Leveraging the power of social media

How market research contributed to understanding the impact of shared news content on consumers

By Nielsen, a leading worldwide market research company, and CNN.com.


Comparing news and advertising content

The rise of social media has been staggering. Advertisers have increasingly sought to leverage the huge audiences and engagement, with ad spending expected to exceed $35 billion on social platforms by 2017. CNN.com, one of the most visited news websites, sought to gain a better understanding of this environment, in particular whether recommended news content impacted the associated advertising in a social sharing environment.


Consumer neuroscience
Consumer neuroscience applies principles of brain research and new measurement technologies to market research practices in an effort to quantify and understand non-conscious human responses. Nielsen used biometrics and eye tracking with 90 participants divided in 3 groups. Participants were aged 25-54 and were regular users of Facebook and CNN.com. For the three groups, one friend was defined as an “influencer.”  Social network theory claims that there are people who gain a level of social status as people that others want to listen to for advice or trends. Therefore, for the three groups, one friend was defined as an “influencer” using an academic model to define and screen for “influencers.” The first group included influencers who were in a “recommending” state of mind and showed which news items they would post recommendations for on Facebook. The second group included the recommendees who were open to and would receive the test content from their friends via Facebook. The third group was a control group, matched for demographics, who simply viewed the same test content in a neutral state of mind.

So what?

A new social media strategy

The results demonstrated that participants not only were more engaged with content, they were more engaged with the associated advertising, especially when content had been shared with them. When people are in an emotionally engaged state, supplemental content that is proximal benefits from the increase in emotional engagement. In this case, the content that is benefitting is advertising. This emotional transference or “halo” phenomenon comes when the emotional response of one piece of engaging content is transferred over to another piece of adjacent content. Specifically, the “halo” effect leads to higher levels of engagement with CNN.com news items and their associated advertising when the news item is recommended. In particular, the group of influencers, were twice more engaged with the news items they chose to recommend and 1.5X more engaged with the advertising associated with those news items. For the recommendees, the effect was even larger.
The research suggested that the industry needs to redefine social media to include the content that is being shared in addition to the social networks themselves. Individuals who come to CNN.com via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks are experiencing CNN content through recommendations. Those recommendations have the additional emotional benefit transferred by the power of social interaction, a power that works via unconscious emotional responses.
CNN.com provided these insights to their ad sales units, selling the “influencer” and the “recommendee” as valuable agents for the sharing of news as social currency on social networks.