Customers Who Hop Onto Digital Trends Earliest Less Engaged With Advertisements

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Marketers look to trendsetters as “influencers,” but can the influencer be influenced herself? A study recently published in the journal “Marketing Science” suggests that, in fact, early propagators of trends tend to respond less to advertising than latecomers.

Advertisers often try to frame their messaging around a current trend, hoping to align themselves with culturally relevant conversations. But when researchers at the London Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Cass Business School at City, University of London served ads on trending topics to customers who had Tweeted about a subject in the first day it was trending and those who Tweeted three or four days later, the late trend propagators tended to engage more with the related campaigns.

“Trend propagators are really interested in building and sustaining their followings,” said Caroline Wiertz, associate dean for entrepreneurship at the Cass Business School at the University of London. “They want to show that they are the first ones, and advertising is not helpful in that.”

In order to reach these conclusions, the researchers looked at close to 35 million Tweets collected from Twitter’s API and categorized users based on the subjects they tended to Tweet about. Afterward, they surveyed individuals who identified as early trend propagators to understand what motivated and influenced their behavior on Twitter.

The average life cycle for a trend? Just one day, Wiertz said.

Wiertz clarified that the study looked into early trend propagators rather than adopters—who are quick to try out the latest technology or product. “Propagators are different than what our usual idea of early adopter is,” she said. 

Early adopters served ads about the newest tech “pay attention to advertising and marketing ads, whereas an early trend propagator is not interested in advertisements,” she said.

The study also looked into paid advertising, rather than organic interactions, by using data from two field tests conducted by a charity and a fashion company.

In one case, early trend propagators did engage with paid content—but only when the message wasn’t perceived as commercial and it related closely to the trend, Wiertz said.

For marketers, the research suggests that it may not be worth the cost or effort to create content in immediate response to a trend, Wiertz said. She suggested that brands may find more success in posting trend-relevant content organically. Unfortunately, organic reach on sites like Facebook and Twitter has been on the decline in recent years.

Wiertz suggested that marketers targeting their ads based on when a user Tweeted about a subject target late trend adopters. Targeting based on a general subject Tweeted about, rather than a specific trending topic, may also provide better results, she added.

Early trend propagators are bettered operationalized as influencers than targeted as ad-driven buyers themselves.

Wiertz said that because Twitter only opened up advertising to small businesses relatively recently, she expects to see more studies like hers analyzing the success of marketing campaigns in the future.

Kate Talerico is a staff writer at Street Fight.