Contextual Ads Based Off Social Network Profile: Twitter and Facebook

Things are moving very quickly now, in fact I was pleased to learn about these contextual ads from my new friend Cory O’Brien in SF yesterday.

In my latest report “The Future of the Social Web” we pointed that in the near future we’ll start to see web pages dynamically created based on user profile ID in social networks. Essentially, your corporate, media, or ecommerce site could provide contextual media, content, and advertisement based on users’ info before they login.

[In the Future, The Era of Social Context Will Serve Personalized Content, Media, and Ads to Users based on their Social Networking Information]

Here’s an early example of a contextualized advertising campaign from VW (by agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, read more about the modernist campaign) that’s intended to help prospects find the right model based on their preferences. Please note this isn’t yet the full entry into the era of social functionality as users have to manually submit their login info or user name (like this Twitter example below) and just examines recent tweets. When the era of social context matures, it will look beyond just profile info, but also behavioral data, friend data, location, and content analysis of explicit and implicit data.

Type 1: Context Ad based off of opt-in Twitter profile.

Above Ad: Enter your Twitter name to see a product recommendation

Type 2: Contextual Ad based off of Facebook profile.
Corey also pointed me in the direction of a second “Meet the VWs” Facebook app that asks users to opt in to analyze their profile and then recommends products based off simple profile info. Read the pros and cons from the smart folks at the Future of Ads of this Facebook advertising effort.

This Facebook App scanned my Facebook Profile to Suggest two products
Above image: Facebook recommended these products to me on the VW fan page

Future Expectations:
Expect social context to impact not just ads, but many websites in the future. Also, expect the accuracy to increase as social and behavioral data starts to merge.

Facebook, Twitter, have a tremendous amount of explicit and more importantly, implicit data that could serve up information about users, yet we should expect years of refinement for these engines to truly be accurate. Interestingly, the Twitter ad suggested I’d like the Jetta, yet the Facebook app suggested a Rabbit and Beetle, which I find funny as I’d never drive a Beetle, that’s really not me at all.

In the future, these ads, media, or recommendations should be more intelligent and also find friends with similar cars, or people with similar traits to me that I don’t know and suggest products. As user ID start to federate and connect with other such as Open ID and Facebook Connect, we should expect a higher degree of accuracy.

Then, users may choose to opt-in to expose parts of their identity as they surf the web on trusted sites to receive a contextual experience. For example, I may trust Amazon, eBay and Google search to expose my identity in exchange for a more personalized experience.

We should also expect a rash of privacy concerns and user backlashes to happen, even if they opt in, we’re just scratching the surface here. I have so much more to write on the topic of social context, but it’s 3am and I need to go back to bed, so I’ll save it for a future blog post.

Key Takeaways

  • The above ads are simple experiments of how context can be served up through social data
  • Expect this contextual content not to be limited to just ads, but also on media sites, ecommerce, corporate sites, and TV
  • Expect digital content to be contextual –even without express content of the users
  • During the early years, expect privacy concerns to overwhelm brands, causing them to rethink this approach
  • Although it will take years to perfect, expect context to increase CTR, and therefore the cost of ads
  • What did the Twitter ad and Facebook page recommend to you? Were they accurate recommendations?

    49 Replies to “Contextual Ads Based Off Social Network Profile: Twitter and Facebook”

    1. Really IMPRESSIVE!

      Still I don’t see myself driving a Jetta because I talk about social media and e-commerce…

      As an experiment, I find it surprisingly good, however my tweets are not about me but about a specific subject I focus on. In order for it to work well, it has to merge data from different platforms and that’s where a unique ID becomes extremely valuable (as you suggested in your previous post).

      Instead of having the system analyse your tweets and Facebook profile separately, it should combine both.

    2. Most of my friends got the Jetta recommendation. So, why did I get the Golf GTI one? As I am browsing the web too fast? What is the criteria for the personal recommendation (apart from the guesses of ‘The Future of Ads’? What is the expectation on this banner for the VW marketing team? Did the creative succeed for them? Assuming they collect the typed in data and names of the Twitterati and Facebook profiles, what happens to those accounts? Will they use it again to do some targeted personalized banners in the future? I am not a VW fan, if you follow my digital dna, you will know that. Would love to find answers…

    3. This is both impressive and a bit unsettling. Impressive in that I will only get ads that I care about. In my case I drive a Honda Civic – I would get information based on that – very cool. Unsettling, because now there is enough information about me online that advertisers can make those targeted ads.

      Either way, I am very excited to see these types of advancements in ads; ultimately the web.

    4. Am I the only person who got a recommendation for a 16 year old Volvo? Hmm… what do those sinister folk at VW know about me that I don’t?

    5. I hope I’m not the only one who finds this a little disturbing. I don’t think I want VW to know enough about me to recommend a car (or Facebook and Twitter either). I’ll have to re-think what’s in my profiles all over the web. I do have to say that I’m impressed with the practical application of the technology though. Thanks, Jeremiah, for writing about it. And I want to know why VW would recommend a Volvo, too. Especially a 16 yo one…what’s up with that?

