Joe Smith wakes up one morning, walks out the front door of his apartment building, and takes a selfie with the three feet of snow that have piled up on his Toyota Camry. He tweets out the photo with the header “OMG, that is A LOT of snow.” He gets a few comments and retweets from friends. An hour later, he arrives at work, logs into Facebook and finds a friend’s link to www.theflatteringman.com. It turns out to be a prank website for a “Push Up Muscle Shirt” that is part of an Old Spice viral ad campaign. Joe likes and shares it.
By 11:30 a.m., Joe can’t look at the Excel spreadsheet in front of him without getting cross-eyed, so he logs into LinkedIn, spots Fast Company’s latest post, “What, When, And How To Share On Social Media,” and sends it off to the other guys in his marketing department. They were just talking over social media strategies the other day, so Joe thinks the article could help the entire group.
Why did Joe share so much on social media? Why does anyone talk about experiences or products, or buy and become loyal to certain brands? Marketers have been on an endless journey to answers these questions–to take their art and infuse it with insights from the sciences. The difficulty is that the science is constantly evolving, and social media is introducing social interactions that don’t have a precedent.
Joe, like billions of other people, is driven by an infinite set of biological, social, environmental, and technological phenomena. Among this set, we now know that dopamine cravings, social identity needs, and the evolution of human decision-making helped to turn our protagonist’s morning into a social marketing fiesta.
Typically, as marketers we want to know what content will engage the right audiences. But we don’t often ask, what is the experience of someone who consumes and shares our brand’s content? What is Joe going through? We can begin to answer this question by diving into the neuroscience, social theories, and evolution biology behind social decision making.
SOCIAL MEDIA’S EFFECT ON DOPAMINE
When Joe and millions of other Americans wake up and tweet about the weather, Instagram their breakfast, or send a Snapchat, they’re getting one undeniable benefit: brain candy.
In 2010, researchers found that 80% of social media posts were announcements about people’s immediate experiences–Facebook status updates like Joe’s “OMG that is A LOT of snow” are the norm in social feeds. So in 2012, two researchers at Harvard were curious about this and decided to see how self-disclosure affects the brain.
It turns out that talking about our own thoughts and experiences activates the rewards system of the brain, providing that same shot of dopamine we get from sex, food, and exercise. The reward activity in the brain is also much greater when people get to share their thoughts with others.
Simply put, Joe’s wake-up tweet gave his brain pleasure.
Every social media site gives Joe the opportunity to get dopamine through self-disclosure, but brands have a unique opportunity to assist Joe in the creation of his social identity and the achievement of his own goals–which include the real pleasure of sharing information that will help and entertain friends, family, and co-workers. We can give Joe tools to get dopamine, look good, and pay it forward in his community. In many cases, this is more valuable to Joe than anything we can sell him. And if Joe receives this genuine assistance, he will advocate for the brands that provide it.
If we’re going to build trust, loyalty, and advocacy through social media, we must do so outside the bounds of the traditional advertising relationship. Stop using social media to try to sell your product. Try to help people achieve personal satisfaction through your brand experiences, and the sales will come.
And don’t forget that there’s something personal in it for marketers too. We can also enjoy some dopamine and self-concept enhancement by making our work about helping people help people while we deliver value for our brands.
—Dave Hawley is the Sr. Marketing Director for SocialChorus.
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