The neuroscience of social media


In case you hadn’t heard, Kylie Jenner recently caused a $1.3 billion run on Snapchat valuation simply by tweeting that she may not be as prolific on the platform in the future.

I’m clearly not in a demographic that would much care about her absence, but the investment gurus that track the social media demographics I’m not included in thought the implications could be seismic.

Meanwhile, I know many contemporaries who would ask, “what’s Snap-book?”

I spend much of my time studying the neuroscience of technology buyers which includes a wide variety of relationships with social media. Surely the emotions of tech professionals buying sophisticated Blockchain applications varies wildly from those looking to buy something found while reading listicle content from BuzzFeed.

But regardless of how we engage as technology professionals, we need to have a keen understanding of the diverse engagement patterns of those who have a much more intimate relation ship with social media than we do.

Virtually every piece of research on social media neuroscience reinforces the fact that social media engagement is equivalent to dopamine. Simply stated, engagement creates a high or a sugar rush of sorts, and being untethered can cause anxiety and depression. There is much debate as to whether this is truly addictive, but most us know that there can surely be a dependence.

People look frequently at the number of likes or loves on Facebook because they provide vanity metrics that provide positive or negative reinforcement about our social capital. One doesn’t need to be a social media analytics geek to be frustrated because a seemingly provocative post gets little to no feedback. At any given second someone is thinking “maybe it was the timing, maybe it was the way I described the link, maybe I needed a graphic…but regardless, I know that this post is interesting! So, why don’t they like me?”

Admittedly, there are many other posters who could care less about response or reaction.

So what are some key factors related to the neuroscience and emotion of social media users in 2018?

Ephemeral Content

Who would have thought that some of the highest levels of engagement come from content that suddenly disappears forever? Those familiar with Snapchat know that the appeal is the fact that you only get this “ephemeral” video or graphic for less than a minute before it vaporizes. The neuropsychology of FOMO, or the fear of missing out, actually creates immense loyalty if the previous engagements with the sender have been compelling enough. For this reason, the base of ephemeral content has increased significantly as it has become part of the science of social marketing. Again, while counterintuitive, major brands like the combination of immediacy and authenticity that a very short form video offers the consumer.

Stories and Filters

Stories are a group of a friend’s or company’s photos or videos stitched together so that they can be swiped through to tell an, um, story. Instagram and SnapChat are the most typical platforms for stories. Some admittedly are a random yet sequential bundle of images with little of what some would call storytelling…Others might be as simple as the wanderings through a city during a vacation. Both of these platforms have the ability to add filters, which has nothing to do with “filtering” as much as adding text, backgrounds, costumes or graffiti to the original image.

Many consumer marketers leverage filters and stories for interactivity with their products such that a background filter showing Bud Lite can be used along with a consumer’s photos or videos.


One of the newest emotional relationships with technology is related to social apps convincingly acting like real humans. The bots have become the brand, just like voice is the brand for an Alexa.

Chatbots are not new but they are becoming much more human in their ability to interact at specific moments in social media or messenger conversations. This takes the ritual of the fast food server asking if “you’d like fries with that” to a whole new level. The ability for social media to understand some of the more complex contextual aspects of online conversations has grown exponentially over the past few years.

These interactions are by no means limited to a consumer context. Some of the more interesting use cases have migrated to how chatbots can be used as the first line of help desks, customer service and tech support, prior to a human to human interaction.

Chatbots have become the technology equivalent of seeing a virtual nurse practitioner before seeing the real physician!




  1. […] and media business. Under it are dozens of sub-strategies and technology drivers depending on the buying neuroscience of that particular consumer. The tweet definition for programmatic is simply “technology […]

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