WITH Twitter increasingly being the crutch of media and Facebook reporting ongoing booming profits, to the point serious people start to wonder if it will eat all the media’s revenues, it’s worth stopping to think what it is these companies buy and sell.
(Taking a step back we should remind ourselves that these entities are in fact companies in the business of buying and selling, and not public services or even the air that we breathe.)
What they sell is dopamine in our blood chemistry. The same as poker machines and the same as the legendary world’s oldest profession of prostitution.
They provide a sense of reward which we associate with pleasure.
Poker machines flash lights and periodically give us small amounts of money in exchange for spending large amounts of money. Research suggests the flashy lights are at least as pleasing to us as the small amounts of money.
Similarly, Facebook gives us pleasing little rushes when other people are reported to like things we’ve posted.
The problem is that most of the things that most people want to post to Facebook are little loved.
It’s not hard to go viral if you’re posting funny things about “Game of Thrones”.
Even better if you happen to be an attractive woman with an exhibitionist streak. Your phone will barely cease to vibrate with the affirmation of your peers and extremely creepy offers and requests from the men of your vague acquaintance.
The problem arises when your appeals to the wider world are of a more niche inclination.
If you’re a middle-aged plumber then not a huge number of people outside your immediate professional group are going to be too excited by that new rooter.
That’s where Facebook’s boosted posts come riding to the rescue.
For a handful of real dollars you can promote your post into receptive target demographics.
You might even be able to kid yourself that it’s legitimate business development. It might drive sales. It’s definitely tax deductible!
But deep down everyone knows what it’s really all about. That big blue thumbs up!
In no time your phone will be buzzing and blinking with people letting you know they think you are great.
Compared to poker machines, a trip to the races or a brothel it’s an extremely cheap way to catch a dopamine buzz.
One has to admire Facebook’s genius. They sat upon the world’s greatest collection of personal data and asked themselves: “How do we turn a dollar on this before we burn through our venture capital?”
Most of the solutions were difficult, risked appearing creepy or were harmful to their assets (which is us, Facey users).
The solution, to charge a fee for driving content to receptive audiences that in turn produces simple happiness in their advertisers, is both simple and genius.
Selling personal data is a fast road to not having any data to sell.
But selling the happiness produced by billions of hairless apes around the planet plonking fat fingers on the “Like” button? Everyone’s a winner out of that.