Why Social Media Is So Addictive (And Why Marketers Should Care)

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Has the hype about social media turning us all into narcissists, egomaniacs and internet drug-addicts run its course? I doubt it. A quick search on Google and you’ll find hundreds of articles warning us of the “drug” that is social media.

Some interesting facts:

  1. Google+ boasts more than 343 million users as of July 2013. (Expanded Ramblings)
  2. 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram per day (Instagram)
  3. Teen Twitter use has grown significantly in 2013: 24% of online teens use Twitter, up from 16% in 2011. (Pew Internet Research)
  4. 1 in 10 young people rejected for a job because of their social profile (ondevice)
  5. 751 million monthly active Facebook mobile products users (Facebook)
  6. The Netherlands are most active social network users in Europe (65 percent of all users); the UK is in second place (57 percent of all European social network users). (The Office for National Statistics and Eurostat)
  7. Health care workers who misuse social media are more likely to not get hired. More than two in five (43 percent) health care hiring managers said information they’ve found caused them not to hire a candidate (CareerBuilder)
  8. Worldwide PC, tablet and mobile phone shipments will grow by 5.9 percent in 2013, while tablet shipments will increase by 67.9 percent. (Gartner)

It’s hard to argue against the idea that many people are addicted to Social Media. It’s also tempting to suggest that it’s turning us into narcissists and egomaniacs; I don’t buy it.

So what does drive social media use?

My answer: Human nature.

Dr. Pamela Routledge

Dr. Pamela Routledge

In an email interview with Dr. Pamela Rutledge, she explained:

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“Social validation is important; a Facebook like is a social signal. It affirms our existence the same way that someone nodding at you on the sidewalk does. But we’re also just learning to use social tools, experimenting to find out what it all means.

We have a tremendous double standard about what’s ok. Sharing inconsequential events is superficial; liking ‘likes’ is dangerous; if you post a selfie you’re a narcissist. All these worries reflect a level of moral panic or techno-fear about new technologies.”

What drives us to use social media in the way we use it has less to do with social media platforms and more to do with psychology.

Brands must realize that they no longer hold the reigns as to what people want to see, think or buy. Understanding how and why this balance has shifted can make or break a social marketing campaign.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not how social media works that drives people to use it how they do — it’s people who are driving how social media works for us.

Courtesy of IFB

Courtesy of IFB

Five psychological traits that drive the use of social media:

1. Fear of Missing Out

People love to say that social media has led to the curse of “fear of missing out” (FoMO). This is a bit absurd as FoMO is hardly a new “fear.” (Check your FoMO ranking here.)

FoMO is certainly one of the human traits driving how social media works, particularly with people aged thirty and under. Texting and status updates allow us to be more easily involved in the lives of others than ever before. And social media platforms and marketers are beginning to understand and make use of it.

For example, My Life, a personal social media management platform, recently released Data that found:

  • 27 percent of consumers admit they check social networks as soon as they wake up, and 51 percent continue to log in periodically throughout the day.
  • Exclusive access to promotional prices, coupons or product releases plays on the FoMO trend.
  • 56 percent believe not regularly checking their sites means they’ll miss important updates, news content or events from the pages they follow.

By posting first thing in the morning, branded content gets the most exposure. Following up with regular updates ensures continued engagement.

Researchers from the University of California and University of Rochester found that if individuals “psychological needs were deprived,” a fear of missing out also provided the temptation of writing and checking text messages and e-mails while driving.

Dr. Stephanie Rutledge explains again:

“We have a brain wired for collaboration, compromise, restraint, comprehending and managing one’s place in shifting-alliances. We notice when others are doing something that excludes us. It will trigger some primitive survival responses. People under 30 are still in the period when they are establishing their own lives, developing personal and professional identities, becoming economically viable (creating alliances), etc. Their focus will of necessity be social.”

2. Ego

One of the best tools is social media analytics. Tracking how many and who deem your campaign worthy is great. But underlying motives are largely ignored by marketers — so far.

Our emotional attraction appears to be tied to having an audience more than to connect socially; our cultural obsession with “self” drives us to update our status or tag ourselves in photos. Social media outlets are learning fast how to monetize this psychological drive — it’s big business.

Look at is this way: every Facebook, Linked In and Twitter share is an exercise in personal branding. Most people don’t even care if others engage with it; they just like that others saw they shared it.

As a marketer, ask yourself — does my content help to raise the profile of those who see it? Or it is just the standard dull as dishwater advertising campaign?

3. Perceived Value

I’ve said it many times and will say it again. Perception = reality. Whether the person has good or bad perception is not the issue.

Any successful social campaign delivers at least one thing: incentivized value. Not just any old prize, but one that meets the needs of the customer base.


In May, Klout and American Airlines offered a promotion based on logging in to Klout. Their incentivized value was two-fold: 1) boost your Klout score and redeem a prize via increased interaction with Klout, and 2) for a bonus, share the promotion with friends. An overall prize was access to an American Airlines VIP lounge (awarded to those with a Klout score of 55 or higher).

