Marketing research and the Panopticon
October 26, 2009, 4:33 am
Filed under: targeted advertising | Tags: , , , , , ,

Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon prison in the late 1700s, the premise of which being one person could monitor many without the prisoners knowing if they were being watched. This effect is similar on social networking sites- as no one knows who or when people are viewing their profile. As a result many people will create and alter their profiles with their friends or other in mind.

From a marketers perspective this can be both a dream and a nightmare as on one hand you’ve got this clearly defined market of conformists, but on the other hand- these people might not be the long term serious customers your business is after. So in this sense it is a dual edged sword as the person we see online is not necessarily the person we are actually marketing to. Although this concept affects all forms of marketing research to an extent, on the internet it is far easier to fake identity.

As an example, I might not be into skateboarding, however, because all my friends are I might list them as one of my interests. Because of this, any targeted advertising may assess my profile and judge that I a suitable candidate for a skateboard company to market to- when in actuality, I wouldn’t consider purchasing anything from them. Indeed the reverse is also true- I may omit that I am a Michael Buble fan from my Facebook because I fear ridicule from my friends.

Similar results can be seen in online surveys and groups. It is all too easy to join a Facebook group, for an albeit worthy cause and do nothing more about it- basically using your profile as a badge to demonstrate what you stand for, even if it’s just for appearances. This is becoming all too common, with causes and interests becoming superficial accessories to social networking profiles.

Caplan has written a paper on what he calls problematic internet use which studies the use of the internet in social networking situations as opposed to real life. In the paper he highlights people with lower self confidence are more likely to use the internet for socialising. His results are relevant to this post as they highlight the change in person that occurs between the internet and the real world.

So does all this render a great deal of online marketing research void? People are displaying themselves as they want to appear- not as they actually are in real life.


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