The Psychological Ramifications of Facebook Changes

I have to say that when I opened Facebook on last Wednesday, I wasn’t happy with what I saw.

Changes had been made. Nobody had consulted me.

But was I angry about it?

No.

Last week’s Facebook changes seemed to have had a profound effect on everyone who used it – which is approximately 95% of the people I talk with on a regular basis. One status update from a friend stated, “Change is always going to happen, it’s the one consistent in life. No matter what happens we have a choice about our attitude towards it. Change is good and needed or else we stagnate.”

It made me smile, and my comment was, “Ah, you must have checked your Facebook this morning… 🙂 ”

Other friends of his had also left comments about how they had hated the new Facebook changes, and he later commented, “Seriously, why are people all up in arms because of changes like this. It’s a free service and keeps people connected. Is there not more important things in this world to be concerned with like oh I don’t know, – the homeless, poverty, murder or injustice. Lets stop complaining about this stuff and get fired up and put energies into things that really matter.”

Now, I saw this as a bit ironic – he was getting upset at people who were getting upset at Facebook, which meant that the situation effected him even as he tried to avoid it. But I have to agree – there are so many more situations that we could be upset about.

But Why Was Everyone So Angry?

This, to me, is a fascinating question. What exactly gets people so fired up just because Facebook adjusts the Newsfeed page? And why is it such a big deal? Consider the following thoughts:

1. There was no warning. The evening before the big changeover, I received an email (humorously) informing me that I would be receiving significantly less email from Facebook. I considered this a good thing. However, there was no other information regarding any kind of changes.

2. People don’t like (sudden) change. Other online communities that I belong to, like Google, Twitter and LiveStrong, have all made significant changes over the past few months, and yet I’ve neither heard nor read about any public outcry regarding them. However, during the weeks before the changes, those three online communities kept the old format and introduced the new ones – even Facebook rolled out changes once in this manner, and there was significantly less animosity than with more recent sudden changes.

3. People are easily influenced. Quoted above, my friend’s comments elicited a response I thought was interesting. “I already copied the “hate the new facebook” on my page before I read your post.” Once an idea catches fire, it’s hard to put out – hating Facebook (however temporarily) seems to be one of those fires.

4. We speak and act without thinking. The irony of this statement is that people were complaining about the very service that allows them to broadcast their personal thoughts and feelings to the world…for FREE.

5. There’s no clear explanation of the changes. It would be nice if, with every series of changes, Facebook would release a brief video tutorial about them – this is one area where Google seems to dominate, and Facebook could easily implement.

Happy Place had a pretty funny graphic about what Facebook changes would look like with a visual tutorial:

When People Don’t Trust You…

This whole people-getting-mad-at-Facebook was an interesting exercise in how a brand does – or, rather, doesn’t – build trust with consumers. It was no surprise to me to see the following messages on friends’ status updates a couple of days after the major changes:

FACEBOOK SUPPOSEDLY JUST RELEASED THEIR PRICE GRID FOR MEMBERSHIP. $9.99 PER MONTH FOR GOLD MEMBER SERVICES, $6.99 PER MONTH FOR SILVER MEMBER SERVICES, $3.99 PER MONTH FOR BRONZE MEMBER SERVICES, FREE IF YOU COPY AND PASTE THIS MESSAGE BEFORE MIDNIGHT TONIGHT. WHEN YOU SIGN ON TOMORROW MORNING YOU WILL BE PROMPTED FOR PAYMENT INFO…IT IS OFFICIAL IT WAS EVEN ON THE NEWS. FACEBOOK WILL START CHARGING DUE TO THE NEW PROFILE CHANGES. IF YOU COPY THIS ON YOUR WALL YOUR ICON WILL TURN BLUE AND FACEBOOK WILL BE FREE FOR YOU. PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON IF NOT YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE DELETED IF YOU DO NOT PAY…

Just to be clear, this is a refurbished hoax. If someone writes a message in ALL-CAPS with statements that are unsubstantiated, don’t copy and paste (see #3 above) – it’s probably not true. I was tempted to believe it, but it looked fishy to me for a variety of reasons.

However, due to the several times I saw that message throughout the day, it was apparent that many people believed it. Based on the behavior they had encountered thus far when it comes to how Facebook treats people, it wasn’t surprising. And it reminded me of a principle I employed when I was a teacher – I didn’t teach fourth grade, I taught fourth graders.

Behind every legitimate Facebook profile is a person – a trusting person.

Getting Milk from the Hardware Store?

There was one thought I hadn’t considered in the list above regarding why people get mad about Facebook changes. We expect to be treated like people, even when we’re dealing with businesses and brands.

It’s not going to happen, folks – at least, not when it comes to Facebook. As a good friend of mine says, “How long are you going to try buy milk from the hardware store?”

Can we really be all that angry about Facebook changes when our expectations are unrealistic?

My take-away from the whole thing is to remember that the websites we build ultimately represent people, professionals in their areas of expertise who also think highly of the people they serve. We can all strive to be worthy of the trust that others put in us.

Kelly Wilson is a copywriter for Verticalwerks Interactive Media. What’s your story? Let Verticalwerks help you share it with the world.

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