Facebook’s Secret to High Emotional Engagement? Faces [STUDY]

If you’re trying to understand why Facebook elicits such an emotional response, look no further than the name.

A study commissioned by Facebook examined how consumers’ brains responded to the site as well as to Yahoo’s and The New York Times‘s homepages. NeuroFocus, the Berkeley, Calif., firm that executed the study, found that of the three, Facebook scored highest on attention, emotional engagement and memory retention.

A.K. Pradeep, the CEO of NeuroFocus, says the presence of faces on Facebook are a major reason why. “As you can see, one of the dominant features of Facebook is the human face,” he says. “The face is a window to the emotions.” Pradeep says that since childhood we are trained to read people’s faces to discern emotion, and that such information is key to survival: Thus the stimulation we experience when scanning our newsfeeds.

In the study 84 adults, split evenly between men and women, were wired with EEG sensors, which measured their brainwave patterns as they visited the sites. All three sites scored better than average on the three areas. However, The New York Times did slightly better than the others on memory retention and Facebook was notably higher when it came to emotional engagement.

Pradeep says that faces explain much of the emotional appeal of Facebook. He says if Yahoo or The New York Times have recognizable faces in their articles, the emotional levels even out more. Even though faces on those pages are likely to be public figures rather than friends of yours, they still spur an emotional response. (Facebook’s launch of Subscriptions in September ensures that more users will see both in their news feeds.)

Facebook commissioned the study to display its emotional connection with consumers to advertisers. Though the report didn’t look at how an ad might work in one or the other platforms, an earlier NeuroFocus study compared a Visa ad on Facebook to one that ran on TV. That study found that the Facebook ad scored higher for emotional engagement than the TV spot.

Take away: Photos of smiling faces can be used to engage your audience on an emotional level.

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About Michael

Create and execute cutting edge digital advertising and marketing campaigns using the latest internet and mobile technologies to target connected and millennial audiences.

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