In a test group including 1% of its subscribers (so, about 6 million people), Facebook began targeting ads at users based on their real-time conversations and status updates. Targeted Facebook ads already collect information from users’ conversations, as well as from their profiles, but those ads have been based on data aggregated over a period of time. Now, say you post about some new trick you taught your dog — an ad for pet food or a coupon for a local dog grooming service might show up on your page a moment later.
Though Facebook consistently refines and updates it, the algorithm used to determine what ads appear isn’t fundamentally changing, just getting faster. The idea behind real-time targeting is to put relevant advertisers in front of Facebook users during the moments they’re deciding what to buy, where to eat, how to travel, etc. Updating your status to let everyone know you want to go out for a burger? A Burger King coupon might appear the moment after you hit “enter.”
By going after consumers during crucial decision moments, real-time advertising could also raise Facebook’s overall click-through rate (in 2010 the rate was around .05%, only about half the average for online click-through advertising). If that rate does go up significantly, it’ll be one form of proof that Facebook users don’t find the hasty acquisition of their information too invasive — rather, the immediate delivery of targeted ads would probably be considered fairly useful.