With the revelations of the weekend that Facebook have been conducting research into how personalising the content of a user’s Facebook newsfeed can positively or negatively affect them, personalisation is facing a backlash of sorts.
The Facebook ‘experiment’ was part of a research paper released that looked at nearly 700,000 users and how manipulating the items they saw in their feed could affect the positivity or negativity of their interactions.
In essence, showing more positive stories and items increased a user’s own positive words in posts and correspondingly, an increase in negative items in their feeds drove more negative posts.
Although scientifically rigorous in methodology, the results are not exactly rocket science. What is interesting is in the fact that this manipulation was achieved through personalisation; something the eCommerce industry is developing more and more ways to market products and engage users around tailored shopping experiences.
Is there a backlash to this methodology?
Potentially, say Razorfish Global. In coverage of a panel discussion in The Drum, Razorfish shared research findings that indicate – for mobile at least – that personalisation of advertising is seen as invasive or an infringement of privacy.
78% in the UK saying that it was an invasion of privacy on mobile and 81% hated seeing the same advert multiple times.
Facebook, who co-authored the research on their platform, have since told the BBC, “We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out.
“At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.”
The report has caused quite a stir among its users, and Kramer admitted Facebook failed to “clearly state [its] motivations in the paper”.
“I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused,”
Findings published by the Economist Intelligence Unit last July in the Guardian, also appear to show that, marketing at least, is perceived differently by shoppers and marketers. The research showed that as much as 70% of shoppers felt that personalisation was superficial and 62% felt that “personalisation is so common they have grown numb to it.”
Given the sensitivity that exists between personalisation being perceived to be invasive and the perception of shoppers that it is not implemented in a considered way, why do marketers still believe it to be the evolution of advertising and eCommerce?
Primarily because customer views on personalisation during the shopping journey itself are a key part of the experience. Rather than the negative views it gathers in advertising, shopping personalisation is critical to meeting user expectation. Accounts, order history, product suggestions, “new for you”, notifications based on previous purchases – all of it adds up to improving the experience.
As Tesco’s CIO said in 2012, “In the last decade digital technology has given retailers the ability to forge a personal relationship with their customers, and through Clubcard we are increasingly understanding more about what our customers want, how they shop, their stage in life, their tastes, their habits and so on.”
Ultimately, personalised shopping experiences are about relationships. Given the amount of data a shopper accumulates when using a website, it’s only natural that this should try to be used to improve an experience. Happy customers become loyal customers and a personalised experience can develop brand loyalty.
To use an analogy, if using a website is like entering a restaurant for the first time, every time and a competitor remembers who you are, makes recommendations and knows your preferences – which is the better experience?
Personalisation and ‘big data’ are still the biggest thing in modern eCommerce, but advertisers may have yet to crack the formula to utilise it appropriately.