How Facebook's New Sound Notifications Could Boost Engagement

Hear that? No? Well, that's because Facebook is testing a new audio notification system to select members, and if you're not one of the first batch of guinea pigs, all is still quiet on your profile. 

But if this feature catches on, you and the rest of Facebook's billion networkers might soon hear a ping every time someone sends you a message, posts to your wall or tags you in a photo. And despite last week's largely negative coverage about the new service by over-engaged journalists, Facebook insiders and some user interface and user experience (UI/UX) designers are calling it a boon for engagement.

Lend Me An Ear

Facebook has used sound notifications for its chat tool since 2008, and its mobile messenger app also has sound. Both alert you to new messages. 

"There is user demand for sounds," explained Brittany Darwell, the lead writer at Inside Facebook. "It makes sense to allow a sound option for other desktop notifications, too." Darwell cites the recent Facebook sound bug in Apple iOS iPhones as an example of demand for improved audio on the site. She says people want the option to be informed aurally.

"Some users want sound and are even upset when they don't hear them," Darwell said.  

Sound Good?

The new alert is an electronic bee-deep, like the one employed by Skype. Don't worry, the Facebook tone can be turned off. It's not known if the sound that Facebook has been testing ultimately will be used, much less if the feature itself will ever be rolled out to the public. "This is just a test with a small percentage of users," said Meredith Chin, Facebook's manager of corporate communications. "We'll see how it goes before rolling it out."

More certain is the power of the sound. While some heavily connected Facebook users surely will be turned off by it, mid-level and casual users could become more engaged by this Pavlovian call to action. 

"It draws people back," says Asher Hunt, head of mobile design at LivePerson Mobile. "The sound is a trigger point. People are addicted to these." Hunt thinks the alert will keep Facebook members connected and strengthen their overall experience. He compares the alert to people walking through the cacophony of a casino:  "All it takes is hearing that sound once, and you're back on the site."  

Testing 1, 2, 1, 2

Here's the alert in action:

 

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.