This past summer, it was announced that facebook conducted a study in 2012 to see the effects of emotionally charged news as on the emotional status of people.
They called it a “emotional contagion” experiment. Basically, here is how it worked:
“During the study, users’ news feeds were rigged by the social networking site’s behind-the-scenes engineers to reduce their emotional content.”
What this means, was that the news feeds appearing on the user’s page were manipulated to show either positive or negative stories. For example, a story showing how people are helping each other would be classified as positive, and stories about politicians doing illeagle things would be described as ‘negative’.
“Facebook determined that when users’ positive expressions were significantly lowered, comparatively fewer positive posts and more negative posts were produced by users. Also, when negative expressions were reduced, significantly more positive posts were produced by users, along with fewer negative posts.”
The end result of this study as an almost instant outrage against facebook. There are even lawsuits pending against the company because of the project.
The reason to bring this topic up, is that wee need to constantly remind ourselves that there is a very fine line between persuasion and manipulation. It is important, because people hate to have their emotions manipulated.
Let’s face it, advertising is all about making an emotional connection with prospects. And as the facebook study proved, it is possible to control the emotional state of other people. It is REAL EASY, in fact.
The question is, when does an emotional connection go from advertising to manipulation?
This is a question I struggle with every day as a salesman. And with my knowledge of personality type, it becomes even more pointed.
The reason is, that by understanding the “values” of a person, which we know because of their personality type, it is very easy to convince them to purchase any item we want for the to buy. In effect, personality gives the salesman immense power in a business setting.
The facebook study, in my opinion, was unnecessary. As salesmen, we know how powerful emotions are. And we know how to generate them in a prospect. Because of this, I worry that there is more to this facebook study than we are being led to believe. Could there have been an ulterior motive? After all, 2012 was a presidential election year. And we know the political leanings of the leadership at facebook.
What Divides Manipulation from Persuasion?
In my mind, the dividing line between persuasion and manipulation is the motivation behind the emotional connection. If the salesman uses his abilities for his/her own gain, then they have crossed the line into manipulation. If they are doing it for the mutual benefit of the customer and themselves, they I feel that it is OK.
I know that there are a lot of people that are more purists than I am and say that they only sell when the benefit is 100% toward the prospect. To me, that means you are obligated to give everything away for free. This is a business model that can be effective, particularly for companies that rely on advertising revenue, like google and facebook (when have you bought anything directly from either company?). But that is not the business model that I use. I sell physical products, so I have to sell stuff that provides both value for the customer, and some profit for myself. I have to find a balance, and that balance is to work for a mutual benefit for both my customers and myself.
But there was no point to facebook’s study. I’ll state is like this: “it didn’t benefit their customers at all.” And that is why there was an outrage; and rightly so. They did it, because they felt like doing it… because they wanted to see how easy it was to control the emotions of others.
People love to buy, but they hate to be sold. What facebook did was to take away the customer’s choice of controlling their own emotions. And that is where they crossed the line and took away their choice to buy. This is an anger trigger for every personality temperament. So they pissed off everyone, especially those that value freedom of choice.
Remember that, as you are using personality science to persuade people to buy your products and services. When you control the customer’s emotions, do it for their benefit too.