Understanding Why We Search For “Who Unfollowed Me?”

By now, you’ve probably seen the above video. Google’s “Year in Search 2014” released at the tail end of last year, going viral shortly thereafter, named the most engaging TV ad by Ad Age at the beginning of January. “In 2014 we searched trillions of times,” the video states with an opening title card, before launching into a montage of inspiring images and upbeat music. By the end, it’s hard to not be swept up in Google’s call to action: “Search on.” The video was accompanied by a Google pamphlet found in The New York Times’ Sunday edition entitled “A little look at a big year,” which further highlights some of the specific terms the world searched for. Within, you’ll find heartening statistics such as the fact that ‘Monkey Selfie’ was searched for three times more than ‘Kardashian Selfie,’ or that ‘What is love’ is the most asked question of 2014.
Being qualitative researchers, we here at MindSwarms couldn’t help but ask, “Why?” to Google’s record of “What” was searched in 2014. Sure, it was swell to know what happened in 2014, but the drive to understand why is what makes MindSwarms tick. Knowing we couldn’t run a mobile video survey about all of the searched for terms, we decided to focus in on “Who unfollowed me?” We wanted to learn the emotional drivers for participants who typed this into Google’s search bar: What compelled them to find out who abandoned their social media ship? Why did they care? And how were they affected after they identified the mutineers? Nineteen participants completed the one-question mobile video survey. View the highlight reel of that survey below.

Daniel from California sets the stakes up quite eloquently: “So I feel with Twitter, it’s almost an indication of your social status. So the more people that are following you, the more popular you seem to be. And kind of like a commodity, you’re more in demand. And much like a commodity, you’re a brand. Conversely, when somebody unfollows you, you’re obviously you’re upset, but you’re curious as to the reason why.”
Building the Brand of Me, social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram encourage their users to strive for followers, likes, and shares, translating each platform’s “social” experience into a litany of exchanges that distribute social capital. One respondent who preferred to remain anonymous explained how she viewed her Twitter followers, “I basically searched the phrase ‘who unfollowed me?’ and that’s because of my Twitter, and if they wasn’t following me, I didn’t want to follow them back because I’m trying to build up my following.” As our social coffers fill, and each like, share, and follower reinforces our view that our brand is so hot right now, it only makes sense that we get precious with the exact number in our social bank account. We are, in fact, all marketing an image, and like any brand, finding out why that image is no longer attractive to a ex-customer is important to the business of that brand.
This type of curiosity drove a majority of our mobile video survey’s participants. While some folks were able to remove ego from the search, many took the unfollowing personally. Danielle from New York explains, “I thought what did I do wrong? Why don’t they like me? And you start thinking about it and over analyzing it.” For respondents that found out their unfollowers were (ex) friends, the emotional impact was severe. Brandon from Georgia framed his emotional journey as such: “… first the feeling of surprise, then I guess the feeling of rejection. And just feeling just really surprised that someone would no longer want you in their life, essentially.” Hearteningly, respondents were able to rebound from their initial shock because, in the end, what’s one follower when you have several hundred or even several thousand?
Uncovering the emotional drivers behind the search “Who unfollowed me” allowed us to glimpse the impact social networks have on how we almost fanatically monitor our carefully curated online brand. After all, our profiles are little more than monuments of self built on the unstable foundation of our ego. The Kenyan author Warsan Shire puts it best: “The ego hurts you like this: you become obsessed with the one person who does not love you. Blind to the rest who do.”

Beards and Masculinity: The Battle For Chins

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If you’re at work, take a moment. Look around you. Without being creepy about it, gaze upon the faces of your male compadres. Notice that? Where there were once freshly shorn chins there are now hair forests of varying density, otherwise known as beards.  In my office, I needn’t look further than the inch and a half goatee at the southern tip of my face for an example of the beard’s resurgence. That’s right – the beard is back, and it’s cool, hip, and safe for work.
Stephen Mihm, in an op-ed published in The New York Times, suggests we look to history to explain this Lumbersexual trend in the work place: “Historically, beards in the boardroom have been a barometer of the relative vitality of capitalism and its critics.  When capitalism has assumed a more swashbuckling, individualistic persona, hair has sprouted on the chins of entrepreneurs and speculators.  Certainly, the capitalist atmosphere in Silicon Valley can be poignantly described as “swashbuckling” and “individualistic.”  Simply look at tech rockstars Sergey Brin and Marc Benioff (short boxed beard), or Larry Ellison (anchor beard) for examples of bearded leaders within our “swashbuckling” wild west. Mihm goes on to brilliantly detail the moments in history the beard vacillates between being a sign of individualistic capitalism (think Carnegie or Vanderbilt) or a marker of those men who opposed the capitalist machine (Marx, Engels, or the hippies of the 60’s).  History indeed gives us a better idea as to why the beard is celebrated in the workplace again, but I wanted to know why individual men find the beard alluring.
Armed with curiosity and an itchy chin, I ran a two-question mobile video survey to do a deeper dive into what men find alluring about their beard.
After screening for bearded men from 22 to 40 yrs old who were employed in the United States, I asked participants two questions. The first probed them about the general background of their beard; the second inquired about how they perceived the beard affected their masculinity. In our small sample size of bearded men, they all agreed that their beard made them feel more masculine, and that they felt others viewed them as more masculine when they sported scruffy faces.
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Click on the picture above to see John’s response. “People with beards – you think of a lumberjack wearing a flannel and [an] ax and a toboggan. I feel like the guy on the Diet Dr. Pepper commercial eating the salmon and– to have a beard, to me, I feel like a man and I think other people see me with a beard and, ‘Wow, this guy’s grown up. He’s actually a man now,'” he declares.  This sentiment was mirrored by other respondents, including the idea that a beard elicits the image of a lumberjack.
Another theme gleaned from the mobile video survey was the idea that owning a beard helps men feel more manly than other men.  Jeremy from California explains, “I feel more masculine when I have my beard because it’s a feature that only a man can have. Only certain men can grow a full beard so I feel like it makes me somewhat more of a man, not to disrespect anyone who can’t grow a beard.” Come to think of it, I do feel a bit more masculine than my beardless coworkers, though it should be noted I only work with women. Other respondents postulate that their beard makes them “tougher” or more “intimidating.”
The responses suggested that men are growing beards to feel more manly in regards to other men.  I wondered if something happened that made men, myself included, feel the need to wear their manhood on their chin.  Upon doing a little research, I found that the state of man appears to be in flux. “The economic downturn disproportionately affected men, and it is clearer than ever that the single-breadwinner family is finally dead. The ‘traditional’ role of the man as the primary provider is now firmly out of reach for most Americans,” concludes Willa Brown in The Atlantic article Lumbersexuality and Its Discontents. She goes on to suggest that this discontent may be why men are demonstrating their manhood by recalling the romanticized Lumberjack image.
I’m unsure my small goatee recalls a Lumberjack, but Willa Brown may be on to something. Patrick from Atlanta certainly thinks so:
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After my research, I am confident that one of the reasons beards are making a comeback is because of how bearded men feel in regards to other seemingly less manly (read: hairy) men. Let’s hope that the state of man doesn’t destabilize too much more though. I’m not sure I’m ready for the mullet to make a comeback.

