Psychology of Social Networks: What makes us addicted?

Psychology of Social Networks

Have you ever thought about the number of times you check social networks? Is it a few times a week? Once a day? Seventy-two percent of online adults use social media and the average user spends 23 hours a week on social media – that’s the equivalent of a part time job!

We are living in the social media era.

– 2 billion worldwide social network users

– 500 million tweets sent every day

– 70 million images uploaded on Instagram every day

– 300 hours of video uploaded per minute on YouTube

What makes us so addicted?

Social networks are an extension of ourselves.

Communication occurs during interaction, and our need to be connected and interact with others is universal and unavoidable; hidden behind this social instinct there is the even more powerful necessity of giving sense and meanings to our world. Being in touch with others, allows us to create social universes made of symbols – e.g. language, numbers, gestures, emoticons 🙂 – and social rules, which are shared and understood by everybody.

Social validation is an important part of being human. A Facebook ‘Like’ or a Twitter ‘Favourite’ is a social signal that makes us feel good.

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a large driver of social network use, particularly for those aged thirty and under. Sixty-seven percent of users say that they’re afraid they’ll “miss something.” Dr Stephanie Rutledge explains:

We have a brain wired for collaboration, compromise, restraint, comprehending and managing one’s place in shifting-alliances. We notice when others are doing something that excludes us. It will trigger some primitive survival responses. People under 30 are still in the period when they are establishing their own lives, developing personal and professional identities, becoming economically viable (creating alliances), etc. Their focus will of necessity be social.

Ego needs a platform to showcase itself and social networks are the perfect answer. Eighty percent of our online conversations are self-disclosure, compared to 30 to 40 percent of offline conversations. We live in a ‘Me’ society with an obsession of the ‘self’ that drives us to update our status and tag ourselves in photos (but only those that we look good in of course).

Social comparison and self esteem increase. People compare themselves to assess feelings, strengths, weaknesses, abilities and perspectives. Having your social connections reaffirmed makes you feel good.

Brain chemistry. Social networks are physically addictive as well as psychologically. A study from Harvard University showed that self-disclosure online fires up a part of the brain that also lights up when taking an addictive substance, like cocaine.

Communication is to be human

One cannot not communicate (Watzlawick & the Palo Alto School, 1967) is one of the reasons adopted in social and clinical psychology. The social world is socially constructed through interactions between people: roles, rules, categorisations, stereotypes, normality, deviance are results of human sharing, the outcome of our being humans.

Woman on mobile phone

Social networks have the power to amplify this human nature. They have broken the barriers of distance and time, of presence and visibility. They expand the possibilities of sharing and playing identities. They fulfil the most deeply human need of finding a psychological distinctiveness and self-definition in a social context.

They become stages where observing, examining, take part to the “social staging”; the script interpreted is made by interactional dynamics, social rules, emotions and so on;

An extension of our offline world

Facebook profiles become teenagers’ “virtual bedrooms” (Hodkinson and Lincoln, 2008), meant as virtual environments to be personalised, to meet peers and play at adulthood. Several studies demonstrate that users experience the interaction on social media as an extension of their offline social relationships, as a supplement to their real life, and not as a substitution of it.

Social networks are an extension of our most deep psychological instinct, being social

Social networks become stages with no time and no space.

In conclusion, “all media are extensions of some human faculty” (Marshall McLuhan). Social networks are an extension of our most deep psychological instinct, being social.

Social Media

Need help or advice?

If you’d like to know more about UX psychology and how it can help you, contact our UX experts for free, friendly, no-ties advice.

Other posts you may find interesting:

10 psychology techniques to drive behaviour
Behaviour modelling: How to make dogs drive cars and users click buttons

References
  • Paul WatzlawickJanet Beavin BavelasDon D. Jackson (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies and Paradoxes. Norton & Company Inc, NY.
  • Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behavior. Social Science Information,13, 65-93. 
  • Hodkinson, P., Lincoln, S. (2008). Online Journals as Virtual Bedrooms? Young People, Identity and Personal Space. Young, 16(1) pp.27-46.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

A day of eye tracking at the Expo

Eye tracking is amazing, insightful, state of the art technology that enables you to literally see through people’s eyes. It’s most often used to increase sales on e-commerce websites, software or products but can also be used to measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns before they launch.

If you’ve never used eye tracking to gain insights into consumer behaviour then you really are missing a whole section of vital information to improve your user experience and conversion.

