Facebook to Improve Targeted Ads by Tracking More of Your Online Movements

facebook ad trackingFor professional communicators and marketers who want to reach a specific audience, one of the best tools available is a targeted Facebook ad. The social media giant, which collects data on user preferences through interactions such as "likes," shares and pages visited, offers advertisers and marketers a chance to tap into that data, with the goal of offering a relevant ad to an interested audience.

On Thursday, Facebook announced that it will expand its data collection and make it more transparent. In addition to what the social network already collects, the company will begin tracking details about users based on what they do on other websites and through smartphone apps. Users will be able to both change those ad preferences and to opt out entirely of this additional tracking, but doing so will require visiting a special website and adjusting smartphone settings.

On the transparency side, over the next few weeks users will begin to see a "Why am I seeing this?" button on every ad served to them. From there, Facebook will show users their entire marketing dossier and ad preferences, revealing what attributes Facebook thinks best describes them. Users will be given the option to adjust those preferences.

Targeted Facebook ads have become an integral part of an integrated media program, constituting an important part of the paid aspect of the now-common paid/earned/owned strategy. With the increased sophistication of the data Facebook is now collecting, those ads will become an even more powerful part of the media equation.

But blowback from privacy advocates—bolstered by new transparency tools—could make using those targeted ads a bit more tricky. That is, a user who sees a targeted Facebook ad from your company could see you as infringing on his or her privacy, a major turn-off.

Coupling an announcement of new transparency tools with new data tracking capabilities is no accident, and Facebook, of course, looks to be the big winner with these changes. More data collection will lead to better ad targeting, which will lead to companies being more likely to buy ads. While it's too early to tell what the public reaction will be after the new targeting procedures go into effect, it may be best to wait and see before your targeted ad becomes the center of a privacy upheaval.

Follow Brian Greene: @bwilliamgreene