Those who follow trends may not respond to digital ads

People who watch trends on social media may be a tough audience for advertisers

A new study questions the common assumption that those who like to keep up with – and share – trends on social media platforms are good targets for advertising messages.

The idea is that by getting trend-followers to engage with advertising of new products and services, they will help to propagate them by sharing on social media.

But the study from the conducted by researchers from London Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Cass Business School at City, University of London, may change that assumption.

They found that, far from helping to share advertising messages, the early-propagators of trends are less responsive to advertising than those who embrace trends later.

“We define early trend propagators as individuals predisposed to participate in an online conversation on a topic that is about to, or has just started, trending on social media,” said Caroline Wiertz of Cass Business School, one of the three authors of the study.

Early propagators are interested in building their own brand

In two tests, the researchers targeted promoted tweets on Twitter at those who were tweeting about trending topics, and then targeted those who were tweeting about the same topics when they had stopped trending.

“In both field tests, we targeted ads in the form of ‘promoted tweets’ to Twitter users who had posted messages containing phrases related to trending topics,” said Catherine Tucker. “We then continued targeting ads to users who posted on the same topic when it was no longer trending. We then compared the response of both groups to identical ads.”

The reason why those early propagators of trends may not respond to advertising, is that their motivation for sharing the content is likely to be a desire to provide content that builds authority with their followers.

They use trending discussions to conspicuously present themselves as the rapid pace of Twitter makes being on top of the latest trends one way to signal that they are ‘in the know.’ Early trend propagators engage with and propagate content that serves this purpose and therefore have little reason to engage with advertising.”

Therefore, targeting advertising at those who jump on new trends may be less effective than marketers first thought.

The full study is available at

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