Facebook generated a lot of negative press a few weeks ago when the social network admitted to playing with user emotions. The Facebook marketing team eliminated some happy posts from user feeds and upped the sad quotient just to see if future posts would also be on the sad side.
As soon as the public heard about this marketing experiment, people became angry. How dare Facebook experiment in this way? Is this kind of experimentation even ethical? What gives?
The cold hard truth of it all is, though, that marketing experimentation of the very same vein happens daily – and it’s been happening for decades. Facebook isn’t the only tech company to play around with user emotions either. Today, dating site OkCupid comes under similar fire for admitting to running various tests on its users. But guess what? None of it is a big deal. Here’s why.
Companies Will Experiment
OkCupid’s response to accusations that the company has been running Facebook-like experiments was this: “But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you're the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That's how websites work.”
This note was posted by OKCupid founder Christian Rudder, and guess what? He’s right. It’s not possible for any company to figure out how customers or users react to products, services, or a website without experimental marketing testing.
But I’ll bring this one step further. Real world marketing companies test audiences too. That’s why you’ll see one ad in one neighborhood, skip over to the other side of the tracks, and see the same ad appear featuring people of a different ethnicity – it’s all in the name of marketing, and every single company on the planet does it.
Whether it’s Facebook or OkCupid or any other company, you are being tested, results are being tallied, and sites are changing based on how you respond. It really is all part of the world that we have always lived in, and Facebook or OKCupid shouldn’t get any major slack for this kind of testing.
It Does Make Things Better
The single most important thing for a company to do is make their product or service better for users. Why? Because keeping users happy by catering to them means more money, and that, in turn, means that a company will stay in business longer.
Yes, Facebook did try and see if they can control emotion, and that knowledge will go to good use in the future when advertisers want to target ads for Facebook users, or skew the way that people respond to ads. OKCupid will use the information gathered from their experiments to make the dating site better, so users will have a greater overall experience. It makes sense, right?
So maybe we can stop freaking out every time a company like big, bad, Facebook comes along and gets found out for marketing experiments. There are a lot worse things happening in the world – like animal testing and wars, so let’s not dwell too long on whether or not Facebook can control your emotions – and now that you know they can, maybe your best line of defence will be to simply be aware that tests like these ones happen and they aren’t going to stop.