“Last night, I was looking for a new pair of shoes from Vans, and the next day the Vans’ ad popped up when I was scrolling Instagram,” said Kevin Law, a COMM 410 student. His experience is common to other students in class, and they all have mixed feelings about it. Sometimes the ads help find the best products, and sometimes they are just irrelevant. Social media advertising has become a commonality and a major way for advertisers to reach out for more sales and customers. As many of you may already hear about the term “social media algorithm.” “The social media algorithm is ruled by robots programmed to keep our attention as long as possible, they promote stuff we’d most likely tap, share, or heart – and bury everything else,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
This semester we are honored to interview Professor Kuen-Hee Ju-Pak through email. She teaches higher levels advertising classes at Cal State Fullerton. She shared with us her experience and opinion in social media advertising. She also provided some advice in terms of conducting survey research regarding this particular topic. Below are the questions and her answers from the interview.
Q1: What are some social media platforms that you utilize and have knowledge of?
I utilize Youtube and Linkedin. For Instagram, I know it to some degree, but I do not use it.
Q2: Do you believe social media is a dependable media vehicle for advertising?
Before talking about dependability, we need to define what the scopes are. Is it non-deceptive or non-manipulative? Or trustworthy? But based on a general sense, social media has the power to influence people’s minds and actions of the consumers (and that is how they make money). The problem is if and to what degree they put consumers’ privacy concerns at the center of what they do.
Q3: Do you think it is morally right to use people’s data to improve advertising algorithms?
My answer is yes and no. I say yes as long as the advertisers are not deceptive in the practices and do so with the users’ consent. I say no if they place their business concerns ahead of my (consumer) privacy. They may have the power and temptation to manipulate consumers’ behaviors without the consumer’s knowledge.
Q4: What do you believe to be the disadvantages of social media advertising?
Most of the ads are irritating, interrupting, and not creative. Social media ads are in the primitive stage. Compared to TV ads, they are not creative enough (lack of creativity). They try to monetize every information they collect about me. They do not seem to have much regard for my needs (interruptive) or my privacy (lack of privacy). I get bombarded with too many ads that I do not need (clutter).
Q5: Social media platforms like Instagram use algorithms to target their users and allow brands to distribute ads across different users. Do you believe this strategy to be invasive or convenient?
It is quite difficult to draw a line. It is more often than not invasive. When the ads serve up are relevant to my browsing content, I may consider the ads informative and convenient.
Q6: If you are a social media user, do you find that targeted ads accurately portray your interests?
My answer is not really. When I watch Youtube videos, I get served with too many random ads-ads that have nothing to do with me personally or to do with the content I am consuming. I do not think they use sophisticated algorithms to serve targeted ads. If they do, they are just not working. But sometimes, the ads or products are still contextually relevant to what I browse at that time and serve when I am browsing the internet for entertainment or killing time.
Q7: My associates and I plan to survey CSUF students that utilize Instagram to determine if a majority find targeted advertising algorithms invasive or convenient. What limitations can you predict for our survey?
There are a few things you might consider when conducting this survey. Use a questionnaire with multiple-choice types of questions – e.g., for Q1, Which of the following social media do you use on a regular basis? Check all that apply. You list all popular/major social media categories along with others. Likewise, you identify all major/mutually exclusive answers and list them as answer alternatives for Q. 4. By doing so will make the process easy and convenient for the respondents. Also, it will make it easy for you to tabulate/quantify the answers. For Q 2, 3, 5, 6, & 7. You may ask how much they agree or disagree with the statement you give: such as “Social media ads (ads shown in social media) are invasive, the social media ads are convenient, social media ads are creative, etc. You may list all the descriptive statements you are interested in asking along rows, and the answer categories will be from 1=strongly disagree, 2=somewhat disagree, 3=neither disagree or agree, 4=somewhat agree, & 5= strongly agree. Then you can collect the data you want in less than half a page in a form that is easy to answer for survey respondents and tabulate for data analysis.
Social media platforms have become essential tools for advertisers to promote their services and products. They distribute the ads through algorithms with our data, including what we like, dislike, or search on the internet. The bottom line is that it is important to think about the ethical aspects of this powerful tool. As we may be an advertiser ourselves in the future, we need to take privacy into account. Also, we need to remember that humans create algorithms, and humans are subjective. They may not be as accurate as we expect because there is still room for improvement.
Conducting this interview with Professor Ju-Pak has been very informative for my colleagues and me. I am very thankful to have this opportunity in order to better my knowledge in the field of advertising.