Look Into My Eyes: Empathy Develops Early

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When reviewing participant responses during a mobile video survey, our brilliant project managers (as someone who eats lunch with them, I can safely say that) aren’t just listening to what’s being said; Like a film critic worth their salt, they’re extracting insight from everything in the given frame. How is the room behind the participant organized? Are their walls bare? How is their fridge set up? Do they record with people in the background or do they find privacy? However, before project managers look to the edges of the frame, they begin with the participant themselves.


From the first moment the participant hits record, they’re telling a story. Their body language delicately communicates comfort, discomfort, exhaustion, energy, or excitement, amongst other things. Their facial expressions can subtly inform a project manager of a wide range of emotions. Indeed, it’s amazing how much insight can be gleaned when examining a participant’s one-minute video response. The question begs to be asked: how are we able to empathize with someone talking inside of a 740 x 480 pixel recorded video? Furthermore, how are we able to pick up on things like emotion when it isn’t explicitly stated? We needn’t look further than the whites of our eyes.


According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Sarah Jessen (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences) and Tobias Grossmann (University of Virginia), our ability to detect social cues (particularly emotion and attention) from the information conveyed by the whites of our eyes develops before we’re able to take our first steps.


Using ERPs (event-related brain potentials), the researchers ran two experiments that proved 7 month old infants can distinguish between fearful and non-fearful eyes, and direct and averted gaze, even when presented scleral information outside of the time it takes to be conscious of those perceptions. From the delicate age of 7 months, we are already so in tune with our fellow humans that seeing schematic pictures of eyes for only 50 milliseconds (too fast to see consciously) still conveys important social information.


Able to communicate on this unconscious level, we as humans are adept at understanding and developing empathy with each other. Thus, when our project managers are extracting insights from a 60-second video clip, they aren’t just coldly observing a participant, they are empathizing, whether consciously or unconsciously, with that participant. As humans, they can’t help it.


You can download the entire study HERE.


Title image by RichardJo53. License here.

72andSunny Uses Mobile Video Surveys


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Download the case study by clicking the image above.


Working with the American Legacy Foundation on the follow-up to their successful truth campaign, 2013 ADWEEK U.S. Agency of the Year 72andSunny used mobile video surveys to run a creative gut check before launching a campaign that made a splash during this year’s MTV Music Video Awards.


Download the case study and learn how 72andSunny used mobile video surveys to gain confidence that their message was effective before releasing their campaign.

Millennial Brand Loyalty: Rewards Over Relationships


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Millennials are redefining the concept of brand loyalty; in their eyes, it has changed dramatically from their parents’ version.
A new MindSwarms study shows that for Millennials, brand loyalty revolves around user-centric transactional benefits that are fleeting and unemotional. Whereas their parent’s loyalty is seen to be a dynamic built on personal and emotional long-lasting relationships.
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Mobile Video Research: Innovation Game Changer

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Food Vision 2014, Cannes, France — Chris Cornyn, founder and president of DINE Marketing, used MindSwarms to demonstrate how mobile video research is a game changer for product and marketing innovation.
Based on his experience, Cornyn believes that to be successful in the food world, producers must satisfy 5 consumer need states — more states than in any other industry. This includes touching upon a consumers’ functional, emotional, nutritional, social, and cultural need states.
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Closet Dive Consumer Research

One of the things we love about our work at MindSwarms is having the opportunity to get a glimpse into the lives of consumers and hear about their passions and what makes them excited.
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Not Your Mother’s Housecleaning


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While strongly influenced by their mothers’ housecleaning habits and attitudes, today’s young women are open to getting housework done in a new way. A recent MindSwarms study of women age 25-41 shows that this generation often feels guilty that they aren’t meeting the housekeeping standards their mothers set, so they’re eager for product innovations and time-saving methods to help bridge the gap.
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