A group of researchers from Columbia University targeted over 3.5 million Facebook users to see how they would react to tailored advertising based on their psychological profiles — information that was gleaned from the topics they liked or followed.
“Matching the content of persuasive messages to individuals’ psychological characteristics resulted in up to 40 percent more clicks and up to 50 percent more purchases than their mismatching or un-personalized messages,” explains lead author Sandra Matz in a summary of the findings.
For example, in the case of a beauty brand, extroverts responded more favorably to advertisements that portrayed extroverted interests, like a group of women enjoying a party with the tag line, “Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are).” Meanwhile, introverts were more likely to click on the ads that featured more introverted pursuits, like an image of a women enjoying time by herself with the tag line, “Beauty doesn’t have to shout.”
On the one hand, the data shows how businesses could be more effective in reaching an audience based on how the advertising is customized to appeal to them. On the other hand, it goes to show how for social media users, every action they take is being used to craft a customer experience that could be construed as either highly sophisticated or highly calculated, depending on who you ask.
But as Matz notes, the research speaks to a broader issue about the responsible use this kind of data. “Our findings illustrate how psychological mass persuasion could be used to manipulate people to behave in ways that are neither in their best interest nor in the best interest of society.”