started snooping on user conversations to create targeted ads.