With friends like these…



Cambridge researchers have created a website that combines the Facebook profiles of fans of companies and public figures with personality testing to create what they are describing as a “revolutionary” new marketing tool.

What do Barack Obama, Adam Sandler, and the animated comedy Family Guy all have in common? How about David Cameron, Eva Mendes, and the former Ultimate Fighting Champion, Chuck Liddell? And what links Shrek, McDonalds, and David Beckham?

The answer is that each group attracts the same type of personality on Facebook – at least, according to a newly-launched website, www.likeaudience.com, which has been designed by two researchers at the University of Cambridge who believe that it could “revolutionise” marketing.

Unlike other online marketing tools, LikeAudience combines the information people share about themselves on Facebook with data about their personalities gathered from the same profiling tests used in psychological research. It then tracks what these people have chosen to “like” on the social networking site – the Facebook user’s stamp of general approval.

For the first time, it means that companies, politicians, celebrities and anyone else with a Facebook presence can investigate not just how many people “like” them – they can also draw up a detailed profile that includes information about their average follower’s personality, IQ and satisfaction with life. Other data such as the gender balance and average age of their fanbase is also made available.

In addition, users can examine what people with similar profiles also like on Facebook. For example, a quick search for Barack Obama reveals that his typical fan is middle-aged, relatively happy with life and a relaxed, steady-going individual. Similar people tend to be fans of Adam Sandler, Bob Marley, Family Guy and the Angelina Jolie action thriller, Salt.

Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin appeals to a rather different personality type. Her followers are likely to be more traditional in mindset, disciplined, dutiful, and older than the average Obama fan. Perhaps less predictably, her typical Facebook followers are not hockey-mums, but men. People with similar profiles still track the fortunes of the last President, George W. Bush, and also enthuse about Pizza Hut and the Seattle Seahawks. More sample profiles are shown in the panel below.

The site was created by Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, both researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. So far they have aggregated the data from about 170,000 participants, which means that they have been able to process about 36,000,000 individual “likes” in all.

“What people like, follow or recommend to their friends is related to their personality, intelligence and other psychological factors,” Kosinski said. “This means that we can accurately estimate the average personality type that constitutes a typical fan of a person, company or thing.”

“Never before have we had access to such comprehensive behavioural data about consumers. We think this will revolutionise marketing, because it introduces a completely new dimension by adding scientifically robust personality tests to other demographic information.”

LikeAudience profiles are based on personality and demographic data gathered from the Facebook app, MyPersonality, which was also created by Kosinski and Stillwell. This app, which has had more than 5.5 million respondents, invites users to take a genuine personality assessment, and builds up a psychological profile based on standard questionnaires used by research scientists.

Each individual is assessed according to the standard “Big Five” personality traits used by psychologists and other researchers. These are: Openness (liberal vs. traditional); Conscientiousness (flexible vs. organised); Extraversion (introverted vs. outgoing); Agreeableness (competitive vs. co-operative); and Stablility (stressed vs. relaxed). Each personality profile is an expression of where the person is ranked on each of these five scales.

Other apps, such as an IQ test, have also been added. All of this data is then combined with the participant’s Facebook profile information – such as their age, hometown, and relationship status.

The information is only used for LikeAudience if the respondents agree to it when they use the app. It is also completely anonymous and cannot be linked back to the participant. A sample entry, for instance, might read: “Female, 34 years old, extraversion 4.5, openness 3.5, likes Lady GaGa”. Individuals are never identified to ensure privacy.

LikeAudience’s creators believe that it will be of particular value to marketers, who will be able to uncover new potential audiences for their advertising campaigns, and exploitable niches based on the fans of their closest rivals. The potential significance for politicians, particularly when on the election trail, is also clear – although it can throw up some interesting results.

In Britain, for example, Ed Milliband struggles to shake off his “Red Ed” tag by attracting the same sort of people who like Karl Marx and the Manic Street Preachers. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, by contrast, has much in common with fans of the 90s comedy show Bottom, the violent computer game Grand Theft Auto and Eric Cartman from South Park.

But perhaps the biggest shock is the Prime Minister himself. David Cameron’s fans are highly organised, traditionally-minded and very competitive. Similar people follow the former American Ultimate Fighting Champion, Chuck Liddell, the actress and model, Eva Mendes, and G-Unit – the hip-hop group formed by rapper 50 Cent.