Facebook’s Success Dissected

The Psychology behind Likes, Shares, Et Al

Ever noticed that when you log in to Facebook to send a mail to someone or set a reminder for an event, you end up getting lost in trivial tasks such as browsing notifications, liking images or reading silly posts? And despite your highest levels of dedication and awesome will power, you simply can’t help deviate from your original duties, right? Many at times, it also tends to happen if you’re doing something else and happen to come across Facebook. So, why do we find Facebook so addictive that we don’t mind wasting hours of precious time?

Well, according to various forms of research and experiments, experts have determined that our addiction to Facebook might not be an addiction at all, nor is it some sort of mystery anymore. There are apparently a variety of psychological and marketing tactics that get us hooked onto Facebook like sheep!

Researchers have indeed identified various trends in the way we perform major actions on Facebook. These include posting, sharing, liking, commenting and of course, stalking! They have discovered that there is a whole different level of psychology that goes into making Facebook the unending abyss of life that it is. Now, let’s take a look at the various aspects of Facebook’s psychology, so that we know what turns sensible web users into mindless trolls who continuously post, share and like stuff on the social media platform.

The “Like”

Your first obvious question is – why do we love Facebook so much? The answer is fairly simple, Facebook is designed in such a way that it subconsciously taps into our brain’s pleasure center. There have been numerous studies and experiments that have helped us paint a clearer picture as to how our brains react while partaking in social media activities, particularly on Facebook. Recent studies have revealed that there exists an uncannily strong link between Facebook and our brain’s reward center, known as the nucleus accumbens or NAc. The NAc is this region of the brain that processes feelings of reward and self-achievement and it involves reactions to various elements such as food, alcohol, sex, money and social admission and recognition. Much earlier studies of the human brain have revealed that positive feedback or personal success lights up this part of our brain. The same phenomenon apparently happens when people get positive feedback on Facebook. In fact, studies have reported that these feelings light up depending on our usage of Facebook. The higher the usage intensity, the greater the feeling of reward.

Other unrelated experiments involved a study that recorded subject’s physiological reactions, things like pupil dilation as they browsed through their Facebook accounts. These studies have been particularly significant because they revealed that browsing Facebook can trigger a behavioral pattern known as flow state, which is the feeling one gets when they are content and completely immersed in a particular project, task or skill.

Why do we “like”?

Perhaps the most well recognized and popular Facebook icon is the “like” button. Studies have shown that it has to do with three aspects; Identity, empathy and functionality. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center form Washington D.C, revealed that when asked about their routine social media activities, nearly 50% of all American Facebook users “liked” and subsequently commented on a post in their newsfeed at least once a day. 25% of these users admitted to “liking” posts several times a day.

But why can’t we stop liking?
What really makes us like, or not like, a particular piece of content that is up on Facebook? Is there really a method to the “like” concept? Here is probably why:

  1. It’s fast and easy

Well, if you were looking for a better answer, the easiest way to figure out what the “like” really means to you is to probably stop using it entirely!

  1. To profess ourselves

Did you just like a post that described the way you were feeling at the moment? Or liked a line for a song because it was in tune with what your life looked like at that time? What you often fail to realize is how often you might use the “like” button to affirm something about yourself. In another recent study, researchers have discovered that Likes could even project a variety of identification traits that users might not publicly disclose.

  1. To express empathy

Another regular situation is when we like something just as a symbol of solidarity or unity with a family member, friend or an acquaintance and their way of thinking. Social media can, and seemingly is, a way in which people gain “virtual empathy”. And although the empathy might be virtual, the implications of such an act can affect someone in the real-world and could give someone that boost of confidence that was desperately needed or even motivate someone to be better at something.

  1. To be practical

When you decide to like a particular brand or company on Facebook, research has revealed that there is always a practical or hidden motive behind it. A case study drafted by Syncapse, the social media marketing Management Company, found that the majority of users made such a decision based on a desire for incentive, like the desire to get a discount coupon or regular updates from a company they like.


Why do we Comment?


Now, the answer to this question is all too obvious. We typically comment on something when we have something to say or want to convey our feelings. However as uninspired as that might sound, one of the interesting aspects about receiving and serving out comments is how human’s brains react to a comment, as opposed to a “like”. One ongoing large-scale Facebook experiment has discovered that personal messages are ultimately more gratifying than the one-click “like” button. Comments apparently have more perceived value than generic likes. In such a case, it’s recommended that you make the most of comments by regularly engaging in comment sharing on your Facebook community, to keep conversations going as well as keep things interesting.

Why we post?

Another Pew Research study has shown that Facebook users “like” their friends’ content and comment on their photo uploads regularly, most of them have been shown to not make any changes to their own status all that often. The study’s results were as follows:


  • Only 10% of users changed or updated their personal status on a daily basis, with a modest 4% of them updating their status several times a day.
  • 25% of users admitted that they never change or update their own Facebook status; some haven’t posted a status in months and even years!

The above data seems to add up, seeing that users felt that the concept of “oversharing” was one of the most annoying features of Facebook.

Why we share?
Another one of the big 3 of Facebook is the magical “share” button, which allows you to share a post, image, video or song that you like onto your wall. A ground breaking study conducted by The New York Times a few years ago had identified five major drivers for sharing:

  1. To exchange informative or entertaining content with each another – 49% of the study’s subjects said that sharing allowed them to inform others of various products and services that like, have used or want to try out. It even had the potential to change opinions or encourage or discourage an action.
  1. To define themselves –  68% of the subjects stated that they like sharing content so that they can give others a better understanding of who they are and what their interests are.
  1. To foster and nourish relationships – 78% of test subjects mentioned that they share information online via Facebook only because it allows them to stay connected with other people that they aren’t in frequent touch with, or would otherwise stay in touch with.
  1. Self-fulfillment – 69% of the respondents felt that they shared information because it made them feel that they belonged somewhere and that they feel they are more involved in world activities.
  1. To Create Awareness – About 84% of subjects said they share because it is a powerful and easy way to support good causes or issues of interest.


What happens when we just lurk?
Just like everything else in this world, even Facebook has a dark side that most people won’t talk about? Various studies and experiments have revealed worrying data that social media platforms might be making us lonelier, isolated, jealous or even anti-social, which is the exact opposite of their intended use. This is especially true of Facebook because of all the seemingly-perfect and happening lives people project to be living. This negative impact of Facebook appears almost always when we turn into passive viewers or “lurkers” on Facebook, and are not a part of the social euphoria that other users experience.

And if people notice that their social media statuses or shared posts are not being interacted with, they might get the feeling that they don’t fit in.