The Psychology of Social Media

We’ve all heard the saying, “Fifteen minutes of fame!” and the possibility of achieving that has never been more prevalent than in this age of the internet, reality shows and social media. Even twenty-five years ago you had to be a young toddler falling deep into an abandoned well to reach the status of a national celebrity, but these days all it takes is a well placed Twitter, misquoted Facebook post or exposure through a viral video.

Following Osama Bin Laden’s death, fingers were flying as posts and tweets were generated within microseconds of the news hitting the airwaves. One such Tweet attributed a stand against wishing our enemy death to Martin Luther King, Jr. Through supersonic research and the quest for the source of the ill stated quote, it was revealed the quote was either an error or a scam. Even the source and motivation of the misquote became a question and the truth has not yet been discovered. Through it all, the underlying burning question for social media considerations brought to the forefront a more interesting issue, the psychology of social media postings.

What is it that motivates the flittering tweet in a person’s mind or that scandalous Facebook post that has people wondering what’s the story between the lines? In dealing with social media, it’s a very critical topic to consider, especially for businesses. Looking at the two types of social media avenues, personal and business, may offer a little more perspective and remind us to develop guidelines when creating social media plans for business.

The psychology of personal social media postings can be as varied as the people typing on the keyboard and not easily interpretable as many people may not reveal their true emotions, feelings or personality through their social profiles. A recent survey of college aged women found many reasons for daily posts had truly to do with real social events or hook-ups with a love interest. Women stated they intentionally posted where they were going, pictures of themselves looking incredible, or information about how much fun they were having, knowing a guy they were interested in would be seeing the post flying across the news feed. Twitter is more effective when connected to Facebook and the constant stream of Tweets is unavoidable and sometimes downright annoying.

Women in this college demographic also see the social media forum as just that, social. Many posts and pictures are splattered throughout the internet without a care or concern for the future, even though there are certain courses where professors may caution that once posted, you could be toasted in the future. One such college student recently commented, “She’d better start saving her money to pay Google to delete her existence when she began her career search.” The problem with that is once public, the picture or comment can be copied and saved even if it’s deleted at some point in time. And while the cross-dressing Halloween outfit may have been the hit of the kegger, it probably won’t make a great political statement during an election should that be the direction taken after college. Long gone are the days of, “I didn’t inhale,” chances are there could be a You Tube video proving otherwise.

The other dilemma found in social media is the same concept we still see in email messaging, the circulation of false stories and viruses with the intent of causing harm and destruction. What motivates someone to intentionally dream up a horrible tale of cancer or death to cause people to click open the file and have their hard drive attacked? Is it the fact victims are unseen so there’s less sympathy or none at all? Or, is it the satisfaction of knowing they had the single-handed power to ruin the time and energy of masses of people? Or, are they simply looking for some fake sense of grabbing their fifteen minutes of fame anonymously knowing anything other than halting the government systems will not likely produce a law officer knocking on their door? Whatever the motivating pathology, the certain thing is these malcontents can judge, measure and watch their destruction from the comfort of their bedroom knowing the discomfort they’ve imposed.

Fortunately, the vast majority of users of social media for personal fun aren’t there for ill intent. From a perspective of someone who watches hundreds of Facebook posts, tweets, tumbles and stumbles, the majority of users appear to have one general theme: to reach out and touch friends, to make a difference in a life, to share a piece of themselves and to promote their beliefs and causes. Finding people who were once an important part of their life years ago, rekindling relationships with friends and family, staying in touch across miles and being virtual voyeurs with permission to do so and not having to feel creepy about it, are all reasons for making connections. Satisfying that nosey neighbor craving to know what other people are doing is also not to be overlooked.

After active users, there are several categories of “friends” beginning with those who simply do not care about what their friends are posting, never liking or acknowledging the existence of anyone else, instead simply promoting their own agenda. The quiet friends are the mere observers who never post, but read about everyone else, keeping their comments private and between close friends and family only. And the most curious partaker in social media is the friend who never post and whose wall is shut down, they rarely log in and have no idea changes to Facebook are being made constantly and have only a vague idea of Twitter but know they don’t want any part of it. These are the individuals who at a weak moment in time caved to peer pressure and created a Facebook page and have now probably forgotten the password in order to delete it.

The personal drive of users appears to be for the most part, one of validation of existence. To feel life is moving and happening when the reality may be sheer boredom has set in. To feel part of a world that is constantly evolving and growing. To feel that what you believe, say or want makes a difference at least to the hundreds of names found on their friend list. It allows a bit of momentary narcissism and obtaining a tiny bit of attention on a grander scale than life without social media allows. It’s an ego boost and a healthy expansion of our world that brings knowledge and conversation. However, one misquote on a tantalizing and controversial subject can throw you smack in the middle of a feeding frenzy of social media carnivores. So, caution should be taken when reposting or firing off a hateful or pointed post. But, the beauty of social media is the likelihood of becoming the subject of a scandal is rare and still leaves us able to throw around the fifteen minutes of fame cliche. Unless, you are a corporation or business, then the game and the rules change.

With regard to the psychology of business participation in social media, it’s important to understand the factors that drive our personal use of social media must be used in reverse when it comes to promoting business. The personality of the user becomes insignificant as a voice for the company is the only sound that should be heard. The prejudice, thoughts and beliefs of the person in charge of the tweets and posts, has to be stifled and the words become politically correct no less than if the advertisement is hitting the front page of the local paper. Public profiles must be in line with company policies and standards, following a formula or plan to promote and encourage business without offending and designed to achieve the purpose of social media which should be business and income generation. The personalities of customers, followers and fans take over and become the target. The importance of the psychology of the readers of the content is what must be of paramount consideration to create an effective marketing strategy and plan. One misplaced quote, one offending post or tacky tweet can have a snowball effect to the bottom-line. Caution and care must be taken when creating the personality of the company to be put on the internet forever. Leaving the fate of such an important representation should be taken seriously and not put into the hands of the cashier at the front desk simply because she’s the only one with a Facebook page.

As you can see the psychology of social media is responsible for the existence of social media and has the potential to destroy someone in the blink of an eye or promote fame at the speed of light. It’s an important consideration for all players, on all levels, to correctly utilize and protect yourself when in the playing field of the social media arena. It’s a world that grows as fast as keystrokes can be laid down and share buttons clicked and the consequences are far reaching with negative news flowing faster than uncontroversial tidbits. The only comfort in knowing that should you make a personal misstep is, fifteen minutes is a relatively short amount of time in which to weather a storm and should the ill-placed Tweet cause a downfall of a business, it can always post the offending social media manager has been fired, retract the misquote, delete the upset followers and seek out new fans. Just don’t forget to do damage control and respond to all the negative comments certain to be floating around on the internet. Yes, that is another topic entirely.

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