Key to Feel-Good Social Media: Prompting Self-Disclosures


Getting your target audience to share their sentiments and opinions on social networks does more than increase your engagement stats—it makes your audience feel good. According to new Harvard research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people tend to share personal information on social media because it triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain that they get from food, money or sex.

In the studies, participants underwent fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanning while they were prompted to alternately talk about their own beliefs and opinions or what they thought about someone else’s beliefs and opinions. The studies found that there was a significantly greater response in the region of the brain associated with the feeling of reward when the participants were sharing their own opinions and attitudes than when they were judging those of another person.

“Together, studies 1 and 2 provided both behavioral and neural evidence that self-disclosure is intrinsically rewarding,” said researchers Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell in the report. The results of a third study suggest that disclosing information to other people is more rewarding than internalizing it.

What does this data mean for PR pros? Considering that recent surveys of the Internet (which the report cites) indicate that about 80% of posts to social media sites consist simply of announcements about one’s own immediate experiences, potentially quite a lot.

In a recent PR News Q&A, Discovery Communications’ Amber Harris, director, digital communications and social media, said, “The key to social success is starting with your audience—getting to know them and the true reason they have chosen to like, follow or pin you.” The Harvard study indicates that people have a biological tendency toward sharing. To be successful on these social platforms, it’s important to let the audience drive the content—largely, because they already want to.

Attend PR News’ two-day Social Media Summit/Taste of Tech event June 21-22 in New York City and learn more from digital leaders like Amber Harris.

Follow Sahil Patel: @sizpatel





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