If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably one of the 3.6 billion people in the world who have access to the internet. That’s only 46% of the people in the world, but 20 years ago, less than 1% of people world wide had access to the net. It took 10 years to get the first billion people connected. Then 5 years to get the second billion. And only 4 years to get the third.

Today, 80% of those 3.6 billion people access the internet via a smartphone or similar device, and 2.34 billion of them are on social media. You probably use an average of 2.9GB per month on your smart device, and you probably have a lot more apps than you actually use.

Online marketers love social media. And they love apps too.

Marketing Creep

You’re online all the time. You’re using apps to access Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You’re WhatsApping your friends, your family, your work colleagues, you’re checking in to places. You’ve shopping virtually for the things you want, the things you need, and the things you’ll probably never have.

And you’ll find that pair of boots you liked, or that car you’ve always dreamt of, following you around.  Ever wonder why? It’s because we know. We know (roughly) where you live. We know where you like to go, (thanks to virtual check-ins), we know what you love, and what you hate (from your #tags and captions). We know how old you are, we know what gender you are.

All of those apps and social platforms collect some sort of data about you. And depending on their terms, (who reads T’s & C’s anyway?) and their privacy settings, they’re giving out that information to marketers. (Or at least, to whatever platform you’re using, which them makes it available to marketers.)

This isn’t quite as bad as it seems at first…we’re not getting sent a file labelled “John Smith” with your address and details and dreams and aspirations in it. Not exactly.

Targeted Marketing

What those platforms do in not so much supply that data, as make it available to us for targeting purposes.  It’s never personally identifiable of anything like that. What it is though, is targetable.

We can say, “Show this ad to everybody who likes dogs and who lives in Gauteng.” We don’t need to know who in Gauteng likes dogs, we just know that Facebook (for example) knows if you like dogs and live in that area, and knowing that, they’ll show you a specific ad.

So if you’re seeing a lot of ads for pet insurance, it’s because you’ve shown an interest in pet related items.  Maybe you like a lot of pet related pages on Facebook.  Or maybe you search for pet food on Google. If you do, you could find ads for something like pet insurance following you around. And they can follow you for a long time too. (540 Days to be exact.)

The more time you spend on social media, the more things you like, the more things you share and look at, the better we like it. Because the more data we have, the more likely we are to show you an ad for something you really like or want or need.  And then you buy it. And then you’re happy. And our client is happy because they made a sale. And we’re happy because our client is happy.

The Creep Factor

There are, of course, some people who find the fact that they’re being followed around by ads that are specifically targeted to their preferences quite creepy. And that’s completely understandable. Forget the convenience, the likelihood of relevance, some people just don’t like thinking that their activity is being tracked, however impersonally, and at whatever remove.

Fear not. There is something you can do about it: It’s easy…stay offline.

Ok, maybe not that easy.

There are other things you could do too. But those are the subject for a different article.  Keep an eye out. And in the meanwhile, keep liking things and searching for things and sharing things. Keep checking in and tweeting and tagging. Us marketers need to eat too you know.