What is our obsession with Facebook? It’s become our worldwide search engine, event planner, pentameter for self-esteem, our social circle and the soapbox of many. Hardly a day goes by where most of us don’t check in or check out. Is it just the voyeur in us or does it resonate at a deeper level and play on our psychological connections with the world around us? In a time where our days can pass in the company of strangers and our energies exchanged for corporate success, perhaps the circle on Facebook that we create reflects a little of the tribe we remember. Maybe how we interact with Facebook today mirrors our primal need for connection, acceptance, approval and belonging. Well, FB certainly got that right.
I was not the popular kid at school, nor am I the most popular person on FB. If I clock up likes in the double digits I think my Facebook game just got better, but in reality, that’s only about a 15% response rate from the average number of FB friends that we all have. One of my FB friends regularly posts pictures of her incredible watercolour paintings and I’m stunned when only a few people click like, same story with many creative posts I see, but a well-plated dish taken at a popular restaurant will get over 100 likes. I got curious and wanted to know why…
Facebook gets into the rhythm of our brain where all the good things flow in and around the brains pleasure centre. It takes us to a state of the happy observer. That is, as long as the content is right; not too heavy not too light. It seems that we generally like posts that don’t challenge us, they’re easy to “like” and perhaps, something that we too can easily achieve. It’s not attainable that we can all paint brilliant watercolours, but that picture of the plate of food is well within our reach. In other words, we like things that are easy to digest.
The hook is simple, when you’re bored, you scroll. Within moments there’s a multitude of things to see, to read, to watch and to comment on. We go from wondering what to do to being completely engaged in the world again, in a matter of moments. But there’s another catch; when we’re down or lonely, posting something on our newsfeed gives us a much needed boost. Studies have shown that students who update their FB status more regularly than others, record lower levels of loneliness. We possibly also like the chance to spread our empathy around, it helps build our social image and liking widely acceptable stuff generates a sort of intangible goodwill. It plays on our need for connection and validation; back to the tribe.
We’ve learned a lot from Facebook; it’s where 30% of Americans get their daily news, eating curly fries suggests intelligence and companies actually select staff based on their FB activity. We’ve learnt that social peer pressure works and what you “like” creates a reasonably accurate profile of your broader social beliefs. So on the other side of the coin, while we’re out there socialising our virtues, Facebook the corporation, is collecting analytics worth their weight in gold. Perhaps they need to be more subtle, as a travel blogger its pretty obvious when my news feed is filled with uninvited ads promoting 7 nights in Thailand.
The tendrils of Facebook keep reaching out into new corners of our psyche, crossing all sorts of privacy barriers and drip feeding marketers a well crafted supply of information. It’s hard to imagine that 10 years ago, most of us survived pretty well without knowing what each other was having for dinner or what movie we were watching. But of course Facebook survives because this is just the first layer that it touches; go beyond this and clearly we love the reach that it gives us to share, link, to hear and be heard. It triggers what lies at the heart of our very nature, our social instinct to surround ourselves with company and have a voice, even if it’s all played out on a handheld screen. Well, there’s no going back now.