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Why We Facebook: Inside the Emotional Cues That Motivate Us

When I worked for TCI Technology Ventures (the venture capital arm of what was the largest cable company), we would look for the cues that would trigger a positive emotion, which would help lock in the customer. For example, while basic phone service is unsexy, voice mail had a lot of emotional cues. People would save key voice mails from loved ones and return to them later. The number of voice messages was a proxy for how loved the person felt.

I know it sounds cheesy, but when you are dealing with sixty million subscribers, emotional cues were among the most reliable indicators of whether a sub was likely to churn out.

So fast forward to social networks. Beyond all of the technical gobbledygook about privacy and data portability, could it be that people use Facebook because of similar emotional cues?

To answer that question, we reference an unscientific survey of Facebook users via SurveyMonkey, which yielded the following factoids:


What Facebook Users Do Every Day

1. Look at Photos (28.1%)
2. Poke Someone (12.3%)
3. Send Private Messages (10.5%)
3. Write on Someone's Wall (10.5%)
5. Add a New Friend (8.5%)
6. Comment on Photos (6.1%)
7. Add Photos (1.8%)
8. Edit Profile (1.2%)
9. Add New Applications (0.9%)

What Facebook Users Do Frequently

1. Look at Photos (43.9%)
2. Write on Someone's Wall (34.2%)
3. Add a New Friend (32.9%
4. Add Photos (27.2%)
5. Edit Profile (21.0%)
6. Send Private Messages (17.5%)
7. Comment on Photos (15.8%)
8. Poke Someone (14.9%)
9. Send Gifts (6.1%)
10. Participate in a Group (5.3%)
10. Add New Applications (5.3%)

What Facebook Users Never Do

1. Use the Marketplace (81.8%)
2. Create Your Own Group (54.4%)
3. Comment on Notes (49.1%)
4. Write Notes (44.7%)
5. Create Your Own Event (42.1%)
6. Send Gifts (40.4%)
7. Add New Applications (31.6%)
8. Poke Someone (28.9%)
9. Participate in a Group (23.7%)
10. Comment on Photos (6.1%)

When looking for emotional cues, I look for things that people do somewhat obsessively, for example, every day. Using that criteria, "viewing photos" and "poking someone" rank higher than "send private messages", which is a form of email. Sharing photos is a very intimate exercise common among family and close friends, and has become more widespread thanks to photo sharing sites like Facebook and flickr.

As for "poking someone", it's helpful to understand what a "poke" actually means. A common answer is it's a mindless way of saying "hello", but others have compared it to online flirting: if someone pokes you, and you poke them back, it's a way of saying, "Yeah, I'd date you."

Compare this to the #1 activity that people never do, which is "visit the Marketplace". (Notice that "Use Beacon" wasn't included as a choice ;) Brands that are seeking to get involved with Facebook should look for ways to emotionally involve their target audience, or as Don Dodge puts it, execute a "head fake" where you entertain people with shiny, fun activities; all of which are just a front for your sophisticated data-collection operations.


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