One Facebook ‘like’ all advertisers need to know your psyche

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  • Ads created by researchers targeted millions of people based on a single ‘like’
  • Experts used whether people liked certain pages to figure out their personality
  • These traits were used to target ads, boosting sales by up to 50 per cent
  • Study reveals even the smallest ‘digital footprint’ can be used to influence the behaviour of large groups of people 

Harry Pettit For Mailonline

Facebook ad campaigns created by British and US researchers have targeted and influenced the behaviour of millions of people based on a single ‘like’.

Scientists used whether people liked certain pages to figure out their personality type, showing the effect of ‘mass psychological persuasion’, the researchers said.

They found that people who like specific Facebook pages, such as Lady Gaga’s fan page, are more likely to be outgoing and confident.

People who like other items, such as the official page for the Sci-Fi TV show Stargate, are more likely to be shy and reserved.

By targeting Facebook adverts at people based on personality types garnered from single ‘likes’ such as these, the researchers boosted sales of beauty products and gaming apps 50 per cent compared with un-targeted adverts.

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Scientists used whether people liked certain pages to figure out their personality type, showing the effect of 'mass psychological persuasion. They found that people who like certain Facebook pages, such as Lady Gaga's, are more likely to be outgoing and confident

Scientists used whether people liked certain pages to figure out their personality type, showing the effect of 'mass psychological persuasion. They found that people who like certain Facebook pages, such as Lady Gaga's, are more likely to be outgoing and confident

Scientists used whether people liked certain pages to figure out their personality type, showing the effect of ‘mass psychological persuasion. They found that people who like certain Facebook pages, such as Lady Gaga’s, are more likely to be outgoing and confident

WHAT A FACEBOOK LIKE SAYS ABOUT YOU

For the research, experts used a database that linked millions of personality profiles of anonymous Facebook users with their ‘likes’.

The data showed that specific personality traits are more likely among those that like certain pages.

For example, someone who likes Lady Gaga’s Facebook page is more likely to be confident and outspoken, or ‘extroverted’.

A like for the Sci-Fi television series Stargate means someone is more likely to be shy and reserved, or ‘introverted’.

The team then had graphic designers create adverts for people that are either extroverts or introverts.

They showed these adverts to people based on a single ‘like’ linked to their page that suggested they were either an introvert or extrovert. 

The study, from researchers at Cambridge University and New York’s Columbia Business School (CBS), reveals that even the smallest ‘digital footprint’ can be used to influence the behaviour of large groups of people.

‘Whether you like it or not, almost every step you take online is recorded: The websites you visit, the purchases you make, the songs you listen to, the messages you post or read on social sites, and the pages you follow on Facebook,’ said lead researcher Dr Sandra Matz, from CBS.

‘These digital footprints provide a treasure trove of data that can reveal not only what you like and how you see the world, but also who you are as a person.’

The US and British team targeted 3.5 million people with their fake advertising campaigns.

Ads were aimed mostly at women in the UK aged 18-40, and were tailored to their personality type based on a single Facebook like.

The team found that their campaigns, which they ran for a number of unnamed companies, boosted clicks on ads for beauty products and gaming apps by up to 40 per cent compared with untargeted adverts.

Sales for these products were hiked by as much as 50 per cent compared with un-targeted campaigns. 

‘Our research shows that digital footprints can be used to influence effectively the behaviour of large groups of people,’ Dr Matz wrote.

‘By targeting consumers with persuasive messages that are tailored to their core psychological profiles (e.g. the degree to which they are extroverted or introverted) it is possible to significantly increase the likelihood that people will take a specific action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing the promoted product.’

For her research, Dr Matz used a database created by University of Cambridge scientists that linked millions of personality profiles of anonymous Facebook users with their ‘likes’.

People who like other items, such as the official page for the Sci-Fi TV show Stargate, are more likely to be shy and reserved. By targeting Facebook adverts at people based on personality types garnered from single 'likes' such as these, the researchers boosted sales 50 per cent

People who like other items, such as the official page for the Sci-Fi TV show Stargate, are more likely to be shy and reserved. By targeting Facebook adverts at people based on personality types garnered from single 'likes' such as these, the researchers boosted sales 50 per cent

People who like other items, such as the official page for the Sci-Fi TV show Stargate, are more likely to be shy and reserved. By targeting Facebook adverts at people based on personality types garnered from single ‘likes’ such as these, the researchers boosted sales 50 per cent

THE STUDY 

The team measured users’ reactions to the ads by counting which ad users clicked on and whether users purchased the product.

Extroverts responded more positively to advertising messages when the beauty retailer’s ad was focused on extroverted preferences and interests.

For instance, the ad may have showed a group of women in a social situation, dancing, and having fun, accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are)’.

Introverts responded more positively to ads that focused on introverted preferences.

For instance, a single woman by herself in a quiet environment, enjoying her ‘me-time,’ accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Beauty doesn’t have to shout’.

The team found that their campaigns, which they ran for a number of unnamed companies, boosted clicks on ads for beauty products and gaming apps by up to 40 per cent compared with untargeted adverts.

Sales for these products were hiked by as much as 50 per cent compared with untargeted campaigns. 

The data showed that specific personality traits are more likely among those that like certain pages.

For example, someone who likes Lady Gaga’s Facebook page is more likely to be confident and outspoken, or ‘extroverted’.

A like for the Sci-Fi television series Stargate means someone is more likely to be shy and reserved, or ‘introverted’.

The team then had graphic designers create adverts for people that are either extroverts or introverts.

They then showed these adverts to people based on a single ‘like’ linked to their page that suggested they were either an introvert or extrovert.

Facebook ad campaigns created by British and US researchers have targeted millions of people based on a single 'like'. Each person's Facebook 'like' was used to figure out their psychological traits, showing the effect of 'mass psychological persuasion' (stock image)

Facebook ad campaigns created by British and US researchers have targeted millions of people based on a single 'like'. Each person's Facebook 'like' was used to figure out their psychological traits, showing the effect of 'mass psychological persuasion' (stock image)

Facebook ad campaigns created by British and US researchers have targeted millions of people based on a single ‘like’. Each person’s Facebook ‘like’ was used to figure out their psychological traits, showing the effect of ‘mass psychological persuasion’ (stock image)

Finally, the team measured users’ reactions to the ads by counting which ad users clicked on and whether users purchased the product.

Extroverts responded more positively to advertising messages when the beauty retailer’s ad was focused on extroverted preferences and interests.

For instance, the ad may have showed a group of women in a social situation, dancing, and having fun, accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are)’.

Introverts responded more positively to ads that focused on introverted preferences.

The study reveals that even the smallest online 'digital footprint' can be used to influence the behaviour of large groups of people (stock image)

The study reveals that even the smallest online 'digital footprint' can be used to influence the behaviour of large groups of people (stock image)

The study reveals that even the smallest online ‘digital footprint’ can be used to influence the behaviour of large groups of people (stock image)

For instance, a single woman by herself in a quiet environment, enjoying her ‘me-time,’ accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Beauty doesn’t have to shout’.

‘Psychological targeting could be used to exploit weaknesses in people’s character and persuade them to take action against their best interest,’ Dr Matz wrote.

‘For example: Online casinos could target ads at individuals who have psychological traits associated with pathological gambling.

‘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.’