As a Marketer I am greatly interested on finding out how our social skills develop and are altered especially with the use of social media. There is still so much to discover, yet we constantly find new social media networks that aim at complicating the net in between human interaction, making it easy for firms but having a rough impact on how we socialize.

I have found an interesting article by Harvard University that relates dopamine and the usage of smartphones and I thought on making it easier to understand by taking the examples of Fitness Female Gurus and Influencers.

What is dopamine?

I would like to call it the motivation drug, produced in our brains always after a satisfactory act such as tasting craved food, intimate relations, exercise and especially when we receive social approval (a successful exchange with other humans) and motivates us to seek more of it. Dopamine is produced in different parts of the brain, each of these linked to a certain cognitive process, while three are also what we call ”reward paths”, a forth one regulates the production of prolactin (breast milk production).

So how are addictions born? Well, if the reward paths are active and in function, they are able to predict hence they are stimulated. When a reward happens, these links becomes stronger. So a positive social interaction will result in a stimulation and eventually in a rewarding exchange, resulting in a release of dopamine and in reinforcement of that act. It is same as when we exchange positive graphics such as emojis or we receive positive messages from close friends and family.

A notification, a direct message, a ”like”, a mention, in Instagram has the danger of constantly allowing us to repeatedly release dopamine, repeat, ask for more and eventually become socially addicted.

– The Pine Folks

Instagram tricks your dopamine release just so you ask for more

If you have been in Instagram for some time you might’ve noticed that some ”likes” come in waves, sometimes the algorithm saves some of the likes so you receive them all in bunch ”so they look more in number”, which again stimulates you, makes you feel proud of your content, reinforcing the usage of the application and in the end basically makes you addicted to just post more.

This resembles a lot to how many young women use Instagram as a portal to solve their already existing insecurities. We are talking about the ”#fitfam” and ”#fitgirl” that has an open profile, posting always under hashtags with the hope of receiving as many likes as possible, while tricking herself into the thought that ”she does it for progression” or ”to inspire others” or then we have those that make a profit out of it and become ambassadors and influencers. Yes, we often criticise these women and mostly it’s because they act in patterns such as, posting more the more engagement they get, posting repetitive content (same pose, same lack of clothing, same style, light, etc) to appeal to the evil algorithm that only stimulates their need of dopamine. We are talking about accounts with over 1000 followers, please note.

What we do not realize is that we are creating a societal problem, for both men and women (and even children) because at the end of the day both end up affected and in misery. Why? The await for public appraisal and rewarding scheduling used by highly graphic social media platforms such as Instagram is taking advantage of the dopamine-driven social validation continuously, says Trevor Haynes, a research technician in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

We find posts of women in extremely light clothing attached with body-positive comments, acceptance, imperfections discussions and only rarely one can find a user that shares the actual journey of her change, her habits, her every day work, her own self without the need of dramatising, sexualising, emphasising and commercialising their content.

Worst is when we actually realize what stands behind these broken souls, and it is not only vanity, but it is illness. A sort of illness we actually promote by liking, commenting, sharing such content in a positive manner. When one analyzes the open profile of a girl and observes posts of the same nature, such as displaying her body, parts of her body, excessive make-up or effortful shots, one should understand that this effort that she puts into making everything look perfect, seductive, attractive is due to the need of social approval. Do not encourage her by praising, liking, commenting but rather ignore such content reappearing on your feed. We do not only encourage narcissism and dependence of social networks, but we affect the way bodies are seen, how communication works in real life, we encourage younger generations on imitating such examples, and we just end up worsen the link between an eternal battle of question ”where are all the good women?” or ”where are all the good men?” – Women are in social media preoccupied with their feed, thigh gaps, eyebrows and the amount of likes and followers they gather, while men are scrolling down receiving a physical and mental satisfaction from having access to such content, which is probably not as bad as porn but still plays a huge role in the hormonal release and sexual commitments and understandings.

If it’s dangerous, why do we still do it?

The answer is easy: the more dopamine, the happier one gets. It’s a pure addiction. Please note I am not talking about informative accounts, nor small personal accounts used to share moments of one’s life, etc., but rather about those open big accounts out and about for approval, ”influencing” and highly based on physical appearance.

Instagram is a powerful tool and no one can deny it. It aids businesses to expand greatly through social media, reinforces communication, makes things lighter and easier to share moments or content of interest with others and those are enough reasons on why we still depend on it, why we like it and why we will still use it in a way or another.

The dopamine peak works exactly as good as when we receive a warm hug from a loved one, it’s pure neuroscience.

Something worth thinking about, if you are also a user of Instagram is asking yourself the reasons behind your posts, what do they mean to you, what keeps you coming to the platform, how much interaction in real life you have otherwise, how sincere are you in your posts (truly) and whether you realize even a 10 year old (unfortunately) can see and read your posts and how comfortable that makes you (for public accounts). Who are you? What is the difference between you and the digital persona?

“If your expectations are not met, and the outcome is either worse or better than expected, then that’s going to impact the next time you encounter that condition. It’s called reinforcement learning. Social media will have similar rules.”

Mauricio Delgado, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J.

What does this mean for branding purposes?

The goal should be for a brand to validate a person’s point of view about the brand or something related to the brand and not vice versa.

“The challenging part for marketers is to make that social media connection into a human connection, and not an automated or derisive connection.”

Dave Hawley, vice president of marketing and sales development at San Francisco-based social media and internal marketing firm SocialChorus

Businesses can easily take advantage out of the controlling nature of social media by enabling content that shares validating points with the users, exploring hashtags to find these, engage with them and ultimately build a relationship. Users will no longer perceive the brand as a faceless presence online but rather would require a personality, an opinion, a stance out of the brand’s accounts, which takes us with the political involvement of brands and firms escalating lately due to …social pressure, basically. Easier communication for brands does not only mean greater revenue but also greater responsibility, overall.

How did you like this little research? You’re more than welcome to leave a comment down below, tell us about your social media experiences or hey, why not, follow me on Instagram for content I actually enjoy publishing for the greater good.

See you in the next post!

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