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July 7, 2014

Why 'Digital' Emotions Can Be Powerful

Posted by Puneet Gupta (View Profile | View All Posts) at 4:56 AM

Exclusive: Cannot control emotions of users, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg tells NDTV [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EVO-ZKujj8]

If the onset of the age of Big Data has taught us anything, it is that in the ultra-competitive global marketplace, your enterprise must be able to harness the power of Big Data and ultimately transform it into insight.

The quest to excel in the field of analytics and corporate IT involves the parsing of raw data in such ways that sometimes, just sometimes, consumers feel that their privacy has been compromised. It's an ongoing debate that gets more interesting and intense by the day. And yet, the fruits of Big Data and analytics give us better products and services that are aimed and customized more closely to our individual needs. Our expectations become heightened because enterprises keep raising the bar when it comes to the quality of their interactions with us and the way in which they offer us their wares.

So I was bit surprised at the brouhaha over a Facebook project. It's just been reported that a few years ago, the social media giant conducted an experiment with the tools it had at its disposal. The company wanted to see 1) if it could change the overall, mass emotional state of its users as well as 2) to influence them to post more positive or more negative material on their personal pages. To do so, Facebook's data scientists wrote an algorithm that automatically omitted words in newsfeeds that were associated with either positive or negative emotions. They conducted this experiment for one week on some 700,000 customers without letting them know about it. This was a serious experiment: scientists from Cornell University and the University of California worked alongside Facebook. The results of the experiment were recently published in a prestigious academic journal: the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The experiment itself addressed a longstanding notion that when someone sees all the great things that are happening to other people on Facebook, they feel down about their lives in general. But the Facebook experiment proved that notion to be a myth. When people had more positive words placed in their newsfeeds, more of the content they placed in their updates was positive as well. When they experienced more negative terms, they, in turn, updated their profiles and pages more negatively.

That's amazingly helpful information for any enterprise to have at its disposal. Knowing that you can change the emotional state of a large group of digital consumers is quite useful, especially when it comes to making product launches extra special or communicating with customers about erroneous information that might be floating around cyberspace about your company. Scientists who have read the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say that these results have huge implications for digitally focused enterprises.

This experiment is yet another reason why organizations are digitizing rapidly and being as consumer-focused as possible. We digital consumers are a very emotional bunch!

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