Psychographics, Facebook and the End of Your Privacy

Photo: Alex Haney on

The angst that has erupted about the Cambridge Analytics’ misuse of Facebook data is enough to make a billionaire (like Mark Zuckerberg) weep. There are a plethora of articles in the tech magazines on how to eliminate one’s Facebook account. There are equal amounts of directions specifying how to eliminate personal information from a Facebook account you choose to retain. Then there are the more nuanced pieces advocating governmental regulation of social media industries to protect against misuse of our accessible information. It’s abundantly clear that there are millions of people angry that Donald Trump’s election team was aided by the research firm Cambridge Analytics in motivating votes.

Psychographic use in advertising has been a practice for decades. Psychographics is the study of demographic trends including social and psychological studies. These determine the attitudes and tastes of particular segments of a population (

Let’s say you own a business in which you have invested your life’s savings. To make your potential customers aware of your business, you want to use the most direct language and images to attract your potential clients. You also want to do this for the least amount of money. Psychographic research is at the very heart of advertising and marketing. Because you want people to know about and be attracted to what your company’s products and services, you advertise. If you don’t advertise, you might go bankrupt.

Remember the extraordinary series “Mad Man” which showed the powerful underbelly of manipulation used by those in the ad industry. The character played by John Hamm brought the powerful back room manipulation schemes into our living rooms each week.

Consider the initials LSMFT (Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco). The phrase “Winston Tastes Good Like A Cigarette Should.” Through this show, we saw how repetition of initials, slogans and images burn themselves into our psyches. While the tobacco companies and the ad agencies grew wealthy, entire generations became addicted to smoking tobacco and died because of it.

‘Well not all products or services will kill you’ like tobacco,’ you might confidently assure yourself.

Psychographc studies tell us a lot about us and the people we want to influence. When I lived in New York state, I worked for a television station. I was in marketing and I was fascinated by the power of psychographic data for which our station paid heavily.

The studies found that in our market segment, there were six groupings of citizens. The number of identifiable groups vary from market to market. For each of these regional groups, research findings described the ethical values and the key words and images that attract or repel people in different groups. They determined the percentage each group represents in a given market.

For instance, Group Ones are conservative and dislike liberal-leaning people who are not leading traditional lifestyles. Group One represents 20% of that local market. The group strongly identifies with the status quo. They tend to be materialistic and enjoy buying things. Possessions are deemed important to demonstrate that they have achieved the “American dream.”

Group Ones are traditional in terms of sex roles, feeling that the husband should be the primary financial provider for the household (“head of the house”). They like order, control, predictability and dislike surprises. They are politically conservative and have strong opinions. A majority of this group (80%) own their own homes (not so in other markets) and 57% were married.

Images that are attractive to this group include: conventional, affluent lifestyles, clubhouses, business interests, order, planning, control, conservative political thought, family scenes showing men and women in traditional roles, competitive sports and patriotic themes.

Images that alienate group Ones include: liberals, non-traditional households, women’s rights activists, Avant-guard fashions, hard rock music and busy places where young people linger.

The key and attractive words to this group include: organizational efficiency, American, planning, control, protection, comfortable, reliable, trusted, luxurious and conservative. Recall the many who are compelled to wear little American flag lapel pins and incorporate the pledge of allegiance to the flag into their group rituals.

Group Two, 18% of that market, is a demographic that contrasts greatly with Group One. This segment is achievement oriented and their jobs are the primary focus of life. Much of their time is spent in learning more about how they can perform better in their work. They are confident, not afraid to take risks and generally socially minded. They tend to be flexible, creative and are attracted to creativity and innovation.

Group Twos are liberal, sympathetic to the needy and they favor social programs that make things fairer to all. They are non-traditional about sex roles, believing that men and women should relate as equals.

Group Twos are younger and have the highest incomes in the market. Their occupations are a major part of their identity. They prefer convenience, technology and efficiency over getting ‘a good deal’ on a product. They don’t have time for coupons.

Words that attract Group Twos include: technology, science, performance, innovative, responsive, new, second generation, excellence, quality, speed, style, competition, casual sophistication, articulate and witty people.

Images that repel Group Twos include: simplistic explanations, people who are very traditional and conservative, people who are inarticulate, bargain basement and lower quality things.

There are other groups such as the Threes, (35% of the market segment) who are coupon clippers and who thrive on getting the best bargain. They love the status quo like those in Group One. They prefer the traditional middle class, traditional nuclear family orientation and lifestyle as opposed to the more changeable complexity pursued by the Group Twos.

Time doesn’t permit a summary of all the groups but you can begin to see the value of determining which consumer group you’re trying to reach with your products.

Photo: Mapbrh Enah on

Psychographics show the power of using key images and words used in advertising and marketing. The motto “Make America Great Again” would obviously appeal to Group One. The statement: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” appeals to Group Two.

So we have the consternation about Facebook enabling Cambridge Analytics to use psychographic information from its members to influence an election.

Every politician and advertiser uses this kind of group demographic data to effectively influence their desired outcome. Is selling your automotive dealership’s cars just another side of the coin to selling people on your candidacy to be a Senator? If so, who should determine who or what causes can use our psychographic information for their ends?

Whether it is from telephone surveys, small scale customer service polls or door-to-door surveys, strangers are going to obtain information we provide. We are increasingly living in a culture that tracks information on our consumer habits and preferences. The pervasive “internet of things” monitors our refrigerator’s use of the charcoal water filters and offers us reminders to replace them. They follow our purchasing patterns in the grocery store. They send us coupons according to what we buy. The culture around us wants our money, our vote and it wants to talk us into spending our resources for their products. It is inevitable that our personal information gets in the hands of strangers who are greedy, manipulative or, perhaps, evil.

But we can resist it whenever possible. The people in mid 20th Century Germany didn’t know that Hitler was waging an intentional propaganda campaign to capitalize on their fears and prejudices.

Facebook failed when it gave Cambridge Analytics access to our data, without our permission, in order to make money. FB and the analytic firm did it to make money. The politicians bought and used the psychographic data to gain power over us and make even more money.

I suggest one place to start is for elected officials to legislate absolute privacy regulations on internet social media companies. Nobody should be able to harvest our likes and preferences from anything online without our explicit permission. Online privacy should be as strictly enforced in the business world and private sector as it is in the health care industry that has the HIPPA regulations.

If someone is stealing your bank account information or personal statements from your online password-encrypted accounts, they are only trying to get at our financial resources and should be prosecuted. The same should be true to those who are trying to capture our likes and preferences. I suspect that those who scream the words “over reach” about regulations may, themselves, be trying to gain control over our private information. To prove it, we just have to follow the money to their pockets.

Secondly, not everyone is going to limit what they personally share in public forums. People are generally trusting and open with what they share on public and private forums. Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites should not be permitted to open their software tools to people who capture our data. Maybe the federal government should intentionally track those who collect data on others for future criminal investigations. If you collect personal information on others, you should automatically land on the FBI’s suspect list. You don’t have an inalienable right to our information so you can manipulate us in order to make money or influence our vote!

Anything we do on line should be encrypted and we should be able to control its access. It should never be in the hands of a total stranger who hopes to sell us a Buick or Gap jeans.

We can no longer trust these online companies to regulate themselves. We need to be more intentional about removing information about ourselves from our online profiles. Here are several links to articles about safer, more private online experiences:

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