    6. Jgraziana

      It’ll only work if it’s opt in. But we should expect brands to scrape your public info and do this without your consent anyways. It’s already happening to a limited degree –some sites look at IP.

    7. I see these targeted ads on Facebook all the time. They are trying to set me up with dating web sites constantly.

      I have also seen a targeted ad for someone who wants to work for a company. It got the attention of the organization even if they weren’t hiring. So they could be used for good! If you want a targeted way to get that dream job.

      Just I am not a big fan of them knowing everything about you with out your consent. But whatever you do online stays on Google as Scott Monty reminds us all the time.

    8. Interesting – I was receommended a Jetta Spartswagon — and I own a Passat! (I resisted the temptation to type in John Anderton’s Twitter ID.)

    9. I love the VW ad because it’s different and fun and nifty…and let’s face it, it’s attracted attention to the ad campaign and gotten people microscopically closer to thinking about considering a VW. Mission accomplished.

      However, it’s about as close to a true contextual ad as a those quizzes on facebook that will tell you where you should live or what % male you are after answering a few questions. It’s just taking a very, very small sample of words, plugging them in, and giving you an answer. We’re getting there in theory, just not in practice — yet (I know you’re not saying it is….like you said, it’s “contexualized”, not contextual).

      What would be smart though, is they could now target me with tweets. It told me i should drive a GLI. It should assume i’m somewhat interested in a new car if i gave them my info. And now they’ve got my twitter handle. So why aren’t I being followed by @VWGLI? And why isn’t it sending me a DM asking me if i’m interested in more info?

      And to Jamie above — difference is, those ads you see are general targeted ads. People see different ones based on general target groups like age, relationship status, or gender, etc. Contextual ads are the next level of sophistication, allowing people to be targeted based on what they like, what they talk about, what their friends are into….and eventually, what they *might* like. For example, a true contextual ad would check my other social network sites and see that I’ve only owned GTIs, and not GLIs, and then adjust the answer it gave me 😉


    10. I was recommended the VW CC. I’d never heard of it before but now I’m a fan.
      Love the way VW has used Twitter and Facebook – very fun, engaging and stylish. Have trouble believing the recommendations are really based on FB profiles and Tweets rather than just being randomly generated but love it anyway.

    11. Tom

      Hey bud. I think we should expect to see the ads be more accurate once the different IDs start to map to each other. The Twitter to Facebook to email to whatever other websites you use. It’s going to a take a few years before the era of social context matures. Will be interesting to watch.

    12. Exactly. Gotta start somewhere, and these ads are a pretty cool step in that direction. Easy way to show people the potential of where it’s going!

      I still would love to see Crispin/VW take it a step further right now though. They now have a way to contact me, know some of my interests, and have targeted a specific car for me…..why not follow-up with me on Twitter? The fun little app has potential to be a little more engaging today if they choose to make it happen.

    13. Your points towards the end about user-backlash and privacy concerns were the most interesting to me.

      Right now these interaction exist entirely in the private sector. As governments get more tech-savvy, do you think they will get more intrusive and uses these sorts of information-gathering and experience tailoring systems for their own purposes? Do you think the already are?

    14. You should check out Social Media’s Social Ads ( Also, Lookery has an interesting profile targeting system that leverages data that users share on social networks.

    15. I think that this shows how important it will be for advertisers to develop real relationships with customers and not exploit user data in cheesy ads. An ad shouldn’t leave you wondering “where did they get that information about me?”

      It also makes me think about how valuable our online identities really are, and who represents us in the end. Ideally, we (the users) would remain in control and use our online identities to form relationships with only the brands we trust.

    16. I wonder whether sales departments would be able to sell this capability for relatively large sites (in terms of audience) but still well below the scale of eBay, Facebook, etc.? If you have scale and scope, CTR is great; if not and you’re a more traditional CPM model, would this work? I suppose it could be bundled as a value-add with a traditional media buy (i.e. CPM based) to fulfill a direct response or some other objective, but once we start talking about custom pages and content, what kinds of technology and pricing would we need to have in place to deliver advertising in a way that is sufficient to generate enough margin to support professionally developed content?

      This is a great idea, hyper-targeted content, ads, etc., but how will the revenue models evolve? Would this necessitate more walled off content, to ensure a stable revenue stream? Would focus shift more toward life time value and a need to “own” visitors long-term? Would users opt for this type of a model if it meant more relevant content and less but more relevant advertising? The question of how to monetize as it is connected with users’ WTP for relevance, control, and convenience will be an interesting one to watch…and participate.

    17. Great explanation of contextual based ads. VW recommended me the Jetta TDI and the GTI. I would say those are pretty accurate.

    18. awesome. i can really see myself in that GTI. i think its about time companies start realizing the potential of social media!

    19. loved this, jeremiah, thanks. where is this technology now? the company i'm with now is getting ready to launch and will have many health and wellness professionals leading discussion groups, posting blogs, releasing research, and lots of user generated groups and discussions. i'd love to be able to customize a user's experience, especially first time visitors, with feeds most relevant to them. like parenting bolgs, ptsd support groups, for example, to display in “on-going discussions” when appropriate. is there an existing service that can make my site do that?

    20. Pingback: new launch project

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