LONDON: Online ad campaigns created by academics in Britain and the US have targeted millions of people based on psychological traits perceived from a single like on Facebook, demonstrating the effect of mass psychological persuasion according to the experts.
More than 3.5 million people, mostly women in the UK aged 18-40, were shown online adverts tailored to their personality type after researchers found that specific Facebook likes reflected different psychological characteristics.
The bespoke campaigns boosted clicks on ads for beauty products and gaming apps by up to 40 per cent and sales by as much as 50 per cent compared with untargeted adverts, according to the researchers, who did not benefit financially from the campaigns.
The work, carried out for unnamed companies, was designed to reveal how even the smallest expressions of preference online can be used to influence people’s behaviour.
“We wanted to provide some scientific evidence that psychological targeting works, to show policymakers that it works, to show people on the street that it works, and say this is what we can do simply by looking at your Facebook likes. This is the way we can influence behaviour,” said Sandra Matz, a computational social scientist at Columbia Business School in New York City.
“We used one single Facebook like per person to decide whether they were introverted or extroverted, and that was the minimum amount of information we can possibly use to make inferences about people’s personalities. And yet we still see these effects on how often people click on ads and how often people buy something,” she added.
Matz teamed up with researchers at the University of Cambridge who had previously created a database of millions of personality profiles of anonymous Facebook users and items they had liked. The data reveals how, on average, specific likes reflect certain personality types.
The researchers then used graphics designers to create adverts aimed at either extroverts or introverts. They showed these via Facebook’s advertising platform to people who had liked a single item identifying them as one personality type or the other.
“I was surprised that we got the effect with so little information,” said Matz. “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.”
“Political campaigns probably somewhere you don’t want it to be used,” said Matz. “We want to open it up for public discussion so people can have an informed discussion about what we want to do with our technology.”