Why Facebook Doesn’t Change Anyone’s Opinion

Facebook is useless when it comes go changing people’s opinions. I’m sure many people will disagree with me but I firmly believe that’s the case. My belief comes from personal observation and science.

My personal observation is this – I’ve yet to see people go back and forth on Facebook about any issue where one person finally concedes and says, “Wow, you’ve brought up some interesting points I’ve never considered before. That’s helped change my thinking on this issue.” Have you ever seen someone post anything remotely related to that? I bet not.

Why do I believe science backs up my belief that Facebook isn’t a vehicle to change people’s minds on important issues? Because of Robert Cialdini’s principle of consistency. This principle of influence tells us people feel internal and external pressure to be consistent in what they say and do.  Some factors that strengthen consistency’s pull include someone taking a public, active stand and as long as it’s voluntary and requires some effort people will be more firmly entrenched in their original position.

We all hold beliefs about politics, religion, sex (the big three we’re supposed to avoid discussing in public), as well as many other issues. When we keep those to ourselves we might ponder other people’s views and possibly consider them but once we make our thoughts public we feel the pull of consistency to defend our original position.

Now consider taking an active stand. You begin posting on Facebook. The mere act of taking more and more action gets you to put more and more reasons in front of the world as to why you believe what you believe. You’re convincing yourself with each post that you’re right and the other person is wrong.

Of course, it’s assumed you’re doing this of your own free will – voluntarily. That’s important because we own our views much more than we do the views we might ascribe to primarily because of our parents, peers or the company we work for. So this is one more reason people dig their heels in even further.

And now we come to effort. The more effort you put into something the more you value it and take ownership. Dan Ariely calls this “The IKEA Effect,” because people love their IKEA furniture primarily due to the effort they put into building it. As you start researching to defend your position, check out someone else’s Facebook page or do anything to prepare for the back and forth exchange on Facebook, you are firmly entrenching your beliefs even more because of the effort you’ve expended.

So, having made your views public, actively and voluntarily, while engaging others with time and effort, almost makes it certain you won’t change your opinion. And you know what, the same holds true for the other person. Maybe you should ask yourself if it’s worth it – the time, effort and angst – to debate over Facebook. Personally I think it’s a waste of time because I know no good will come of it.

If you’re open to the reality that maybe, just maybe you don’t have all the facts and aren’t 100% correct all the time then I believe you’d get much more accomplished by sitting face-to-face over coffee or a beer so you can have a discussion. When you do so, each person can share their views and ask questions.

I’ll conclude with this – it used to be considered a good thing to be open minded and willing to change if need be. However, that seems to have gone out the window these days, especially in politics because the external pressure to remain consistent is so strong. If you’re a politician who changes on a position you’ll be crucified as a flip-flopper, waffler or wishy-washy. As everyday citizens get more firmly entrenched in the ideology of their party and take to social media to air their opinions it will only get tougher to persuade people to change. So, if you want to be a master persuader, you’d better rethink your approach if you want to impact someone else for your cause. My simple suggestion is to take it offline.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® on FacebookBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on GoogleBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on LinkedinBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on TwitterBrian Ahearn, CMCT® on Youtube
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Brian Ahearn, CMCT®
Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence People, LLC. A dynamic keynote speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant, he specializes in applying the science of influence and persuasion in business and personal situations. He is one of only 20 individuals in the world who currently holds the Cialdini Method Certified Trainer® (CMCT®) designation. This specialization in the psychology of persuasion was earned directly from Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. – the most cited living social psychologist in the world when it comes to the science of ethical persuasion. Brian’s passion is helping people achieve greater professional success and enjoy more personal happiness. He does this by teaching people how to ethically move others to action through the science of persuasion.
12 replies
  1. Ray Taylor
    Ray Taylor says:

    Excellent post Brian. Of course with all the time you spend coaching sales associates, I'm sure you apply the same principle in sales. Old school sales spent a great deal of time on overcoming objections. It's very difficult to change a prospect's opinion once it's been expressed as an objection.Consistency is in full effect.

    That's why sales training and coaching today is more focused on persuading a prospect by anticipating objections before they are voiced. Perhaps at a time when the prospect might be open minded to hear experiences of similar customers, read case studies, white papers and discuss infographics .

    The latest approach to this idea is The Challenger Sale. The idea that you can teach prospects something that makes them say "I never thought of it that way." is part of their sales process.

    Brian, I would love to see your take on this – perhaps a future post?

    Reply
  2. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Based on some emails I received I'd like to clarify something. The focus of this post is the one-on-one debate I see so manye people spiral down into. What I believe Facebook is good at is mobilizing social consciousness. The equality of marriage was a good example. When people began to change their profil pictures to the red block with the equal (=)sign it mobilzed people. I don't see that as changing people's opinions, rather it allowed less vocal people, and those how might have been tentative about sharing their viewpoint on the issue, the opportunity to do so when they saw others go first. That was consensus in action.

    When it comes to debates on presidential candidates, gun control, government spending, etc., I don't see people do anything other than vigorously defend their position. And the more they do it the less likely there are to change.

    Personally I like Facebook and for those who are friends you know I use it a lot so I'm not a Facebook hater.

    Facebook isn't useless, my observation is it's useless as a tool to change people's options.

    Reply
  3. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Ray,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Quite often when persuasion is done well it overcomes objections before they're ever raised. Good sales people know the most common objections they'll face so they should be able to addess them before they become stumbling blocks.

