A project with Cambridge Analytica: Targeting Individuals for Big Data


A project with Cambridge Analytica: Targeting Individuals for Big Data


For months the media has been all abuzz about the revelations that Facebook exposed our personal data to a political and commercial consulting firm. All of the clicks, the likes, the quizzes and page shares. All the pieces of our online persona that once seemed trivial are now popping up as symptoms of our personalities, which can be exploited.

No Two Ways About It


We leave digital traces that tell others about who we are. The National Academy of Sciences explored the idea of psychological targeting, where they made inferences about personality based on online behavior. They predicted that if they could adjust messaging to match one of the Big 5 personality types, they would have a more effective response.


Cambridge Analytica, the company now embroiled in this data scandal with Facebook, surrounding the 2016 elections, was inspired by this idea of predicting psychological profiles based on social media traits, and they capitalized on it. The data they gathered about potential voters' lifestyle choices and cultural views helped them guide a controversial campaign to an historical upset.


Ignoring the ethics of the situation, we can look at what the Trump campaign did with Cambridge Analytica's service and see that they were using data in a completely innovative way. No presidential candidate has ever marketed to the electorate the way the 2016 campaign did. 


Data Collection for Recruitment


Recruiters use a variety of tech tools and tactics to learn about candidates. If you've been in recruiting for a while, you know what it's like to effectively stalk someone, digitally. You can find someone's old MySpace page, but you can't always find a reliable phone number. During the sourcing process, you could be learning a lot more about a candidate than just what kind of professional experience they have. 


Looking at someone's social media before you interview is constructive to seeing what kind of lifestyle your candidate has, but maybe it can impact your efforts in a different way. You can learn what sports teams they follow, or what activities they participate in. Maybe they post lots of pictures of their cat. Alternatively, you could learn something really important: that your company's location is near the place they grew up, for example. You share a common interest there. The digital breadcrumbs people leave can determine cultural suitability, or give recruiters something relatable to discuss in their outreach. 


But Wait – Recruiters Aren't Marketers!


These points of interest can be used to endear yourself to candidates. It may sound strange, but your role in recruiting is definitely a marketing function. Successful recruiting isn't only about finding the candidates, it's about generating interest in the role you want them for. You're going to have to sell your company as a place they want to go. 


What Cambridge Analytica did as a company was exactly that. They capitalized on user data, for commercial and political avenues. Their mission statement actually says, "to deliver data-driven behavioral change by understanding what motivates the individual and engaging with target audiences in ways that move them to action." The company is now defunct, but their story is a lesson for us all, about targeting key players and making your message something your targets will respond to.


Final Thoughts


 We need to customize our approach. Each candidate has their own set of values and interests, just like every consumer does. When you get to the outreach stage, remember, you're selling the job. Apply the tactics marketers use, and you'll likely be more successful at moving them to take action. 


What do you think about targeting personality traits as a recruiter?

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