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February 23, 2010 / Brandon Raper

The Science Of Facebook Trends

My iTunes is on shuffle as I watch the Olympics; I can’t stand to listen to most of the announcers except for when Stephen Colbert is present.  It’s a usual Monday, nearing an end with nothing special or out of the ordinary until I login in to Facebook for the 17th time of the day.  I’m one of those 400 million users that raise the average amount of time spent on the webpage to over 50 minutes a day.  You’d expect to see the usual; Johnny became a fan of chatroulette, Melissa added new photos, Ryan found a lonely black sheep will you adopt him? (My least favorite, I despise Farmville)

This night was different though.  Each update was signaling a color, some with a sort of animal print or distinctive feature.  Curious, I searched through older status updates trying to find a reason for this occurrence.  Finally I stumbled upon a status questioning “Why is everyone updating colors today?”  Each status update with a color was actually the color and style of bra the updater was wearing, apparently as an attempt to help raise awareness for breast cancer.

Now, the reasoning and logic behind the trend is questionable but just imagine how many millions of people partook in this quick event.  Facebook trends are starting all over whether it be posting a link for a certain reason, changing your picture, or searching a website for a definition.  How do these trends start and who is starting them?

The timeline for these trends is incredibly short.  As I recall the breast cancer awareness status trend was on January 6th and lasted for one day and was shot.  I remember this because I was on my 1.5 year anniversary date with my girlfriend and asked if she knew what it was, but back on course.  This trend took over my Facebook for an entire day and was dead within a matter of hours.  How’d all of these people know the meaning behind these status updates without having one that explained the intentions?  This drove my brain nuts and I still don’t understand it.  Also, how did this trend start?  There was most likely one person who started it up but how many Facebook friends do they have or was it just a stroke of luck through a creative and quick update?

Next on the recent Facebook trends is the use of picture changing.  “This week is Pokemon week.  Change your profile picture to your favorite Pokemon.”  This update was the initial picture changing trend and another one that just completely baffles me.  I’m fairly confident the general majority of my friends list is not Pokemon fans but they partook in this event like they did the bra color one.  There can be hundreds of reasons why for this occasion.  If the user sees a certain amount of friends begin to switch their photos they feel like they need to be involved and seek the attention and acceptance of their friends through a simple Google image search.  This trend started to catch on quickly but was a fairly weak category so it died off.

The next trend was switching your picture to your doppelganger, or your celebrity look-a-like.  A wildfire erupted through picture changing and updates to clarify who they were.  It started becoming apparent that a small group of trend setters in each friend group were partaking in these events and each of their friends were following in their footsteps.  I followed suit when I saw one of my friends switch their picture to Chris Farley (boy did they look similar, too) and switched my picture to Christopher Masterson, my doppelganger.   These trends started becoming a comical release at this stage also.  I frequently saw friends with their profile pictures set as Brad Pitt and Captain Crunch.

This trend may have started the death of the profile picture switching.  The status trends started to become saturated with too many ideas.  There were trend setters around the World trying to become the person who started the next big thing and there was no way for one idea to stand out from the rest.  Switch your profile picture to one of you and your siblings, switch your profile picture to your favorite super-hero, and switch your profile picture to your baby picture.  People were becoming over-whelmed with the amount of updates and trends that were “required” of them.

Even with over-saturation these trends are far from dead.  In the past companies have used these for their own advantage, but only the smart and innovative ones will use them successfully.  Urbandictionary has taken advantage of the recent status update craze by having people search for their name and post their definition as a comment to their own status update.  This idea made it so each person had to post the initial reasoning and process in a status update and then create interaction through checking the status’s comment.  Traffic to the site had to grow exponentially due to this event.  Another great internet buzz craze on Facebook was the site created by Office max entitled www.elfyourself.com.  This was only available during Christmas so it was exclusive, fast, and creative.  You could post your face and your friends’ face into a dancing elves music video, easy enough right?

The only thing that all of these trends have in common are ease of use.  There has to be something to talk about, something to see, and something to smile about.  Each of these recent trends has shown they provide a creative outlet in a quick and easy way.  No one would partake in these events if they took extensive time to fill out, which is why questionnaires and surveys have slowly started to die out in Facebook.  Over time these trends will start to explain a lot more on the subject of what works and what doesn’t.  This could be a huge outlet for a social media division of a corporation to take advantage of.  Finding a way to have 2% of the Facebook population participate in an update dealing with or through your company’s website could provide a reach of 8 million users.  The possibilities are endless for advertising through Facebook, but they must be through an interactive and creative manner.

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One Comment

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  1. Large Plastic Storage Boxes / Mar 20 2010 6:26 AM

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the nice work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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