Remember those pads of gold star stickers in primary school? Every time you did something good, your teacher would come and slap one onto your forehead, and for the rest of the day, you were king.
With that gold star on your head, you were showing everyone in the world that you had done something truly exceptional. Playground gatherings would part before you. You, the champion. It was a pretty awesome feeling.
Social media has become the new gold star. Recent studies have shown that talking about yourself on social media platforms activates the brain’s rewards centres, in much the same way as that gold star.
Science confirms: we are all narcissists
A May 2012 study by Harvard University’s Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab  concluded that sharing information about ourselves activates the brain’s reward centre a great deal more than when we share information about others. It is well documented that the reward centre is tickled by rewards like food, sex and money, but this is the first time it has been confirmed that self-disclosure is a rewarding activity for the brain.
The implications of these findings are vast, telling us a great deal about what we’re like as people, and how social media fits into human nature. Estimates tell us that only 30-40% of our face-to-face communications revolve around ourselves, while over 80% of our social media posts are about ourselves. This is, presumably, because you can’t see anyone grimace or roll their eyes at your over-sharing tendencies on social media. We all know the gross over-detail that some people go into on Facebook. People will even post about how they ate a dodgy pastry and are feeling the effects.
This level of gruesome detail might elicit a recoil from the present receiver, but over Facebook, no one can hear you scream. On Twitter, no one can interrupt you before you get to the really smarmy part about your promotion. As such, social media communication allows all of the pleasurable catharsis, and none of the signals to stop talking.
This information is especially useful in the hands of a clever social media brand strategist. Engaging your audience in a way that lets them self-disclose on behalf of the brand will activate their reward-centres, and create a positive link between your brand and their brains. For instance, when you know the house on the corner gives out delicious Halloween candy, you’re likely to go back.
Make your brand the house with the good candy
There are very simple ways to take advantage of the self-disclosure pleasure link for the betterment of your brand. Try:
- Asking users to post about their experiences with the brand or its product
- Encouraging users to submit their own content that relates to your brand
- Running competitions whereby the best consumer-created content wins a prize. If talking about ourselves is rewarding, surely the brain goes nuts for the positive recognition of our disclosures?
A self-issued pat on the back
The irrefutable evidence of humanity’s love for self-disclosure begs the question, what motivates us to share the inconsequential details of our lives with all of our social media contacts? Why do we jump to social media immediately after something happens to us? And now we know. We post these things because there is no lovely primary school teacher to thumb a shiny gold star onto your head. We give ourselves stars now, within the character limitations of little white boxes.
The study confirms that, as we all have secretly suspected, human beings are self-involved on a biological level. The next time you want to type a status about how you helped someone across the road, think of it as giving yourself an ice cream for doing something good, much as a mother would do for a small child. That’s the very best thing about the self-disclosure pleasure — you control it.
No one has to realise your good deed and decide to reward you. It is a self-issued reward. Which makes it simple, instantaneous, and more than a little lame. Make sure that your personal and branded social media interactions don’t pat themselves on the back too much.
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