We recently exhibited at Salford Business Expo where we held live, interactive eye tracking demos using our website eye tracking unit. The unit looks like a standard computer monitor however inside are hidden cameras that track the users’ eye movements, mapping them onto what’s being tested so we can see in real time precisely where they’re looking.

One of our live eye tracking demos

Website eye tracking demo

 

We have several types of eye tracking units from a portable pair of glasses to large Monitors, that we use to test a whole range of things:

Digital – Websites, software, touch interfaces, mobile apps, tablet apps

Products and hardware ergonomics – Mobile phones, machinery, remote controls

Marketing – Adverts in magazines, digital adverts online, billboards

Packaging / out of the box experience – Does your packaging attract the customer? Measure and compare your out-of-the box experience.

Shopping customer experience – How do customers shop in your store? What draws their attention? Does your product / brand stand out against competitor products?

On a very basic level we’re observing and analysing human behaviour with digital and product platforms, our aim being to improve the interaction by making it feel intuitive, easy and enjoyable. If you can achieve this people are 87% more likely to buy from you, they’ll buy more, come back more frequently and will be 3 times more likely to recommend you.

We were impressed by their focus on what actually works, rather than just what looks nice on a mock up

Visitors to our stand at the expo were clearly fascinated and amazed when we replayed their eye tracking videos back to them, discussing with them why certain elements of the website being tested caught their attention and why other things that should have in theory caught their attention didn’t. User behaviour is unpredictable and differs between types of people, so for design to work to sell your product or service and not just look pretty, it needs to be user centred.

Just like a shop front, if people aren’t drawn in through the door by seeing something that appeals to them or if they can’t work out how to get through the door, they’ll walk on by and stop at your competitor instead.

We run and analyse all our eye tracking research so we do all the hard work for you, delivering the insights you need to sell more of your products or services.

We had a brilliant day at the expo, educating the people of Salford and Manchester to the benefits of user experience and eye tracking and we hope at the very least that they start to think more about the people using their website or product. As opposed to designing something that just looks nice, our designs actually work to bring you more sales (as well as looking nice too of course!).

An example of our mobile and tablet eye tracking unit setup

Mobile and tablet eye tracking setup

Why the girl fell into the fountain

One of the most viewed videos on youtube recently has been of a girl who whilst walking down the shopping mall, becomes so engrossed in using her mobile phone that she doesn’t notice the mall’s water feature in front of her and trips right into it! So far it’s received nearly two million views. Why is it so popular? Because we’ve all walked down the street whilst texting, not looking where we’re going and we all know that could have been us! However it does bring to our attention how the environment affects the user and how we should design products with the users’ context very much in our thoughts.

Mobile hardware

It used to be easy to multitask with your phone didn’t it?… to ‘text and walk’. Hardware keys were prolific and big…you could feel the tactile separation between each key. It was almost like touch typing on a computer keyboard – you knew what each button was for and you could find each button by touch alone. You could then press the button easily, receiving a positive, satisfying click feel before moving swiftly onto the next button. Many users in usability tests told us how they even used to text whilst driving! We certainly wouldn’t recommend this, however it does demonstrate how easy it was to multitask.

Now touchscreen devices are the cool thing to be seen using. The tactile feedback on them isn’t fantastic and is nothing like pressing a real physical button. The consequences being that we cannot mobile multitask like we used to. You HAVE to look at the onscreen keyboard and user interface whilst using the device and you have to walk a lot slower or even stop altogether to be able to input accurately. Add to this several shopping bags being carried, friends chatting away to you and before you know it using your mobile has become a real annoyance!

Design for the user

By understanding the users motivations, their environment and context of use, we can help ease their pain through good and thoughtful design. We can help the user to be less error prone by enlarging hit areas. We can help their decisiveness through simplifying the content onscreen (less is more). We can help speed up frequent use cases by designing for a flow, with good call-to-actions. We can be thoughtful of colours and contrast to limit screen reflections.

Attention

Humans find dividing their attention between two tasks very difficult unless one of the tasks has been performed so many times that it’s become almost second nature, such as driving. You may recall when you first learnt to drive that you had to really concentrate on what you were doing but now it feels natural and you can happily hold a conversation, listen to music and drive at the same time with very little effort.

Unfortunately for the girl in the mall, she was unable to allocate mental resources to both watching where she was going and using her mobile, preferring to concentrate her resources on her phone. Of course it may be that it was a new phone or the activity she was performing may have been particularly engaging, so she was having to apply more attention than usual. She sure paid the price!