Social desirability bias and reducing its effects in online marketing

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Have you ever felt like understating the amount of time you spend on your phone or computer when asked? Or have you ever felt like overstating your successes when you are talking about them?

We all do these kinds of over and under-reports when faced with questions that have socially unacceptable answers, or at least when we think that they have inappropriate answers. This is what we call the “Social Desirability Bias.”

The social desirability bias has negative effects in marketing areas for those who conduct their productions according to surveys, thus according to the replies of their customers and consumers. To reduce the effects of social desirability in online marketing, some adjustments can be made.

What is Social Desirability Bias?

The Social Desirability Bias is how people answer questions with answers they think are more socially acceptable.

In various surveys or contexts, people give more appropriate answers to reality. People do this because of the fear of judgment or want to portray themselves to others as less flawed than they are.

For instance, when someone is asked how much fast food they consume, their answer could be reported. Because eating fast food is perceived as unhealthy and it can be judged by most of the society.

Another example could be the over-reporting of the healthy activities someone does in a day because being healthy or active is perceived as a good thing by the majority.

However, these kinds of over and under-reports cause miscalculations in marketing analytics, and these miscalculations affect the preferred approaches of companies resulting in failures in marketing strategies.

How Social Desirability Bias Affects Online Marketing?

In every area of marketing, including online marketing, feedbacks from consumers have great importance. As consumers and companies gradually shift to a virtual environment, surveys and feedback from consumers have also become online.

However, similar to face-to-face surveys, the social desirability bias in online surveys remains the same. Because of social desirability, companies face problems when trying to reach their target audience.

For instance, let us think about an online platform trying to personalize advertisements for its users. This platform tries to conduct online surveys to personalize ads for each user. Its surveys include questions that can lead to social desirability bias. The platform asks its users whether they like to be active and healthy. Because of social desirability, the users answer that they are healthy and active.

Then, the platform changes its ad approach and starts to show products that sportive people would like to consume and buy to these users. As a result, both the company and its customers will be out of reach for the right marketing strategies.

How to reduce the Social Desirability Effects in Online Marketing?

There are several essential things to do when reducing the effects of social desirability bias in online marketing.

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1. Using Anonymity in Surveys

As the social desirability bias is caused mainly because of the other's presence, it is a good idea to get information from consumers through anonymity usage.

If companies are able to remove the fear of judgment from their consumers, they will be able to get more accurate information from them. Therefore, the effects of social desirability bias will decrease, and with more accurate data, their online marketing strategies will be more successful.

2. Using Search Data

As People think that search engines are not going to judge them, people are sincerer with what they search online.

To reach the target audience without the effects of social desirability, companies can use search data. Thanks to more clear categorizations, online marketing strategies will be more accurate.

3. Using Third Parties

In today’s technology, being a notable person on the internet is one of the most critical positions. Influencers with many followers are desired by many marketing strategies to reach more people.

Surveys through social media influencers for marketing strategies can reduce the social desirability bias. This will provide correct information about consumers to companies and allow their online marketing strategies to reach the right audience.

4. Predicting the Social Desirability Effects Through Professionals

Researchers experienced in surveys can estimate the correct data by resolving the social desirability effects on questions.

To an extent, they can understand which types of people may affect the data by altering their responses and preferences. These calculations and predictions can help companies to retrieve more accurate data to reach their targeted audiences in online marketing.

5. Considering Word Choice

Rather than asking questions to consumers with answers directly open to judgment, asking them the same question with different word choices can help reduce social desirability.

For instance, instead of asking, “How many days in a week do you consume fast food?” we can ask, “Having to spend hours at work restricts the time we have to prepare healthy food. Therefore, we are inclined to consume fast food. How many days in a week you find yourself in this situation?”

Conclusion

To sum it up, the social desirability bias is how people alter their appearances to become more politically correct, and it affects many areas that operate with data collection and feedback.

Because online marketing is one of these areas that give shape to its strategies by collecting information from people to reach its target audiences, it is affected by social desirability.

However, to reduce this effect, there are several key points to give attention to when collecting the needed data. If these key points are handled well, the miscalculations that cause online marketing to function improperly can be improved.

Originally published at https://blog.circleboom.com on February 18, 2021.

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