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How Facebook Makes You Feel Good and Layering Psychological Cues in Tech


Image source: http://images.sussexpublishers.netdna-cdn.com/article-top/blogs/30297/2013/02/117159-115153.jpg
If you’ve been following me for a little while, you know of my interest in psychology as well as technology. Some may call the interest a passion. Others may call it an obsession… not many. Anyways, I was on Psychology Today the other day, and found a really interesting article – “The Human Psychology Behind Facebook’s Success”. I remember immediately being piqued about learning more on why I keep clicking on that damn site so many times a day.

The article starts by talking about how Facebook allows us to “not only connect with loved ones, but with our fundamental human needs”. Intriguing. Go on. Facebook is the “daily destination […] to meet our need for psychological fulfillment”. Okay, I’m in. Let’s get into the rest of the article.

The article breaks Facebook into addressing four key psychological needs.

Self-esteem

This is a strong determinant of our psychology well-being, and Facebook allows us to build our self-esteem via purposeful construction of our self-schema. “Self-schema?” you ask. Let me explain.
Our self-schema is how we model ourselves in terms of what we think about, care about, and spend our time and energy on. Essentially, it gives us the notion of what’s important to us, and what isn’t so that if we were to, say, be ranked lowly in an area we care little about, it doesn’t affect us (i.e. coming in the last quartile of a race we care little about running in).

Facebook profiles are reflections of our self-schema… reflections that we pick and choose what we want – pictures, hobbies, levels of education, etc. Thus, we boost our self-esteem by creating the profile representative of what we like most about ourselves. Meanwhile, we can mitigate negative hits to our self-esteem by limiting those who may otherwise “troll” our profiles.

Like what I wrote up about online dating profiles, our profiles are, unsurprisingly, carefully curated reflections of us – see “Practicing Biz Dev Whenever, Wherever… For Instance On Match.com”.
Kinda funny… kinda appropriate. Image source: http://harrissocialmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/facebook-meme-ecard.png

Impression management. 

Facebook allows users to have more control over what we say, show, and do. How often do we want to hit the “undo” or “rewind” button?

Facebook gives us the opportunity to manage what we say and what others see by preparing thoughtful status updates, wall posts, messages, etc. All the while, nonverbal behavior goes out the window online that may otherwise create negative impressions.

We can draw both explicit and implicit cues from user behavior, too, on Facebook. We can see explicitly measureable cues including number of friends, education level, etc. While implicitly, we infer things including how often a user posts and shares updates may point to levels of extroversion. Frequent relationship updates may point to a high degree of instability.

With Facebook, we influence our self-esteem with these impression management levers. Not only are we influencing how others may perceive us, but we also influence how we perceive OURSELVES. *mind blown*

Need to Belong. 

The article cites a study performed in 1995 by Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. They argue that “the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and (significant) interpersonal relationships. Satisfying this need requires (a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals, and (b) engaging in these interactions within a long-term framework…” In today’s world, social networks like Facebook fills this need.

Facebook even leverages existing word associations to trigger deeper emotional ties. For example, the use of the word “friends” to link users on Facebook builds on our earlier understanding of the word and feeling of belonging. It’s a term with a strong cognitive, emotionally-charged association. We even joke at times that we’re not really friends till its official on Facebook. (We = some of us…)

Another example: “photo album”. Pre-Facebook, photo albums were largely compiled by families and close friends. With Facebook, photo albums are building on this association of “belonging” and “closeness”.

Facebook Enables Our Personality Traits. 

Facebook gives us the ability to vent and share our needs and obsessions without fear of repercussions that would otherwise “violate” social norms. Take the example from the article – an extrovert who loves to share pictures. In real-life, it would be unacceptable for him to pull out pictures and ask everyone to look at them. However, on Facebook, it’s perfectly acceptable to post the pictures online and let everyone look at them. It’s normal here.

Heck, it allows gawkers to… well… gawk at other individuals without getting evil eyes. If that isn’t weird to think about already…

So where am I going with all this?

Well, for one, this was an interesting read. I enjoyed the psychology aspects and how it’s layered in Facebook (and many other social networks). For me, the most interesting piece of the Psychology Today article is the notion of the self-schema.

I wrote an article a while ago about “Your Personal Brand: You’re a Walking, Talking Billboard”. Everything about what you wear, what you say, etc. is an advertisement for yourself in addition to any brands you’re actually wearing. Whether you’re conscious of the content you share or how you’re “managing impressions” on Facebook, you may want to. We’ve heard it long ago how recruiters will check Facebook accounts for any red flags. But that’s just from a professional setting. There’s the impact from a social setting amongst your family, friends, etc. as well.

The other aspect that is interesting to this article was how Facebook leveraged ingrained associations in its product. Whether Zuckerberg and Co. overtly used the words based on the psychological aspect or not, it’s turned out for better. TechCrunch published an article on the viral dating app Tinder – “Tinder and Evolutionary Psychology” – which talks about what psychological aspects Tinder, too, leverages to build its success.

As we enter a world with more and more data, everyone’s fighting for our attentions and our hard earned dollars. It’s becoming more critical to build campaigns, technologies, etc. to the masses on a personal level. To do that, ingraining psychological levers seems like a smart way to go.

What are your thoughts of what’s made Facebook so viral? How have other techs built on psychological cues to influence your engagement?

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