A Conversation with Dr. Evan Wirig on the Wild World of Social Media Advertising

From an advertising perspective, what role does social media play in a product’s success?

Dr. Wirig explained that focusing on finding target audiences and target marketing is vital to a product’s success when utilizing social media as a selling tool. Age and gender markets, including market saturation, are all important aspects, “They’re not going to throw mortgage advertisements at most freshmen in college,” said Dr. Wirig.

An article from DigitalMarketing.org builds on Dr. Wirig’s comments that building target audiences and marketing via social media are key to growth for a company. Gary Henderson, author of “The Importance Of Social Media Marketing” notes how businesses have access to various tools on social media to see how many visitors were interested in their content. They can further use this data to improve upon their marketing strategies by building their own custom audience. This can help turn a casual viewer into a loyal customer and thus detract consumers from abandoning their carts during checkout. Henderson mentions how “the approximate percentage of people who abandon their carts online is almost 70%.” These potential buyers leaving their carts are causing a drastic loss in profits for companies. It is essential for brands to recognize their losses and deter future customers from following the same pattern. Additionally, it allows businesses to further target potential customers who were on the fence about becoming a buyer. 

The following infographic above breaks down several social media platforms and how active their users are, their highest demographics, and the total population of users. This proves how vital social media is in advertising and selling.

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Are there specific trends or changes that you have noticed that have not received mainstream attention or research yet?

Dr. Wrig believes that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, audiences are more captivated than ever by their phones. Due to nearly 3 years of quarantine for some, consumers have spent more time on their phones than ever before. Because of this, brands are taking advantage, and attempting for their marketing strategies to become even more specific. Dr. Wririg predicts that the tourism industry will have to work extremely hard and creatively in its advertising endeavors to succeed again. Due to the new public’s fear of travel due to the pandemic, Dr. Wirig believes that the tourism industry will try new, innovative ways to market to consumers so that airlines, and hotels, can flourish again.

Do you think the ethics of social media advertising has evolved over the past five years? If so, how? 

Dr. Wirig expressed his distaste with the current advertising industry.

“We’re in the media, we have no ethics. The ethics are the almighty dollar…It’s shameless.”

-Dr. Evan Wirig

Wirig understands that corporations need to succeed, and ethics will be sacrificed. Wirig points to The Balance Theory, in which the media creates a need for consumption, say a dieting plan, and if consumers do not buy the diet plan, they will be overweight, thus their life would be out of balance.

A blog post by Cornell University “Consumer Endorsements and The Balance Theory: How a Celebrity’s Image Can Impact a Network” summarized a research project by Carolyn Tripp, Thomas D. Jensen, and Les Carlson which displays how influencers and celebrities make consumers feel out of balance if they do not have the same product that a certain celebrity has. The study found that the more positive of a connection between a fan and a celebrity, the more successful a product will be.

As Wirig proved prior, advertisers will utilize the balance theory in order to sell a dream to consumers. Oftentimes traditional celebrities and now internet influencers will be used as a selling tactic in order to appeal to their fans.

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What are the ethical issues at hand when companies have access to data in order to sell their business and product to consumers?

Wirig finds the use of data hoarding horrific and views the practice as a form of spying. He mentions that a lot of people don’t realize that we are letting corporations have access to our lives. Wirig finds the exercise of data mining a shame, “Where do you draw the line?… Do they mine your personal life to their benefit and to the detriment of yours? How much is your privacy worth?”

There are dangers involved with data mining. In an opinion piece by Joseph Kukral, “The Ethical Dilemma Posed by Data Mining”, Kukral explains that the selling of data will lead to leakages to third parties. These leaks can be traced to criminals hacking into innocent citizens’ information, and stealing their identities. Big corporations are now under public scrutiny for finding out consumers’ personal information. Kukral noted a Target scandal, where the company used its data mining system to find out about a teen girl’s pregnancy and then began to send her advertisements for baby products before her parents knew about the pregnancy. 

In many cases, as Wirig mentioned previously, consumers are unaware of just how much corporations are invading our lives. Companies will continue to benefit from mining consumer data even if it is a danger to our livelihood. 

In your experience, what is the hardest part of conducting survey-based research?

While working for CBS, Wirig had to run monthly polls.

 “There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.”

Wirig notes that any study can be modified, thus not every poll is legitimate or honest. He also suggests that the biggest issue in surveying for quantitative data is determining a good enough sample size to quantify said data.

In the article, “Polls: When Measuring is Manipulating,” Norman Solomon discusses how polls, especially opinion polls, are not always the most accurate ways to determine how a sample size feels. A majority of the results of polls come from how they were prepared. This comes from how the questions were phrased and in what order they are put. All of these factors determine different outcomes from a sample size. Solomon notes how “opinion polls don’t just measure; they also manipulate, helping to shape thoughts and tilting our perceptions of how most people think.” These manipulations can help skew a poll in the favor of those recording to get the responses that they want, completely defeating the purpose of conducting a poll, to begin with. 

This backs Dr. Wirig’s comments on how research studies can be modified so that it fits the conductor’s agenda. While opinion polls may be wise to take for sample size, it matters most if the individuals in the study are answering with their honest opinions and are not being swayed in a particular direction.

Any advice going about our quantitative research? 

Because it is difficult to get honest answers, Dr. Wirig suggested the use of numbers scales, such as 1-10, or 1-5. He also suggested the use of Likert scales, due to their simplicity. 

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