Psychology Behind Selfies, #FoodPorn, and Sharing
Wake up. Check your phone. Brush your teeth. Post to Twitter. Head to work. Scroll through Facebook on the bus ride there.
This is the daily, morning routine of millions of people around the world.
Why do we care so much about social media? Why do we feel the need to update our 372 Twitter followers about the daily commute? The answer lies within the infinite neurological, social and environmental motivations behind modern-day technology–the dopamine cravings, need for social validation and the pleasure that comes with social interaction.
People love to self-disclose on social media–posting #foodporn brunch pictures on Instagram or tweeting about our #firstworldproblems. But why bother?
Two researchers at Harvard attempted to answer this question in a 2012 study about self-disclosure and reward. Turns out that when we talk about our thoughts and experiences, there is an area in our brain that stimulates reward and dopamine–a natural hormone and neurotransmitter that is closely associated with reward-motivated behavior in the ventral-tagmental area (VTA) in the brain–is produced. Even more so, the reward is greater when we share that information with other people.
Basically, talking about ourselves makes us feel good.
The tip: Encourage conversation and dialogue amongst your followers. Host a tweet-chat revolving around their experiences with your brand. This way, not only do you get them talking about themselves (and thus increasing reward), but you also get feedback about how you’re performing as well. Everyone wins!
“OMG, me too!”
“Think about all the amazing things we could do on the web,” Kim Snow, Creative Director of Agency Development at Google, said during the Visual Revolution Summit. “Yet every single day we’re looking at pictures of cats and our breakfasts. Are we dumb? We’re not. So the insight we found is called the Fascinating Familiar–we’re trying to find meaning in our everyday life.”
As human beings, we love the feeling of being connected and identifying with others. Recount the number of times you sat in front of the television screen when a commercial came on and you couldn’t help but think to yourself, “I have the same exact problem” or “He/She is just like me!”
This idea of self-concept is something that marketers have been using for years. Another 2012 study shows that people are most likely to share an idea, link or product that they strongly identify with, find entertaining, or are involved with. A recent trend in the beauty industry is targeted at real women, not the photoshopped models that have graced magazine spreads for decades. Why has this proven viral and successful? Because women around the world easily identify with these campaigns and find the message true and powerful, thus prompting a higher likelihood of sharing on social media.
In addition, social sharing also showed a spike in dopamine production as well as the enhancement of self-concept.
The tip: Look to your own fans as spokespeople and models. Stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things resonates well with the public because you don’t need to have superstar status in order to do the amazing, and people always want to feel like they have the potential for greatness.
Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You
Mentioned briefly before, interactions with other people often make us feel better about ourselves; taking this a step further, the idea of reciprocity prompts even greater return, taking us back to one of our most basic primal emotions of equal exchange and coexistence.
However, due to our developed sense of self and emotional system, humans go beyond this with the capacity to trust without guarantee of receiving anything in return. Discussed in “The Neuroscience of Social Decision-Making,” researchers found that not only is the act of cooperation and helping one another enough to activate the dopamine reward system, but mutual trust is rewarding in itself.
The tip: your fans can be your strongest storytellers and source of support (read: UGC). Create an open forum or space where people are encouraged to upload their content, but don’t forget that it’s a two-way street. Give back to keep the relationship mutually beneficial.
Ultimately, this means marketers need to focus on building real trust and community with people to increase brand loyalty and sales. For too long, the marketing focus has been on how to twist a campaign to appeal to a consumer’s wallet instead of the consumer him or herself. But change is coming.
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