Author Archives: Matthew Pittman

About Matthew Pittman

A Media Studies PhD student at the University of Oregon

Brand awareness for non-profit

We just completed one phase of raising brand awareness and profile for Be Aware Blount, a local non-profit dedicated to substance abuse prevention. Here is the summary report I sent to the board. Overall it feels like it went well, particularly given our relatively small, rural audience and meager budget, but only time will tell. Be Aware Blount raises awareness, does prescription drug take back events, provides information and resources to the community, and more. So the real measure of success, ideally, would be a decrease in drug and alcohol related deaths over the next few years.

Social Media for Health Intervention

I do some work for various non-profits and my most recent client is a group of researchers with an NIH grant to use text messaging as a potential intervention tool for people who want to curb their weed consumption. The name is funny and appropriate: The Weed Study. They were having trouble recruiting participants so we developed a social media plan that is going pretty well so far. One of my favorite things about unknown areas like this is A/B testing different ideas in real time, in this case on Instagram. For example, I would have thought putting at least a LITTLE bit of information in an ad would be good, but I was wrong. Out of the following two posts…

…the one on the left did better (111 clicks / $0.41 per click) than the one on the right (23 clicks / $0.64 per click). Of course, the people who clicked the left image may not have been intent on reducing weed consumption. With the next set of posts, I had an idea that adding a specific bit of information might increase engagement:

This time, I was correct: the post with age information did WAY better (7372 reach / 189 clicks / $0.32 per click) than the identical post without (99 reach / 0 clicks). If this was a research paper I would try to come up with an explanatory mechanism or theory for why this occurred, but the fun part about consulting is casting a wide net and letting the data dictate which posts keep running. Right now the most successful posts got a bigger budget put behind them and I look forward to getting more results!

I should note, we had to turn off commenting for the posts, because a lot of people (understandably) commented something along the lines of (and I’m quoting one of the early responses): “Who the f&#( wants to smoke LESS weed?!” The study makes no judgments on marijuana use in general; it only offers a way to help people who have already decided to use it less. The next project strives to use a similar structure to help individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression.

Can social media change (green) attitudes for the better?

My most recent publication is in the Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising. It’s my first pub with a grad student (yay!) and we co-wrote it with another sharp assistant professor at UGA. Like a lot of interesting research, we thought it was about one thing, but after looking at the data from the first 2 studies, it was actually about something else. We ended up finding the optimal levels of information (low) and fear (high) to put in advertising for green/sustainable products specifically for people who don’t care about the environment. We used Social Judgement Theory to help explain our results (cool little video on it here) and it has implications, not only for green advertising, but for any realm where consumers can be nudged along a path to caring more about the planet, each other, and themselves.

when binge-watching becomes cringe-watching

I just published an article in Convergence with Dr. Emil Steiner on binge-watching, which you can read here. We want to encourage everyone to move away from binge-watching as a universal term that can describe both positive viewing marathons (which we call FEAST watching) and negative ones (which we call cringe watching, because the next day you cringe when you tell your friend you accidentally blasted through 2 seasons of Selling Sunset). The factors that determine what kind of experience you have are:

P is for planned. Did you plan ahead? Have you been looking forward to watching this show all week? The more you plan ahead, the more likely you are to enjoy the experience (as opposed to regretting it).

S is for social. Are you watching with friends? Did you stream with a roommate? Watching with other people also increases the likelihood of positive outcomes.

A is for attention. Did you actually pay attention? Particularly for prestige-type, quality shows, you regret the streaming experience far less if you actually pay attention. On the other hand, if you ARE watching Selling Sunset (or other reality TV, or shows you have already seen), then you might be OK having it on in the background while you cook dinner or fold laundry.

So remember this PSA: Planning ahead, Social viewing (even if it is through an app like Scener), and paying Attention (if it’s a good show) are more likely to make you enjoy your viewing experiences and not have them stress you out!

Accountability is good

In an article I just published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing (read it here or email me for a copy) I found that with a variety of prosocial messages (get a flu shot, buy a sunscreen that is less harmful to the environment, eat less meat one day per week), people respond better—and are more open to taking the positive action—if the message is framed optimally.

That is when they are alone, they resonate more with a message that touts benefits to the individual (see first ad below). However, when they think they are going to have to talk or justify their answers to other people, they resonate more with an ad that touts global benefits (see second ad below).

Humans are very social creatures and I’m fascinated with how the presence or absence of others (even online, and even just thinking about others) can influence our decision making.

Social Media and Intimacy

Really proud of a paper that just came out with Brandon Reich on intimacy appeals on social media in Journal of Consumer Psychology. You can see it here. We showed that processing fluency is the reason why intimate appeals perform better on social media platforms which people perceive to be intimate. For example, which one of these two would do better on Pinterest:

If you said the “self” one, congratulations. Though highly visual like Snapchat and Instagram, Pinterest is less intimate (which we generalize as interpersonal closeness), so a less intimate appeal is a little easier for your brain to process. It was based on a perceptual map we did as a pilot study:

It’s fun but also challenging to try and understand the differences between social media as different platforms evolve in relation to one another.

Authenticity for Surf Brands

Brand Authenticity is huge, and surf culture has traditionally rejected most attempts at regulation or corporate influence that were perceived as inauthentic. I recently put together some research for a client who was pitching Vans for help funding an independent surf contest. Here is a summary:

Learning from failure

It’s always a bummer when an experiment fails to reject the hull hypothesis. Fortunately I have pretty thick skin. Before my colleague and I eventually found the right stimuli we created plenty of wrong stuff. Feeling especially clever one day, I thought I would prove an interaction (with just the right framing conditions) using nearly identical manipulations:






I thought the presence of two sets of hands (instead of one) would be enough to induce people to think about their relationship with others. Whoops, I was wrong. But being wrong can help steer you toward what is right. Once the full study is published I’ll post the rest of the failed stimuli here…. I think research should be honest, and that it can be enlightening even (and especially) when it stumbles at first. -insert Edison quote on 10000 ways a lightbulb doesn’t work here-

Oxford Internet Institute

2016-07-04 15.25.13I’m halfway through a two-week Summer Doctoral Programme at the Oxford Internet Institute. With 4 to 5 seminars/lectures each day on research findings, methods instruction, and project proposals, it has been equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. Oxford University has such a rich intellectual history and the people at the OII are shaping how researchers and policy makers worldwide are helping us all understand life our increasingly digital milieu.

Track the goings-on with OII SDP on Twitter