NEW YORK: Twitter is offering advertisers a new targeting capability as it seeks fresh ways to monetise its service.

The interest targeting system will allow marketers to direct ads to users based on who they follow and what they tweet about. Previously, brands were restricted to a more narrow range of users, including each company's direct followers and those with similar profiles to their followers. 

For example, under "interest targeting", a sports drinks brand would be able to show paid ads to all users who are identified as football fans.

In all, companies will be able to buy ads against a total of around 350 distinct consumer interests.

"By targeting people's topical interests you will be able to connect with a greater number of users and deliver tailored messages to people who are more likely to engage with your Tweets," saidKevin Weil, Twitter's director of product management.

The social media platform has hailed this development as the biggest upgrade to its ad technology in the past year. The new interest-based capabilities are similar to the sort of targeting that Facebook has been able to offer for several years.

Facebook itself last week announced that it was to permit larger advertisers to use data they have already collected about their customers, including email addresses and phone numbers, to enable more precise ad targeting on the site.

The company insisted that privacy concerns remained paramount and that a process of anonymisation would prevent Facebook and individual advertisers from exchanging any more information than the email addresses.

Under the new system, Facebook users will be able to opt out of advertisements as they appear, but will not be able to prevent targeting altogether.

Data sourced from Twitter/Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff