Sunday, April 21, 2013

Forget seasonal affective disorder, be on the lookout for Facebook depression.

The sun is out, finally, but the chill is still in the air. You know what that means? Seasonal affective disorder continues to have it's unwelcome grip on most midwesterners as we anxiously await a more hospitable outdoor climate so we can resume an active lifestyle and heed off the winter blues.

But is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) really at fault for all our otherwise gloomy spirits or is there something else brewing? Not everyone lives in seasonal-restrictive climates that have us holed up for months at a time. But nearly everyone (I know) uses social media in one form or another. Probably the most popular of all is Facebook. Enter an era of Facebook depression.

Facebook depression is something that started gaining attention after cyber-bullying made headline news but dare I suggest it's really something that has existed well before the most ubiquitous social platform every took to total world domination. Because it's not just bullying that's causing some rather unhappy feelings via social content. It's jealousy, coveting thy neighbor and regular old greed; the emotions are the same but the channel is new.


Back in January 2011, Ph.D. student at Stanford Alex Jordan authored a paper in the January issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and drew some bold conclusions about Facebook behavior to what famous philosopher and social commentator Montesquieu
wrote over 250 years ago about the human condition:

"If we only wanted to be happy it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are."

Simply put, social media can make us sad. 

Click here to read the original story by Libby Copeland of Slate. She makes a compelling statement about why Facebook may be the next SAD. She even calls Facebook the "anti-social network." Click here if you want even more detail and data into the psychology of how social media is changing the perceptions of ourselves, our world and each other. (It's an article in Insight Magazine by Sherry Thomas and it's quite impressive. Very well done.)

Copeland's article made me think that maybe the inability to be happy for others is really -- the root cause of and the solution to -- all the woes of using social for both people and brands. Watching our friends post about their vacations to exotic places, reading Tweets about cool & exciting new adventures and looking at images of purchases, places and people that we are not experiencing makes us feel like failures more than allows us to celebrate for others. Conversely, social media has the ability to draw us together around collective issues or causes and has power to affect real and reaching global change like Ellen's cyberbullying campaigns or how the social web supports national breast cancer awareness month in their own ways or how TOMS shoes uses social media to change the world one step at a time. (That's the part I adore.)

For brands, it's a bit different, but not altogether. Instead of getting jealous of what another brand is doing (that happens all the time, so don't be fooled) brands measure their own marketing success by comparing fans.

Recently social media research company Syncapse published a study that proclaimed a Facebook fan is worth $174, an estimate up from 28% in 2010; illustrating growing reasons for brands to be jealous of other brands who are able to collect more fans. And we all know that the collecting of fans can be a very expensive endeavor. Just ask SocialCode, another internet research firm that published findings in 2011 that seem to indicate that fans are 291% more likely to engage with a brand than non-fans, but that the true value of a fan can be calculated using a cost per click formula; roughly estimating that the real value of a Facebook fan is only $10.

That's a lot of data and I don't want to confuse you. My point is this: social media is not a replacement for real life. It's terrific, but it's not a replacement.

Just like life, social media is far too expensive and complicated and fraught with errors to waste too much energy trying to figure out who your real friends are and who can simply be bought.

The relationships, the experiences and the real conversations are where it's at. IMHO, this is true for both brands and people. Because guess what? A brand's social media is people. And customers? They are people, too.