Facebook Timeline: Good or Bad for Marketing?

Ever since Facebook’s Timeline feature was announced at the F8 conference on September 22, everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by articles about the Timeline feature.  This is a big change for Facebook and people are more than willing to give their opinions about this change — some people think its great while others are less than thrilled – we’ve heard it all.  However, what does this new feature mean for brands and marketers?

Until now, companies and brands created fan pages and then tried to get as many people to “Like” their page as possible, often times by offering incentives to those who became fans of their page.  While the number of “Likes” wasn’t truly indicative of how successful a company was at marketing their product or service, it was the measure of marketing success for many companies.  However, with the new changes to Facebook, the “Like” button will play a smaller role and advertisers and marketers will be forced to come up with more compelling content to have consumers pay attention to their brand.  One of the major disadvantages under this new system is that consumer’s are able to uncheck stories in their newsfeed that they don’t find interesting and over time, Facebook will only display stories that it thinks will be of interest to that person.  This means that companies and brands must deliver new and interesting content to keep their brand in consumer’s news feeds.  Based on the psychological principle of familiarity and the mere exposure effect, we know that people are more attracted to things that they are familiar with even if this exposure occurs in a subconscious manner.  Thus, not having your company or brand appear in consumer’s newsfeeds could be very detrimental.  As Eric Johnson, the President and Founder of Ignited, a marketing agency, said, “It’s clear that consumers are in control, and they will increasingly only invite marketing and brands that they choose to bring into their life.” (quote)

Facebook’s Timeline is focused on the idea of trying to gather a user’s whole life story and companies and brands will have to figure out a way to integrate themselves into the consumer’s life story.  Marketers will be forced to come up with ways to have consumers engage in branded actions for their products through Facebook.  It is now more about connecting with the consumer and becoming a part of their life.  In a way, Timeline can humanize brands as the message becomes more authentic, and make the consumer feel more in touch with the brand or company.  This idea is supported psychologically —  people are more likely to listen to and process a message if they feel like the message is relevant to them.  People are also more likely to pay attention to a message they see as authentic and genuine.  Brand pages will now be less about selling and more about telling a story about the brands and products.

A major advantage of the Timeline feature for brands and companies is that the pages themselves will be more customizable and companies will be able to create a more “branded” page.  A major feature of the Timeline is photos and all brand pages will have a customizable header at the top of the page rather than the generic page with just a profile picture that is offered now.  Additionally, the new brand pages are easier to navigate, information will be easier to find and pages will contain more content.  In this way, the brand pages should be more interesting and will lead to more engaging content for consumers – “Brands can express what makes them unique and build an emotional connection with fans.” (quote) Engaging consumers and building connections with them increases the consumer’s likelihood of using that product or service.

While marketers and companies may be forced to work harder to engage their consumers by creating high quality and compelling content, I think that Facebook’s Timeline will be more beneficial than the current fan pages for brands and companies who make an effort to integrate themselves into their consumer’s lives.  What do you think?

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How Effective is Peer Pressure in Social Media?

In this age of social media, user reviews and recommendations are everywhere we look.  You can read other consumer’s opinions on practically any product on the market from toothpaste to travel destinations.  How influential are other consumer’s opinions and do they really cause us to change our minds about products?  A new study conducted by the HP Labs shows that peer pressure in social media is indeed effective and can have important implications for online marketing.  However, this study indicates that peer pressure in social media is more effective in reversing decisions when fewer people disagree than when many people disagree.

The study conducted by the HP Labs showed participants a picture of two loveseats on a computer screen.  Under the pictures, was the sentence “Your close friend wants your opinion on a loveseat for their living room.  Which do you suggest?”  Participants were asked to select their preference by clicking a button under the loveseat of their choice.  After varying intervals of time, participants were then shown the same items again and asked to make their selection again.  However, this time, participants were told that a varying number of other people had preferred the opposite loveseat than the one they had chosen.  The findings from this study showed that people were more likely to change their decision if only a moderate number of people had chosen the opposite loveseat versus a large number of people opposing their decision.  The study also found that people were more likely to change their decision when there was a greater interval of time passing between the two decision points versus people who were asked to make the decision again immediately after their initial decision.  Lastly, participants were more likely to reverse their initial decision if they spent more time making the initial decision than those who spent less time making the initial decision.

