Happy_KidsWell, not content to let MySpace take the award for “creepiest thing done with our information,” Facebook has bounded way over the line of acceptability. The crazy thing is, no one even knew it was happening. Yep, Facebook made you a part of their experiment, counting on their terms of service to cover that pesky “informed consent” thing.

What exactly happened?

According to a recent publication, Facebook conspired to affect users’ moods by filtering posts. The social network chose to eliminate happy posts from users’ feeds to see if those users then posted their own depressing or sad stories. Conversely, they also filtered out the sad messages to see if users followed with their own happy messages.

The basic outcome suggests that, yes, we can be heavily swayed by the news in our Facebook feeds. But come on, now. Is it fair that we were subjected to this experiment without our consent—or at the very least, our knowledge?

How important is transparency?

First, how irritated are you that Facebook experimented on you without your knowledge? Would you have agreed to the experiment if someone had asked your permission?

You’re probably miffed—maybe some more than others. And you probably would have shrugged it off and let the experiment take place. Of course, Facebook and others know that awareness of the experiment would have changed the outcomes.

Still, altering our moods is a pretty big deal. Do you think the terms of service covers that? 

Do some marketing strategies dance dangerously close?

As always, I have to play devil’s advocate, especially since we often talk about the psychology of ecommerce sales. Some might suggest the use of psychological cues used in marketing also manipulate the minds of users. While not altering moods, A/B testing certainly does track which efforts result in higher clicks and sales. Where is the line drawn?

When colors or fonts are used to evoke a particular reaction, does that also fall under experimentation? What about using priming or any of the other psychological tricks involved in making a sale? The differences seem slight upon comparison, don’t they?

Do buyers expect psychological ploys?

Perhaps the difference is the buyers understand the unspoken agreement between seller and consumer. Social media is a place to go where they can spend time communicating with friends, while shopping online is a whole different animal. Whatever the reason, ecommerce companies should always be mindful of the line between acceptable and creepy. Keep your buyers informed so they never have to wonder if you’re playing mind games.

The best place to inform your buyers is in the terms of service, but a reminder here and there won’t hurt anything. Keep in mind that most buyers won’t even read the terms of service all the way through, so it’s up to you to make sure you never abuse that trust, even if you’re covered by your contract.

The safer a buyer feels on your site, the more likely they are to hang around and maybe buy something. Maybe buyers do understand you’ll use psychological ploys to encourage purchases. The real key is to never abuse that trust.

How do you feel about Facebook making you sad on purpose? Will you provide ample notice to buyers about your testing and experiments in the future as a result? We’d love to know your thoughts!

Ecommerce Conversion Optimization and Testing

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Originally published Jul 7, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated January 18 2023