Mon, October 15 2012

Why social media can be addictive

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Social Media •

I was recently invited to become one of LinkedIn’s inaugural bloggers as part of its new thought leader platform.  Here is one of my first posts.  There is some crossover with what I blog here, but in general I’m taking a different direction at LinkedIn, where my posts are more general interest when it comes to causes, marketing and social media.  You can follow me and others at LinkedIn here.

I’ve always said social media speaks to three fundamental human urges:

1. To be seen and heard

2. To connect to others

3. To feel part of something bigger than ourselves

Some work by Nir Eyal on the idea of a desire engine takes this to a deeper level.  He describes three rewards that we seek, and shows that social media fulfills each. When we get these rewards, they trigger the pleasure center of our brains and yield biologically programmed payback.

In other words, there is a good reason that you’re addicted to social media.  You get a dose of dopamine when you do it.

Here are the three rewards that make up the desire engine:

  Tribe - We seek to be connected to people, because we have specially-adapted neurons to help us feel what others feel.  Facebook anyone?
  Hunt - We have a need to acquire physical things, such as food and supplies, so we can survive as a species.  Of course we hunt for other things too - deals, information, funny videos.  Groupon, anyone?
  Self – We seek personal gratification and a feeling of stimulation and mastery.  Don’t we just love it when someone retweets that clever comment we made?

desire engine

No wonder we can’t stay away from our smartphones!

As someone focused on philanthropy, I also see why we get a “helper’s high” - that rush of dopamine when we donate money or volunteer.  We feel part of something bigger than ourselves (the tribe), we feel we’ve acquired something (the knowledge we made a difference), and we feel like we’re a good person (self).

Some desire engines lead to nobler pursuits than others!

  • Comment: (3)   


Lovely article Katya, you managed to describe the main reasons why social media can be addictive. I would only like to add that these are also the main reasons people decide to blog, such as: establising thought leadership, building awareness and support, driving grassroots and understanding and so on. However, they should consider these kind of things if they want to be successful. In addition, I do think that brands and communicators can take advantage of this fact, but this can also be used in a positive way, when they educate the consumers.

Posted by Suzanne Mannion  on  10/26  at  10:52 AM

As always a great article. It is interesting how Nir Eyal associated the three crucial elements that make us human with social media but however crazy it might sound it makes perfect sense.

Posted by Eddie Justo  on  11/20  at  02:12 PM

Wow! Now I know why I love getting my facebook updates LIKED, lol…

The feeling after giving donation or charity is indeed felt really great. It makes yourself really peaceful inside. Can’t really describe it in words, but that’s how I feel usually, and now I (more or less) know why. :D

Posted by Syamsul Alam  on  02/04  at  03:16 AM

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