The idea that ego drives sharing was subtly capitalized on by giving users the chance to boost their social ego and brag about it. How many times have we rushed to tell others about exclusive deals or exciting things we’ve experienced or won?

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Courtesy of Shutterstock

4. Control

The end user is king of content and sharing today. In Seth Godin’s book, We Are All Weird, he said:

As soon as consumers enter the marketplace, they gain power, because power comes from choice. Consumer power is a brand new force, and it’s growing exponentially as a result of more affluence running in parallel with more choice.”

For the end user, it creates an empowering sense of how we think social should work for us. We choose accessibility of social content, how and when we consume it and when we want the latest information — now. That very ability drives the desire to promote.

5. Social Comparison/Self-Esteem

Psychologically speaking, whenever we’re uncertain as to how to behave in a particular situation, people often make comparisons to others in order to assess feelings, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and perspectives.

Social comparison also relates to people’s self-esteem. Dr. Rutledge stated that:

It is not surprising that people might experience an increase in self-esteem after having their social connections (and support) reaffirmed. Social connections are a valuable asset. That’s why we call it social capital. “

Why This Matters to Marketers

What worked a year ago in social doesn’t work today. Brands are not in the position of power anymore; end users are. Marketers need to get more internal; it’s about the psychology of a social user’s motivations (or lack of them).

Are you looking to run interactive social campaigns? Forget consumption of content, base it on experiences and actions.

Today’s marketer addresses the psychological needs of the customer. The social space has changed; user decisions and actions are driven by continually fluctuating psychological needs and motivators.

Marketers — ask yourself this question: do you want to fall by the wayside? Or do you want to stay in the game? If so, you need to embrace change and challenge as new opportunities.

Originally published on CMS Wire.

Comments: 16

  • I agree, we need to be social in order to survive. But since that’s taken care of ever since we started existing, we now seek plenty of ways to improve the efficiency of exchanging our ideas and being accepted as part of the community. We always thirst to reach out to people, and it’s no doubt that social media has become the core of personal networking.

    • Tom Lowery says:

      Thanks for the note, Barbara. And I agree, SM has become one of the methods through which we can network. What a great tool to connect with like-minded souls all over the world. Amazing.

  • I completely agree, humans are social creatures and social media just feeds on that. Social media has become are latest way to communicate and it will grow just as other social inventions have.

  • Sid Smith says:

    For Local Business Social Media is a great way to reach out to your customers and allow them to effectively share with their friends.

    On the converse, If you are not reacting to your audiences reviews and rants. It will tarnish your reputation and image.

    Only 3% of the time a person will buy from a company with 2 or less stars on their review. It is very important to be proactive in the review space and monitor what people are saying about your product or service.

    I just completed a training video on this topic for Local Business, Check it Out!

  • Tom Lowery says:

    I agree, Sid. A bad review is little more than an opportunity to connect with the reviewer and let him and others know how much you value your customer base. I personally would thank them for taking time to share their views, address them and offer to fix the issue for them and anyone else. Thanks for the note.

  • Great post. I definitely agree with the things you said about FoMo.

  • I agree that social media is great for businesses because never before has there been a platform where businesses and customers can interact with each other from pretty much anywhere. Communication is critical for any business, and social media has been a way for everyone, business and consumer, to communicate and discuss what is best for the business and the customer.

    • Tom Lowery says:

      Well said. Social media is so much more than anyone realizes. We’re starting to learn and yes, some people us it in very silly ways (or so it appears). But what a great tool. And the internet has changed the game all over the world. Wow.

      Thanks for your insightful comment.

  • Rhonda says:

    I totally agree with all your points but mostly No. 2 Ego from my perspective as a sharer and consumer.

    As a sharer, I will think hard about what I’m about to share and what it means to my personal brand. Not the ‘would it make me look like I care about the topic?’ but whether it makes me look like someone who is in the know, in the game. It’s like being in an owners’ club.

    • Tom Lowery says:

      We all have and need egos. Egomania of course is something else. But as you say, we will often consider what it means to us when we share. I am more flexible than many as I often think not only of what it means for me, but how others might need what I might not.

      Love your thought about an owner’s club. Very good.

      Thanks for the great note.

  • I really loved this article, Tom. I think #2(EGO)especially rings true, especially for those of the millennial generation. Basic business psychology tells us that we need to understand motives, and the importance of the EGO in all marketing decisions is something that should not be ignored.

    • Tom Lowery says:

      I certainly have to agree with your about #2 and the millennial generation–it fits. We are at a point in time and media where the business of psychology and how we use it while conducting business is a game changer. For one believe those who fail to embrace this concept will eventually fade from even being in business – and that includes some very heavy hitters. Thanks for your note!

  • Jason King says:

    Excellent article Tom. I’m often asked why I specialise in Social Media and I believe that the way in which people communicate and live their daily lives have changed mainly due to technology and Social Media. As Marketers we need to enter the world the customer lives in :)

  • Ian Fox says:

    Social media hasn’t really begun yet in the sense of what it will eventually morph into. No business can afford to be without a presence on the social networking sites or the question people will ask is “why not?”

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