Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trendspotting: Impact of Facebook on Consumption, Behaviour, and Culture

Facebook is just not about connecting people who work, study, and live around them. The impact of Facebook is much more than just connecting, or killing time, or increase in data/Internet usage. The best yardstick to understand the importance of Facebook is that every marketer wants Facebook as part of their marketing plan. Trust marketers to know what works and what is impactful or not :-)

Broadly, the impact of Facebook on the users and the society can be categorized into 3 types - Material, Behavioural, and Cultural

Material:
The material impact of Facebook is all about increased consumption and buying. There is an artificial need that is created by the Facebook offerings in terms of its default features or the popular third party applications. Couple of popular consumption/buying pattern that I see amongst my friends on Facebook is in terms of purchase of Cameras (especially high end cameras) and the increase in travel.

While there could be various reasons for the increased sale of cameras (lower cost, and less complexity in use being some of the primary reasons)… I strongly think that inclination to have photographic equipments that would take better quality pictures so that one can share it on Facebook is also driving the sales of digital cameras. One of the oft heard remarks when photographs are being taken is…. “Click a nice picture of mine, so that I can upload it onto Facebook and share”. The product integration of GPS and the ability to share it on Facebook directly are the best reflection of the impact of Facebook on the sale of digital cameras.
Another consumption pattern we can see is increased travel. Every travel has a purpose. Facebook increases the intention for travel. On a personal front, I’ve seen friends in my Facebook network who have planned to travel to places that they got interested in because someone else in the network had posted pictures or mentioned about that place in length. Another trend that is happening because of Facebook is increased alumni/old students meet, friends reunion and group meets/events….all these Facebook activities thus creates more meeting opportunities in real life and hence increased reasons to travel

Behavioural:
While it is still very early days to see a visible impact, there is a subtle but sure impact of Facebook happening on the human behaviour. As more and more people start using Facebook, and the Facebook profile becomes the default profile of the user… people would start mapping their real life behaviour with the impact it would create on their online profile and vice versa.
Some instances on human behavioural impact are:
• People would become more truthful
• Increased compulsive buying behaviour – due to network and peer pressure
• Increased stress – as interactions becomes more and more virtual, it would cause friction in real world interactions
Few months back, a colleague of mine took leave saying she was not well and have to undergo a minor surgery. Two days later she updated her Facebook with party pictures that was taken a day after the ‘surgery’. It would have got unnoticed by her manager, had not someone common to them both tagged her photo. When confronted, she had to accept that she was lying about the surgery bit…though she insists that she was not well (at least on the proposed surgery day). Well, as more and more of your private life gets into the public space, it would become virtually (no pun) impossible to differentiate one from other. Since the chance of lie getting exposed increases, people would tend to be more truthful
Compulsive buying behaviour is mostly driven by peer pressure and identity seeking. Facebook as a platform is an ideal breeding ground for both. The examples given earlier in the increased consumption would also be due to the compulsive buying behaviour. As people get more detailed about their lives on Facebook – My new red Handbag, my new blue shoes…or the Chinese food @the Oriental hotel photos…it triggers consumption cravings amongst others in the network and thus increasing the compulsive buying behaviour. An outcome of this is a new trend that marketers are picking up is ‘Social Buying’
The truth is that it is two different worlds. One more standardized, fast, process oriented, and with clear cause and effect model…while the real world is slow paced, messy and very unpredictable. As humans start spending more time in the online space, they start feeling stressed when they are confronted by the real-life instances that does not have a predictable cause and effect outcome.

Cultural:
Facebook impacts not only the individual user behaviour but also the society at large. Mass Media have always played an important role in shaping the popular culture. One of the most quoted example is how Fijian women started dieting because of advent of TV.
Facebook as a platform is a meeting point of various people, with vastly different customs, beliefs and way of life. It is also about expanding one’s network with people with similar interest and viewpoints. And one of the core values of Facebook is – freedom of expression. It is support of such desire for freedom of expression and the ease at which it can be adopted by a huge number of people across countries at a short time that would help Facebook impact the society. A recent and continuing example is how Facebook played a crucial role in bringing the people of Tunisia together, and thus bringing rise to the Arab Spring….which by now, we all know, has taken a gigantic and myriad shape, across countries with various objectives.
Facebook would impact various local cultures to create a transnational global culture and constant consumption of information that is more social in nature – ambient awareness

Facebook is growing at a phenomenal pace. The growth is mostly from countries that have low Internet penetration… thus there is a huge potential of more people getting onto Facebook, and the impact of Facebook would only multiply

With references from:
Friends update in my Facebook network
Lady Greenfield on social networking sites and your health
Insead.edu
NYtimes.com

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