A recent study has reinforced what many already suspected - people who constantly post Facebook status updates about their relationships are insecure, while people who post about their gym sessions and healthy meals are egotistical.
The research, conducted by Brunel University in London, suggests that those who are insecure regularly post updates about their relationship status in order to garner attention, and likes, in order to disctract from their own feelings of insecurity. Conversely, egotists tend to post about their achievements in order to get the boost of likes and comments, reinforcing their sense of self. In this sense, the Facebook eco-system can form a sort of validation for personality traits and types.
So is this a good thing? Should we be validating egotism through the endorsement of Likes and comments? Do we really 'like' such updates, or do we simply interact with them as a form of support? Such questions formed the basis for this research, and frame the greater context around the psychology of Facebook and what it means in a wider sense.
An Influential Relationship
In a previous, and controversial, study, Facebook researchers found that by manipulating the News Feeds of users, they were able to affect the moods of the users themselves. The data scientists restricted the content shown to more than 689,000 users, removing either positive or negative updates from their feeds in order to see how those actions influenced the content posted by the affected parties. The result? The study found that the inputs people received, via their News Feeds, did, absolutely, affect their moods. People were outraged when the results were made public, with many criticising Facebook for actively manipulating the emotional states of their users - users whom they could not possible know the emotional states of. What if they'd brought down the mood of someone who was already depressed?
The potential dangers of such experiments are frightening, but in a wider context, the study showed just how powerful The Social Network had become. Not only is it where 936 million people log-in daily to get the latest updates from friends and family, it's also become one of our main media inputs, influencing how we think, see and act. It's that influence that has Facebook positioned as one of the most powerful media players in the world, the keeper of the biggest trove of audience data in our history - but it also positions the network in an unprecedented position of influence, and one which could be abused.
Does it matter if we know the background, the why, of why users post certain things on Facebook? It's of interest, of course, many users see positive updates from friends, like a positive relationship status update, and they'll invariably compare their own scenario to the poster, often times negatively. We've all experienced this in some way, seeing how well other people are doing and comparing our own situation in a 'grass is always greener' type scenario. This latest research underlines that Facebook updates are not necessarily 100% reflective of the reality of a situation. People post in order to get a reaction - people post about their health regimen in order to get positive reinforcement, about their relationships because they crave support. While to the plain observer it may seem that these people have it all, it's important to consider that everyone posts selectively, what you're seeing is not necessarily an all-inclusive documentation of that users' life.
The key element of this is, don't take it all to heart. Don't compare yourself to the lives of other based on their Facebook activity - it's unfair to you and unrealistic for them. Recognise that there's often more meaning to such updates than what you may see on the surface.
The Greatest Audience Insights Tool Ever Created
In a wider context, the latest research again underlines what previous Facebook studies have shown - that The Social Network is the best audience insights and analysis tool we have ever had in our history. While at surface and individual level, such comparisons can be harmful, on a grander scale, with all the variables taken into account, Facebook data can provide insights you'd have never thought possible. It's that scale which poses the biggest strength for the medium - one person saying one thing means nothing. But when you take into account the totality of the interactions on Facebook and correlate them with personality traits and user behaviours, the data becomes indicative. Failing to listen to this, to utilise this data and gain better understanding of and insight into your audience, is really a failing in general for any business, the learning opportunities are too great to ignore.
As noted in previous research, Facebook data has the capacity to reveal more about your personal leanings than friends, colleagues, even partners. In one sense, that level of insight can be used to influence people - concerns were rightly raised when Facebook got more people to vote. That's a concern in itself, but it also underlines the power and capacity of social media and its ability to inform and educate brands about their target audiences. The latest study only underlines the medium's potential in this regard.
Social media data can reveal more about consumer needs and wants than any form of research ever created before it. Social listening and data analysis is essential practice - if research like this doesn't underline the value of this, I'm not sure what can.