Social ads and the appliance of science

Something odd is happening – it almost looks like Facebook has started delivering relevant, targeted ads to scientists.


So far today I’ve seen ads for The Source Event (a scientific job fair run by NPG), ResearchGate, ScienceCareers (their page now has almost 2k fans) and a shop that sells mugs that have mathematical equations written on them. Admittedly that last one is a bit weak.

It’s odd as up until now the only Facebook ads I’ve seen have been telling me that I’ve just missed buying an Xbox 360 for $10 and that I can gain a six pack in less than a week. Those ads are targeted too, of course, but in a much more general way – presumably to every male between the ages of 18 and 45. The Facebook ad buying interface lets you do that pretty easily.

Showing ads that match keywords on somebody’s profile isn’t anything special either. But my profile doesn’t mention science explicitly. I’m a fan of the Nature and PLoS pages and a lot of my friends are scientists, but that’s pretty much it. Is there some under the hood ad optimization going on at Facebook – my friends match the ‘science’ keyword so I probably do too?

If not should there be? To what extent are you defined by the company you keep?

I suspect that the reality is more prosaic and that it’s a coincidence, or matching on keywords in group names or something. Still, for a moment I was almost tempted to click…


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