Facebook's Mood Manipulation Study: What Does It Mean To Brands?

By now, most of you will have read or seen multiple media stories about Facebook's recently published mood manipulation study. There's a lot of debate about the ethical implications of the research, and several European data protection agencies have already announced investigations into whether Facebook violated local privacy laws with the study.

But we think the questions for marketers go deeper: how will this research, and user response to it, affect how brands are able to engage with their customers on Facebook? My colleague Nate Elliott and I have just published a Quick Take on the subject. Our high-level assertions: 

  • While Facebook’s study crosses ethical lines, the data use is likely legitimate. Consumers are understandably outraged by why they perceive as an abuse of their postings. But Facebook’s Data Use Policy explicitly allows the firm to use data for internal research purposes. Still, the potential for users to abandon Facebook is real.
  • Facebook has novel data to analyze, and long term, that could change marketing practices significantly. The kinds of data that Facebook is starting to exploit are highly unique. It could actually combine evergreen affinities with contextually specific emotional states to change how brands buy media and measure performance.
  • But the short term implications may cut its opportunities off at the knees. If Facebook, with all of its research and experimentation, causes users to feel like lab rats, it’s possible that they will leave the site in droves. That outcome could severely limit brand reach — and that could signal the end of Facebook’s marketing customers, especially given today’s already reduced reach.
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