Getting ‘Facebook Sober’? What Marketers Should Know About Consumers’ Attitudes and Social Data

I thought I was pretty clever when someone told me they hadn’t been on Facebook in over a year and I said, “Wow, you’re one-year Facebook sober.” They laughed. The next day, another person said they’d been off for two years — same comment by me, same reaction. But later, I found the term on Urban Dictionary.

I thought I was pretty clever when someone told me they hadn’t been on Facebook in over a year and I said, “Wow, you’re one-year Facebook sober.” They laughed. The next day, another person said they’d been off for two years — same comment by me, same reaction. But later, I found the term “Facebook sober” on Urban Dictionary — so much for my right to claim ownership of the term.

It’s unlikely that a new 12-step program is going to keep a significant percentage of the more than 2 billion people off of the social media platform any time soon, even though they know Facebook is exploiting their personal data for profit. While studies show that consumers believe the economic benefit of Facebook to them is about $1,000 per year, based on how much they would need to be paid to stay off the platform for that period of time, most will not pay anything to keep a company from tracking their data.

A study published by PlosOne in December 2018 quantified the monetary value that users assigned to participating on Facebook, using an auction experiment design.

Though the populations sampled and the auction design differ across the experiments, we consistently find the average Facebook user would require more than $1,000 to deactivate their account for one year. While the measurable impact Facebook and other free online services have on the economy may be small,* our results show that the benefits these services provide for their users are large.
* (Of course, this statement neglects the $40 billion Facebook realizes in annual advertising revenue.) 

While people claim to be concerned about privacy, they’re not willing to pay for it. A Survey Monkey poll done for the news site Axios earlier this month shows that three-fourths of people are willing to pay less than $1 per month in exchange for a company not tracking their data while using their product — 54% of them are not willing to pay anything.

Researchers at Stanford and NYU sought to determine the effects that Facebook deactivation would have on people’s knowledge, attitudes, moods, and behaviors. “This Is Your Brain Off Facebook,” published by the New York Times on Jan. 13, reports on this study.  A portion of the study participants were paid $102 to stay off Facebook for one month. The researchers stated:

Using a suite of outcomes from both surveys and direct measurement, we show that Facebook deactivation (i) reduced online activity, including other social media, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socializing with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization;(iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in Facebook use after the experiment.

Despite these findings, the Times reported “some participants said that they had not appreciated the benefits of the platform until they had shut it down:

“What I missed was my connections to people, of course, but also streaming events on Facebook Live, politics especially, when you know you’re watching with people interested in the same thing,” said Connie Graves, 56, a professional home health aide in Texas, and a study subject. “And I realized I also like having one place where I could get all the information I wanted, boom-boom-boom, right there.”

As I noted in my post last month, “Gen Z College Students Weigh-in on Personal Data Collection,” some GenZers don’t mind giving up their personal data in exchange for the convenience of targeted ads and discounts; others are uneasy, but all are resigned to the inevitability of it. One student summed up our mass acquiescence, saying:

“I do not feel it is ethical for companies to distribute our activities to others. Despite my feelings on the situation, it will continue — so I must accept the reality of the situation.”

The reality of the situation is that people are not willing to go cold turkey on Facebook.