Every social media marketing agency in the country- indeed the world- understands the power of Facebook’s insights. They allow us to dig down into personality types, shopping traits, interests, online activity and behaviour, to name but a few things, and build a bespoke campaign around that knowledge. But even the most digital-savvy pros out there will probably be surprised at the results of a new study.
Put simply, more than 3.5million people- primarily women aged 18-40 in the UK- were shown online ads tailored to personality types that had been calculated based on key trigger Likes which have been found to reflect psychological characteristics. For example, Lady Gaga would imply that someone is likely to be an extrovert, Stargate would suggest more of an introvert.
The ads created by the researchers at the Columbia Business School in New York City, led by Sandra Matz, resulted in a 40% increase of clicks for beauty products and 50% for gaming when they were targeted at Facebook profiles using the introvert/extrovert assumption, based on records of trigger Likes, when compared with results when the same ads were rolled out, but not targeted.
In many ways it stands to reason, and this is nothing that we didn’t all know before- when people ally themselves to any interest or activity online they immediately become open to some form of profiling. Having said that, what is remarkable in this instance is how little someone needs to do for advertising to successfully target them- as the title of our blog page here says, One Like is all it takes.
“I was surprised that we got the effect with so little information,” Matz is quoted as saying in an article on The Guardian. “We don’t know that much about people, and yet it still has a pretty big effect. You can imagine if you were using the full Facebook profile to make individual level predictions about people’s personalities, the effects would be even bigger.”
Of course this isn’t all great news, and the results have triggered plenty of alarm bells, particularly with regard to the study itself, and what this could potentially be used for. By offering scientific evidence on how easy it is to successfully categorise a personality, the researchers are potentially encouraging this sort of activity amongst private companies and advertisers.
One thing is for sure, it shows just how effective a great social media campaign can be when it is orchestrated by the right hands, and also just how urgent the call now is for legislation to catch up with the incredible power of big data gleaned from social networks. Or, as Matz puts it:
“It has the potential for abuse where you exploit weaknesses in a person’s character to make them do things they don’t want to do. We want policymakers to focus on the positive uses. If you just shut down this technology, you would lose so much potential for helping people.”
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