July 3, 2013, 3:50 PM

Twitter unleashes new targeting tools

It lets marketers target users based on off-site actions and e-mail addresses.

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Twitter users will soon see ads on the microblogging service based on their behavior across the web.

Twitter announced today that it will enable marketers to use third-party data to target users based on their actions away from the social network—for instance, a web site a shopper visited—as well as personal information such as users’ e-mail addresses.

Twitter says it won’t exchange any personal information about its users with advertisers. It is using “hashing technology,” which takes an e-mail address or other information and converts it into a string of numbers and letters that cannot be reversed to recreate the original information. It then matches up those strings with hashed information provided by marketers.

The tools will enable a local florist, for example, to use its newsletter e-mail subscription list and data gathered from cookies—software code that tracks site activity—about consumers who have visited its web site to advertise its Valentine’s Day special on Twitter. To get the offer to its customers and web site visitors who are also on Twitter, the shop can share with Twitter its hashed e-mail list and browser cookie ID list. Twitter will then match that information to its users’ accounts to show consumers on the florist’s list a Promoted Tweet with the Valentine’s Day deal. A Promoted Tweet is an ad unit that enables marketers to pay to increase the prominence of a post.

Twitter’s new targeting capabilities mirror Facebook Inc.’s Custom Audiences tool that the social network launched earlier this year. Facebook also offers tools that let marketers target shoppers who share similar profiles to consumers in Facebook’s Custom Audiences customer segments, as well as to aim ads at shoppers based on offline behaviors.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter lets consumers opt out of targeting that uses third-party data by unchecking a box in their account settings.

Twitter’s move today, as well as its other recent advertising-focused initiatives—such as an agreement with advertising and public relations company WPP plc to weave Twitter data into a number of WPP’s divisions, including consultancy Kantar Retail and digital agency Wunderman—are signs that the social network has gotten serious about deriving value from its user base and data, says Lou Kerner, managing partner of The Social Internet Fund, which invests in social and mobile companies.

“Twitter is trying to make the advertising inventory it has as valuable as possible by helping advertisers better target their advertising,” he says. “That’s a win for users, because the more relevant ad a user sees, the better experience he’ll have. If I’m looking for a car, seeing a car ad can actually be helpful, while an ad for something like Kotex [a feminine hygiene product] isn’t.”

Today’s announcement is a necessary step for Twitter, he says, because it is playing catch up to Facebook and the rest of the Internet.

“Presenting ads based on what sites a person has looked at is the way the rest of the Internet works,” he says. “It’s hardly cutting edge.” 

 

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