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Tuesday, July 28 • 10:31 - 12:00
"How Effective is Targeted Internet Strategic Communication?: Auditing User Engagement with Social Media Advertising Using Eye-tracking Technology"

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Authors: Jeremy Shtern and Ryan Payne

Within communication and media studies there is intense interest in the relationship between social media users and advertising. Particularly, in regard to questions related to the normative and conceptual implications of the value chain wherein users populate social media platforms with personal data and user generated content that can then be aggregated, analyzed and ultimately used to serve users with advertising and other forms of strategic communication messages that are highly personalized and targeted, creating opportunities for marketers and revenue for social media firms in the process. Questions being asked include: what are the implications of targeted, personalized adds and strategic communication messages for user privacy and surveillance? Does social media use, by supplying data that creates this value for advertisers constitute a form of labour? Where should regulatory lines be drawn and what kinds of rules, if any, are required? A key and widely acknowledged gap in this emerging research area is the lack of empirical data on how users engage with targeted social media advertising and on the impact that such targeting has on user experience and behavior. 

Develop and pilot an audit methodology for evaluating user engagement with social media advertising and come up with some preliminary conclusions about how users engage differently with commercial and personal social media messages. 

We have developed an auditing methodology for evaluating patterns of user interaction with social media advertising messages and by understanding the views of the users, the targets themselves, on the accuracy and impact of targeted advertising. 
The audit makes use of eye tracking technology, allowing us to measure and record the changing focus, eye movements and other biometric indicators of internet users while they are engaged in their normal, daily social media use patterns. This technology allows us to provide empirical data in response to relevant research questions such as: How much of their attention do social media users give to advertising messages? To what extent do users engage differently with advertising content than non advertising content on social media platforms? Are social media users more likely to notice and give attention to advertising messages when they are highly and successfully targeted to at an issue of a high level of concern to the individual user? 
The eye tracking portion of the audit is complimented by follow-up debriefing interviews with participants, where we provide context to the biometric analysis, including questions about the extent to which participants feel that the advertising that appeared in their social media platforms during the audit was/was not logically and successfully targeted at them and about their reaction to the type of advertising they had been served with. 

We will present the preliminary eye-tracking audit methodology as well as data based on our initial 20 (post-pilot phase) social media use audits. We will discuss and reflect on the ways in which eye-tracking research suggests that users engage with social media messages and also contextualize the eye-tracking data with survey and interview results. Though analysis and results are (as of submission in April 2015) still at a preliminary stage, we have already completed 10 social media use audits and expect to have preliminary analysis and conclusions to present by the summer. 

Future Work: 
Results will eventually be published in top tier academic journals, either as a stand alone piece or as a contribution to a piece involving results of multiple studies on social media users’ attitudes toward advertising. Results will also contribute to an in progress book project on the social media advertising industry, in particular around providing an empirical basis for theorization of the differences and overlaps between commercial and personal communication in social media. 

avatar for Jeremy Shtern

Jeremy Shtern

Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Jeremy Shtern is associate professor and a founding faculty member in the School of Creative Industries at Ryerson University. Dr. Shtern’s research and teaching focuses on transformations in the structure and governance of communication industries and creative work as they reorganize... Read More →

Tuesday July 28, 2015 10:31 - 12:00
(9th Floor) TRS 3-176 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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