When it comes to the effectiveness of peer pressure in social media, this study illustrates two psychological principles, which contradict each other.  The principle of social influence and conformity occurs when an individual’s thoughts, feelings and actions are affected by other’s thoughts, feelings and actions; people will often change their own attitudes and beliefs to fit in with a group and conform to social norms.  I think a situation like the one presented in the study could lead to public compliance, where the participant conforms publicly to fit in but still privately holds to their initial beliefs, because disagreeing with the group regarding loveseat preference does not cause much cognitive dissonance.  The other principle we see in this study is the reactance theory.  Once we make a decision and commit to it, we don’t like to be self-contradictory and therefore when we face opposition to our beliefs, the need for self-preservation causes us to stick to them more strongly and increases our resistance to persuasion.  This can help explain why people were less likely to reverse their decision when a large number of people chose the opposite loveseat – there was a bigger threat and therefore a greater need for self-preservation.  The fact that people who spent a shorter amount of time making their initial decision were less likely to reverse their decision when asked again could be an indication of attitude strength and accessibility – the stronger an attitude is, the less time it will take to respond and the more stable it is over time.

This study has important implications for marketing and indicates that the power of persuasion and peer pressure from a few individuals is much more effective than peer pressure from many.  As a marketer, if you want to convince people to change their opinions and beliefs, it is best not to make their initial decision seem incredibly unpopular, otherwise they will become more determined to stick to their initial assessment of your product.  Bernardo Huberman, co-author of the current study, summed up this idea when he said “Rather than overwhelming consumers with strident messages about an alternative product or service, in social media, gentle reporting of a few people having chosen that product or service can be more persuasive.”

PDF of the full study

Who’s Watching You?

“In the future everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes”  Banksy

The graffiti artist, Banksy, may not have been far from the truth when he displayed this quote at his Barely Legal Art show years ago.  As technology improves almost daily and with the advent of ubiquitous access to social media, privacy and anonymity are not what they used to be.  Some people love making every little detail of their life public – updating their friends and followers on everything from what they ate for breakfast to the fact that they got a paper cut at work.  On the other hand, some people try to keep their lives private in this new age of social media by restricting as much personal information as possible in the privacy settings of their social networking websites.  However, it’s becoming more and more apparent that no one is, or can be, truly invisible these days.

One area where we are constantly watched is in the consumer world – companies continuously track our purchases and consumer preferences in an effort to focus their marketing to us.  Facebook and Google Ads are a prime example of this practice.  They look at the information in your profile or emails and then display ads on the side, which relate to this information.  When I take a moment to stop and think about this, it really feels like an invasion of privacy – I think I’m writing a personal email to a friend, but in actuality Google is also “reading” my email and using it to try to get me to enroll in an online nursing school since I mentioned graduate school in my email.  Creepy.

Amazon is another company that tracks the items its customers view and what items they purchase in an effort to promote sales.  Amazon uses the information they collect about items you purchase or even look at to make recommendations to you about products you might enjoy and products people commonly buy together.  This is a successful marketing technique, because often times consumers are presented additional or complementary products while they have a need for these products, a marketing strategy called “moment. By basing their recommendations on the customer’s previous purchase or viewing habits, Amazon is ensuring that they are showing products that the customer should identify with.  Psychology has shown that people are very egocentric and are more apt to like and therefore purchase something when they feel it relates to them personally.  Additionally, while customer’s may initially go to Amazon with the intent to purchase something specific, Amazon is hoping that the recommendations shown will entice them to make an impulse buy as well.  The key to impulse buys is visibility – by making a product visible, it will hopefully trigger a reaction that causes the person to realize they actually do need that product either now or in the future.  Visibility also increases familiarity, which can increase a consumer’s liking towards that product.

From our personal correspondences to our online purchases and even our supermarket purchases (yes, every time you use that supermarket rewards card, companies are tracking what you purchase), we as consumers are constantly being watched.  The information that is collected about us is then hurled back at us in an effort to get us to consume even more.  This information is useful for market research and helps marketers target consumer groups more successfully, but I wonder at what point does this constant advertising and marketing lose its effectiveness as consumers become inundated with information and begin to tune out these campaigns.  As consumers, is there anyway to regain our invisibility or is anonymity a thing of the past as Banksy predicted?