The Facebook Experiment: What it Means for You
Last month, a report titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” was published, and social media users around the world had one epic freak out.
Why? Because the report disclosed that in 2012, Facebook manipulated the news feeds of 689,003 people to see if the emotion they picked up through the content on their news feeds impacted the emotion they then displayed on the platform through their own posts.
During the week-long test, some Facebook users logged in and found less positive emotional content on their news feed than usual, and others saw less negative emotional content. Facebook then tracked what those users posted after they viewed the manipulated news feeds.
Needless to say, lots of Facebookers found some choice words to express their feelings about the test. As The Atlantic reports, the research seems to be legal—after all, when you sign up for Facebook, you agree to let it use your data for analysis, testing, and research—but many people and media outlets spent weeks debating whether it was ethical.
What got lost in all of that noise was what the research actually found. Here are two big takeaways—and what it means for your business.
1. “These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”
Basically, this means that when we see positive content on Facebook, we feel positive—even if the experience didn’t happen to us. When thinking about how this relates to your company, do a quick audit: How much of your content is emotionally positive? Inspiring? Funny? Uplifting? Lighthearted?
If the answer is “not much,” you may want to sprinkle some positivity over your content plan. While you want to remain authentic to your brand and mission, you also want people to feel good when they come into contact with your company. In the end, the more people like and trust your brand, the more likely they are to buy what you’re selling.
2. “We also observed a withdrawal effect: People who were exposed to fewer emotional posts (of either valence) in their news feeds were less expressive overall on the following days, addressing the question about how emotional expression affects social engagement online.”
We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of posting great content on our news feeds, but we don’t usually talk about the need for that great content to have an emotional impact. This result suggests that people are more likely to post and engage on their platforms after seeing content that stirs an emotion in them.
Think about the difference between posting the first paragraph of a press release and a really inspiring quote graphic. Best practices already tell us that more people will engage with the quote graphic than the press release blurb. But this research builds on that, suggesting that people will actually post more after experiencing positive content. And, since studies show that social media engagement drives sales increases, inspiring your community to post more is always going to be a good thing.
So, next time you’re mapping out your weekly content strategy, think less about the format of the post—video? Meme?—and more about how it’s going to make people feel. In case Facebook hadn’t made this clear: We’re more connected than we think.
Photo of experiment courtesy of Shutterstock.
Alex Honeysett is a Brand & Marketing Strategist and the creator of The Pitch Course, an in-depth, self-paced online course that teaches entrepreneurs how to find, pitch, and land speaking gigs, guest blogs, and podcast interviews. After spending nearly a decade leading communications strategies for multimillion dollar brands and startups in NYC and London, Alex now teaches entrepreneurs how to message and promote their own businesses, human-to-human. Alex's articles have been featured in the Daily Muse, Forbes, Inc., Mashable, DailyWorth, TIME, and Newsweek.More from this Author