An Interesting Look At WHY People Use Social Media

Taking A Pic of Tall BuildingA moment that sticks out in my history is from the early part of 2005.

I was living in the dorms at college and a buddy came walking into my room asking if I had heard the news.

What news?

Our university was getting access to Facebook.

What’s Facebook?

We were the first university to have Facebook. Things had already started to snowball for the social network. And soon after that it was opened up to everybody and now it seems like most of the world has a Facebook account.

What was always interesting about Facebook was why people were so drawn to using the social network. What was the big pull?

Let’s examine why people use social media.

The more we understand the why the better, I think, we can understand how to use social media for business purposes.

The Need To Belong

There has been some interesting work about how The Need To Belong is a basic human need.

Here is a snippet from an article on Psychology Today:

Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary (1995) argue that the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. Satisfying this need requires (a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals.

What does that sound like?

The emphasis on that last part was mine.

So it seems that Facebook could have tapped into the basic human need to maintain relationships with frequent interactions. I don’t know if Facebook intentionally tried to tap into that, but either way it seems like they’ve created a tool that allows people to fulfill this basic human need like never before.

Control, Trust, Enjoyment

Harvard Business Review adds some more to the conversation in this article.

The point of this article is why personal social networks like Facebook have succeeded while other collaboration software has failed. A key element is control and force.

People don’t like to be told what to do. They don’t like to feel like they don’t have control.

Social networks like Facebook offer great control. There is a trust in knowing who you’re interacting with and there is no external force telling you that you need to use the network.

Social networks also provide the type of information people crave, which we can get into in the next step.

I Can’t Miss Out!

People have that sense to belong that we already saw. With social networking, we’re able to get quite a bit of information that makes us feel like we’re not missing out.

Back in college the cool thing was to see yourself in photos from a recent party. You can see yourself in that photo and feel like you belonged. There was proof that you were there and enjoying yourself with all your friends. Everybody could see the proof!

Facebook has kind of morphed into being a way for people to not miss out on anything in anyone’s life.

Grandma now uses Facebook to see regular photos of her grandkids. Friends can stay up-to-date even if times of changed and people have moved or taken a new job or whatever.

The reason people go back to Facebook and other social media all the time (13+ times per day) is so they don’t miss out. There seems to be an addictive aspect to not missing out.

The Fear Of Missing Out is a real psychological issue based on human need.

Knowing About Others

But the Fear Of Missing Out is not all bad.

We can develop strong relationships when we are more aware of what people are experiencing. Studies have found that people are definitely more aware of what others are going through when using social media.

On Facebook, for example, females that use Facebook regularly noticed an average of 5.7 stressful events that occurred to people close to them. That compares to 3.7 events that light Facebook users knew about.

It’s possible to see the positive in this. The more we know about each other the better the relationship would seem to be.

Social Media Is Easier Than Face-To-Face

Now things are getting interesting.

If the need to connect with others is so great then why don’t we just skip social media and spend more time with people?

Obviously social media can bridge the location gap. You can connect with someone anywhere in the world on social media. Face-to-face connection is a challenge when you don’t live near each other.

Studies show that face-to-face interactions require emotions.

Interactions with computers don’t require emotion.

Here is a key snippet:

Compared to interactions with computers, interactions with human counterparts require more emotional involvement, cognitive effort and brain activation. When we are not in the mood to exercise these resources, we too often choose the easier, virtual option.

Humans often take the path of least resistance. With interaction, the path of least resistance is online. It’s easy and it also hides emotion.

Not only do you not need to use your emotional intelligence to determine how the other person is feeling, but you can project whatever image you want on social media. There is usually little nonverbal communication, which is a key component of face-to-face interaction.

Follow The Crowd, Get Rewards

Let’s start getting into some takeaways from a business perspective.

There was an interesting study about how likes on social media affect people.

The first takeaway is that the more likes something has the more likely it is that someone will like it. People don’t necessarily want to be the first person to like something, but if something already has a bunch of likes the more people are likely to jump in.

The second takeaway is that when someone posts something and others like it the same reward centers in the brain that trigger for things like chocolate and winning money are activated.

When you eat something you like you generally want more.

When you receive a like on Facebook you generally want more.

Alright, let’s get into the takeaways and action points from a business perspective…


I think the strategies you can takeaway from this information when it comes to social media marketing include:

  • Post More Often
  • Foster More Rewards (Ask For Input, Engage)
  • Create A Cult
  • Don’t Force or Control
  • Embrace The Biggest Fans

The more you post the more you create a sense of “missing out”. We know that people use social media because they don’t want to miss out. If you post once in awhile that’s fine, but the more you post the more people will need to pay attention. They don’t want someone to ask them, “Did you see that update…”

People like rewards on social media as we’ve seen. You can foster this feeling with your followers by helping them get attention on social media. People love to be retweeted, liked, etc. Promote your followers when they say something funny. Ask for their input and help other followers engage with them.

Cult is pretty much a negative word. But if you look at the really popular accounts on social media they are very cult-like. Obviously they’re not all drinking Kool Aid. Instead, they’re creating a culture of having something in common. The love for a sport. The love of sarcasm. Whatever it is, a cult makes people feel like they are part of something because they share something.

People are turned off by control. Obviously a few rules are probably okay, but the more you pile on the more you’ll turn people away.

Finally, embrace your biggest fans. Engage with them. They will be the ones asking others to join and follow. They’ll be the ones fostering the most engagement.

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