The Science of Social Media Marketing: How Social Media engagement can trigger the release of trust building hormone oxytocin and the implications for brands.
-by Ryan Northover.
Recent research into the role the hormone oxytocin plays in fostering human relationships may help explain the higher propensity for people who interact with brands on social media to trust, recommend and buy from those brands than non-followers.
In 2010, market research firm Harris Interactive found 75% of users viewed firms that used Twitter were more deserving of their trust than those that do not.
In April 2012, research from Motista suggested followers of brands on Social Media were far more likely to recommend products to their networks and were more willing to spend on those brands than non-followers.
The role oxytocin plays in interactions, both in person and online, may help explain this trend.
Oxytocin is the molecule responsible for creating empathy, generosity and trust, the "social glue" that adheres families and societies, enabling humans to engage in all sorts of transactions.
First identified as the hormone seen in the creation of bonds between mothers and their new born children, in the last several years, multiple studies have identified the messenger chemical as a key factor in the creation of bonds of trust from intimate relationships to business dealings.
Studies have shown that oxytocin levels in the blood rise dramatically not just in moments of intimacy, but in situations where a person extends herself in a trusting way to another. The rise in oxytocin is especially high in the person on the receiving end of the gesture.
In his book “The Moral Molecule” Neuroeconomist Dr. Paul J. Zak suggests “social snacking” that happens on Twitter and Facebook can also prompt an oxytocin surge.
The research, conducted over the last ten years, showed that when someone’s level of oxytocin rose, he or she responds more generously and caringly, even with complete strangers.
“We found that you don’t have to shoot chemical up someone’s nose, or have sex with them, or even give them a hug in order to create a surge in oxytocin that leads to more generous behavior. To trigger this all you have to do is give someone a sign of trust.”
One experiement by Dr. Zak was chronicled in a 2010 Fast Company Magazine article on Dr. Zak by Journalist Adam L. Penenberg.
In the experiment, “In Which I Learn to Love by Tweeting Madly”, Penenberg had blood samples taken before and after a bout of Tweeting at Zak’s lab.
The reporter’s oxytocin levels were said to have spiked 13.2% after a round of highly engaged Tweeting. “That was the equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by the groom at the wedding Zak attended,” Penenberg reported.
"Your brain interpreted tweeting as if you were directly interacting with people you cared about or had empathy for," Zak said. "E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection."
These findings have important implications for social media marketers and how organizations should think about communication, marketing and sales practices.
The studies on oxytocin suggests effective, empathetic and genuine engagement by brands with users of highly interactive social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest & Instagram can lead to an increase in trust and empathy.
Creating positive experiences through new and highly interactive technologies, like smartphone apps or real world experiences, is becoming an integral part of a wider need to build trust and empathy for your brand among fans and consumers.
To build and maintain valuable brands, creating bonds of trust through outreach and engagement becomes an extremely important factor that will build stronger word of mouth, advocacy and affinity with your brand, and ultimately increased brand equity.
Brands will rise and fall based on finding, or not, the right mix of quality products, honest and empathetic engagement and genuine customer care.