3 Neurological Reasons We’re Hooked on Social & How to Leverage Them

Have you ever wondered why social media captivates nearly 70% of U.S adults? While there isn’t one definitive answer, our obsession with social lies heavily in the way we’re wired—neurological needs we can’t live without.

In this post, we’ll look at three neurological reasons why social media has us wrapped around its finger. More importantly, we’ll look at how you can exploit them to create more impactful and influential social ads.

Reason #1: The Need to Feel Important

People want to be accepted, liked, and valued. It makes sense, then, that with every upload and status update, we refresh our social feeds looking for validation, like comments or shares, that serve as digital nods of approval. This need to feel important helps explain why nearly 20% of total time spent online in the U.S. is on social media.

How to Use This to Your Advantage

To fulfill the thirst for importance, make it clear to your social following that you need them to succeed. One way to approach this is with user-generated content (UGC). In addition to being cost efficient and giving your followers validation, user-generated content can influence your bottom line. According to Crowdtap and Ipsos Media, user-generated content is more influential than other forms of media, particularly among Millennials.

Here are three examples of user-generated content:

  • Crown Resorts: Crown Resorts partnered with Brand Networks, the award-winning provider of software and services that simply social™ and Stackla, a content aggregation tool that helps brands discover and market with earned media to boost its reach and engagement. Leveraging the Brand Networks Platform, our technology identified top-performing user-generated content and automatically promoted them into Facebook Photo Ads. This process was made simple by Open Signals. Compared to other engagement-focused campaigns, the UGC-driven campaigns generated 40% more impressions and 25% more Likes.

User-generated content

  • Starbucks: Starbucks’ 2014 White Cup Contest encouraged its customers to doodle on their cups and submit their designs through social media. The winning design would then to be featured on a limited-edition reusable cup. Receiving over 4,000 entries, the contest engaged its customers and instilled a sense of importance, but it also reaffirmed Starbucks’ commitment to the environment—which, in itself, has been shown to create positive customer sentiment. According to a study by IRI and Boston Consulting Group, products from responsible consumption brands can command as much as 113% more than conventional products.

Starbucks white cup contest

  • Chobani: To improve its image and boost sales in a competitive industry, Chobani’s “Share Your Chobani Love Story” asked its fans to upload content of them praising its products. Chobani then selected user-generated content to appear on its website, billboards, and other promotional materials. According to SymphonyIRI Group, a market research firm, the campaign generated a 225.9% increase in revenue year-over-year.

user-generated content

Reason #2: The Need for Social Interaction

According to research conducted by UCLA, when we need a break from something, we’re craving social interaction. This need for interaction is as essential as our need for food, water, and shelter. In today’s digital age, this interaction doesn’t have to be physical; in fact, connecting digitally is often preferred. This makes sense when you consider the average adult and Millennial check their phones 30 and 150 times a day, respectively.

How to Use This to Your Advantage

To fulfill your followers’ need for social interaction, focus on creating an engaging social environment. While most brands are content with high-level engagement like comments and shares, you can get more value. For example, live video has risen in popularity thanks to its ability to give people that “in-the-moment” feeling. As a result, it can be an effective method of interacting with your followers, humanizing your brand, and opening the door for customers’ voices to be heard.

Here are three examples of brands using live video:

  • Buzzfeed: Buzzfeed hosted a 30-minute dance battle that not only pulled back its curtain and humanized its brand, but the session required viewer engagement. This gave them a voice and say.
  • Experian: Experian hosts a weekly series on Periscope, Twitter, Snapchat, and other channels called CreditChat. These Q&A’s allow Experian to unravel some common (and not-so-common) questions for its followers; for example, practical steps to get out of debt.
  • Benefit Cosmetics: Every week, Benefit Cosmetics hosts a live tutorial on Facebook Live. To get the audience engaged, it asks for suggestions on what they should discuss. This approach is ideal for consumer-facing brands promoting new products or services.

Reason #3: The Fear of Missing Out

In today’s ever-connected world, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is real and relevant. Now, settling for the present isn’t good enough. Instead, we cling onto the fear of what we could be missing. According to Darlene McLaughlin, M.D., “FOMO is especially rampant in the Millennial community because they see a peer achieving something they want and somehow in their mind, that achievement means something is being ‘taken away’ from them.”

How to Use This to Your Advantage

When it comes FOMO, elements of scarcity, urgency and exclusivity can be immensely productive. For example, a flash sale or promoting a limited-time offer can encourage consumers to take action. To them, the thought that something may not be around later, or others getting it instead of them, could be all they need to make the purchase.

Here are three example of brands using elements of scarcity, urgency, and exclusivity:

  • La La Land: To drive consumer action, an element of scarcity can be an effective way to harness people’s fear of missing out on an opportunity. La La Land, a popular film released in 2016, promoted a limited-edition autographed vinyl of the movie’s soundtrack. For movie aficionados, autograph collectors, and vinyl lovers, this was a can’t miss opportunity.

Scarcity marketing

  • Best Buy: Common in today’s ecommerce marketplace, flash sales create a sense of urgency. For example, Best Buy held a one-day flash sale on laptops. By promoting this finite sale, it’s more likely to get conversions from people who weren’t necessarily on your site to purchase. The urgency helps push people through the funnel, especially from consideration to conversion.

Urgency marketing

  • Canon: Exclusivity is the root of FOMO, especially if you can promote an exclusive club or membership geared toward a subset of individuals. Canon, for example, promoted an exclusive group for photographers. In today’s competitive landscape, a photographer may think to themselves, “my competition is getting an edge because of this.” As a result, they join, too.

Exclusivity marketing


It’s no surprise social media captivates us. As humans, we want to be seen, to be heard, and to be validated. Assuming these neurological needs don’t diminish, we’re bullish that leveraging them for social advertising success will be an effective method for the foreseeable future. So, take a step back and ask yourself what your customers are looking for when they log into their social accounts. Once you figure that out, give them that.

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