    Getting people to see things from a new perspective can be a great way of prompting change. I've found using the compare and contrast phenomenon to be an excellent way of doing this. Using the proper comparisong point can cause an "ah ha" moment and open people up to some new ideas.

    I'm not familiar with The Challenger Sale so we'll have to discuss that over lunch or coffee.

    Reply
  4. Tali Berzins
    Tali Berzins says:

    Brian,

    Excellent post about Facebook, I concur, you really cannot and will not change people’s strong emotional positions via social media. I have been down too many rat holes to know this is almost always the case.

    I am just learning about consistency thanks to you and the books you have recommended; it most certainly makes sense. My expertise is in web based business applications and intranet development, over the years researchers have found and my experience has reinforced, is that users only scan websites, social media, apps, etc. They pick out bits and pieces of sentences and then that is how they understand what they have read. They do not read it like a book.

    (Which is true in general for any electronic media, so before you hit send on that big proposal print it out and read it.)

    So not only are users of Social Media tied to their consistency, they are also only reading bits and pieces, and while I am no psychologist, I would venture to say they are reading what they want to hear. So for instance if you were a Romney supporter and someone posted a comment favorable to Obama; you would pick out the words that you want to hear and that would help you prove your point about how your guy is better.

    So the way we read electronic media and the way our brain interprets it, also works against changing someone’s strong opinions on FB and other social media. If you feel really strongly about your cause then a well written editorial will be much more effective.

    Tali

    Reply
    • Tali Berzins
      Tali Berzins says:

      Brian,

      I didn't know that per say, but in the case of electronic media our eyes tend to scan and not read the pages like you would a book or a newspaper, so confirmation bias is amplified in electronic media.

      Reply
  5. John Johnson
    John Johnson says:

    Interesting piece, Brian. I stopped getting into Facebook debates about a year ago after I made what I felt were very good points about our gun laws in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shootings (this was before Sandy Hook), only to be shouted down again and again by my many Facebook friends who feel equally strongly about their position on the Second Amendment (note I said "position" … what the Second Amendment really means is up to debate). Anyway, I realized then that I was wasting my time and energy trying to persuade the unpersuadeable to my position. Now I just use Facebook to keep up with friends and only post positive or humorous things, and stay away from anything controversial.

    Now about Edward Snowden …

    Reply
  6. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    You clearly get what I mean John. I'm with you on using FB for humor. It's nice when someone says, "You made me laugh"…even if it comes at Jane's expense. lol. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  7. Damien Hashemi
    Damien Hashemi says:

    People may not change their opinion in one post… of course not. You are totally correct. But I myself have dwelt on information I was not aware of and reconsidered my opinion. Education changes opinion. Argument just reaffirms it.

    Think about the context. You're unaware of those who are persuading you well…

    Reply
  8. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Damien,
    You're a rare person and I mean that in a good way. Many of the principles, like consistency, happen so automatically that most people don't step back and double check to see if they're truly making the best decision. Fortunately the principles lead us in the right direction more often than not and that's why we rely on them as shortcuts in decision making.

    Holding to our opinions just because they're our opinions is foolish so stepping back and thoughtfully weighing the evidence it smart. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

    However, knowing what I know, if I really wanted to persuade someone I'd try to do it in a forum that's less public than FB because I know the odds of success would be much better.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Brian

    Reply
  9. Tim Houlihan
    Tim Houlihan says:

    Fascinating discussion. It's quite rare that I get exposed to a discussion that has many days, many contributors, and many posts and the original topic is STILL the center of the discussion! Wow!

    My comment is about what may be perceived as a contradiction (although Brian addressed part of this in his June 27 post) to the claim that once our views are publicly expressed, we're very unlikely to change them.

    John and Damien's comments are thoughtful and well considered and they got me thinking. While we all live out some form of consistency bias and adhere to the IKEA Effect (probably) on a daily basis, we still see arcs of change in the human race, cultures, corporations, families, and even individuals. Under certain circumstances, we do change our opinions. Cialdini and Ariely would probably speak to the bias we have that allows our minds and memories to bend in such a way that make us believe we've not changed our minds (Goethals and Reckman’s 1973 experiment on changing the minds of high school students on bussing) when in fact we have. Ray's comment about anticipating objections seems connected to this concept, too.

    Brian said it well when he reiterated that the best way to influence someone's opinion is in private, not public. I couldn't agree more. That said, does the collective set of opinions expressed in social sites like Facebook influence us over time – and in away that we're not aware? Just wondering…

    Tim

    Reply
  10. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Tim,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. To your question "does the collective set of opinions expressed in social sites like Facebook influence us over time – and in away that we're not aware?" My answer would be yes. The principle of consensus (a.k.a. social proof, peer pressure) clearly shows people are influenced by the actions of others. To the equality issue – I think people who may not have expressed an opinion on the subject, or may not have given it much thought, felt more comfortable expressing themselves once they saw all the positive support.

    Because so much of influence happens at the subconscious level I do believe people's opinions can be swayed without them being aware of all the factors that caused the change. Martin Lindstrom, author of Buy-ology, contends that 85% of decision making happens at the subconscious level. When it comes to buying decisions Lindstrom shows in his book that people will justify purchases but their buyoing patterns suggest different reasons than their logical rationalization. There's no reason to believe the same doesn't happen in other decision making areas of life.

    Again, my point for the article was really the one-on-one back and forth in the public realm is what doesn't do much good.

    Brian

    Reply

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