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article imageOp-Ed: Analyzing Facebook likes, new marketing frontier exposed in study

By Paul Wallis     Mar 11, 2013 in Business
Sydney - In the past, they used to predict the future reading goat entrails. Now it’s Facebook, but a study by the University of Cambridge has produced some fascinating results and opened a whole new can for researchers.
The Cambridge study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has yielded either a true gem or a horrible mirror, depending on your tastes. Tastes and preferences, in fact, are the basis of the study, creating predictors based on social media behaviour. If you’ve been wondering why so many totally antipathetic people seem to show up on FB, YouTube and elsewhere, this may help you see how strong the differences in user groups really are.
These are indicators of high IQ:
The Godfather
The Colbert Report
Morgan Freemans Voice
The Daily Show
Lord Of The Rings
To Kill A Mockingbird
Curly Fries
These are the indicators for low IQ
Jason Aldean
Tyler Perry
Bret Michaels
Clark Griswold
I Love Being A Mom
Harley Davidson
Lady Antebellum
(The only things I recognize in the second group are Harley Davidson. I assume those other names are celebrities.)
If you’re getting an impression of trying to analyze a rather cartoonish range of indicators where high intelligence is measured by media products, it’s the result of a cartoonish society expressing itself using media. These are the things which relate to intelligence.
Since I know nothing at all about the second group, I’ll stick to finding a few characteristics in the first:
Humor is a function of intelligence.
The books and the movie indicate the ability to follow a storyline.
Music and natural aesthetics are intellectual enablers to a large extent.
Science is for those with active minds.
Curly fries? What the hell are curly fries, and why?
The findings also dug up some interesting results by defining classes like old/young, gender and liberal/conservative, etc.:
1. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are signs of satisfaction.
2. Conservatives don’t read, watch NASCAR and Teen Mom 2.
(That finding about reading explains a lot to me. I’ve noticed that book publishers also don’t read and consider 500 pages of obscenely banal dialogues to be a literary achievement.)
3. Extroverts are as superficial as they seem.
4. The gender divide is absolute in terms of media preferences.
5. Those with many friends have pretty low tastes.
6. Heterosexual females watch the wrestling.
The study qualifies itself with this:
Likes characterized by the most extreme average levels for each of the numeric variables (e.g. personality traits) or most extreme frequencies of classes (e.g. being a Democrat). We used only Likes that were associated with more than 100 users.
The overall picture may be pretty bleak, but remember it relates to shared tastes, external areas of agreement or disagreement, creating a range of common indicators for each group.
The young/old divide is a scream. You can practically see movie characters in findings where the old watch Small Business Saturday and the young come up with something called 293 Things To Do In Class When You Are Bored.
So has social media analysis found The Answer? The ultimate defining group analysis to forever peg people into inescapable demographics?
It’s not even the “42” in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a contemporary snapshot of a society which creates associations between people by association with things which associate with mutual preferences. (Nothing like a bit of hyperbolic language use to annoy people, so there it is.)
These are the moving targets of social association. They’re the things of which people are mutually aware on a current basis, expressed as choices. In any social environment, there will be shared preferences and choices. As the environment evolves (God, I’m an optimist) the preferences shift.
The presence of so many much older frames of reference in an online group study, however, is an interesting development. The satisfied/conservative/older groups seem to retain preferences which are decades if not millennia old. The younger externally oriented groups are very much focused on the current moment.
There’s a degree of authenticity here- You can almost see the older guys hunkered down watching Small Business Saturday as the bullets fly around their heads. Meanwhile the guys doing the 293 things are telling each other they’ve found 394 things to do while bored in class.
OK, enough cheap shots at the study. I’m a writer, and wouldn’t know what to do with an ethical system even if I had one.
The real value of this study is a very clear picture of a range of classes of orientations. The picture is of people with very well defined mindset positions in clear bandwidths. These are the things they like or don’t like, based on shared perspectives.
If you’re looking for where people are coming from, it’s a good picture. If where they’re going does include predictors, it also includes some very wide ranging variables. You could do a very convincing case for a follow-up evolutionary study to see where these people go with their tastes, associations and preferences.
Demography is only an exact science to the extent it can be such. The need for evolutionary data is pretty obvious, but it might also fill in a staggeringly large hole in understanding the dynamics of preference changes.
The one survivor from the global train wreck of old marketing methods was market research. The sudden explosion of thousands of new market options for consumers required research as much as it didn’t require rehashes of old useless marketing techniques.
This study has created a whole subject:
How do/will consumers adapt to new markets?
It’s a question worth answering on a regular basis, because it’s quite clear that buying patterns and market shifts are altering much faster than ever.
The best way to find out is to use and develop this methodology. You can see market information studded all over these findings on the S1 table. Individual findings may vary, but group findings tend to be reliable insofar as they address specifics. The decision making process isn’t necessarily confined to a purely market base, but preferences. This is where the customers are coming from, and it’s valuable information.
Cambridge has found the movie camera, and it can take stills, too. Time to check this out, because if Big Data has proven anything, it’s proven that data quality is the only show in town, and this method creates quality.
Note: For those who want to read the full study, it’s on the PNAS page here.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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