What convinces one person might not convince another
Persuasive mass communication is aimed at encouraging large groups of people to believe in and act on the communicator’s viewpoint. It is used by governments to encourage healthy behaviors, by marketers to acquire and retain consumers, and by political parties to mobilize the voting population. Persuasive communication is particularly effective when tailored to people’s unique psychological characteristics and motivations. But how can marketers or other communicators obtain reliable psychological profiles of millions of users? How can they best navigate the landscape of psychological mass persuasion against the backdrop of data protection regulations such as the GDPR which restrict the storage and use of personal data? And what are the potential risks and pitfalls associated with hyper-personalized mass persuasion?
Digital footprints are remarkably predictive
More and more human activities – such as social interactions, entertainment, shopping, and searching for information – happen, at least partially, in the digital space. Powered by better hardware and software, and fueled by the emergence of computational social science, these traces of human activity can be used to make highly personal inferences about their owner’s preferences, habits and psychological characteristics.
Even relatively basic digital records of human behavior, such as Facebook likes, tweets or transaction records, can be used to automatically and accurately estimate a wide range of personal attributes including political ideology, sexual orientation and personality – attributes that most people would typically assume to be private. Automated assessments on the basis of digital footprints may not only be more accurate and less prone to cheating and misrepresentation than traditional, scale-based personality assessments, but they can also permit measurement over time to detect temporal trends and intra-individual changes in behavior. In a series of studies, we have tested and demonstrated how digital footprints can indeed be very accurate in the assessment of personality characteristics (Box 1 and Figure 1) of large target groups and in designing more effective mass communication tools (Figure 2).