The Six Elements of Human Behavior That Drive Social Media | Armonk Homes

You have to love a person who describes herself as somebody who studies “the dark side of Customer Management.” Ana Isabel Canhoto is just such as person. An instructor at Oxford Brookes University, Ana is a Twitter friend who recently shared with me highlights of a speech by Paul Fennemore, a Managing Partner at Viapoint.

Fennemore contends that every social media strategist needs to consider six aspects of human behavior if they are to understand the drivers of social media. Social Media may be a relatively recent technological phenomenon, but the behavioral drivers that explain why and how the various platforms are used are old. This post explains, in very basic terms, these six key drivers: altruism, hedonism, homophily, memetics, narcissism and tribalism.


The unselfish devotion to the welfare of others. Application: Social network users readily share information with other users. They share information simply because they believe it may be helpful. This behaviour occurs even when the users do not know who benefits from the information being shared. Example: A study showed that altruism is a primary reason why many travelers selflessly share experiences to help others have a more enjoyable vacation.


A belief that pleasure is the main – or only — goal in life Application: Hedonism can affect social media in two ways: 1) People use social media because doing so is an enjoyable activity. 2) People use social media because it provides a novel way of accessing activities that give them pleasure, such as meeting people. Example: To the dismay of idealists, research shows that young people are usually not using the social web to change the world. They are using it to experience a digital nirvana of a vast supply of movies, music, instant communication and of course, sexual opportunity.


The tendency of human beings to associate with others similar to them. “Birds of a feather flock together.” Application: People tend to join and become attached to social networks whose users share similar interests or beliefs. Example: There are many recent studies revealing the power of peer recommendations on purchasing behavior and product discovery.


The replication of ideas, habits and beliefs across individuals. Commony known as a “meme.” Application: For a marketing message to go viral, it will need to exhibit the following characteristics: 1) be assimilated by a social media user 2) be retained in that user’s memory; 3) be replicated by the user in a way that is observable by other users; 4) be transmitted to other users (who, in turn, assimilate, retain and further replicate the message). Example: Here are some of the best Internet memes of 2011.


Excessive fascination with oneself. Application: Social networks provide an outlet for individuals to engage in self-promotion. Specifically, research suggests that Facebook users are more likely to be extraverted and narcissistic. Example: Recent research from the University of Georgia showed that narcissisistic personalities had higher levels of social activity in the online community and more self-promoting content. Strangers who viewed the Web pages of these users judged the page owners to be more narcissistic.


A person’s strong feeling of identity and loyalty towards a specific group (the tribe). A person derives social value from participating in that community. Application: Social media enables continued interactions between supporters of a brand, and between the consumers and the companies, thus increasing engagement. Example: Reseach in the U.K. shows that restaurants and hotel chains who successfully make customers feel part of an exclusive clan engender loyalty. Tribe members want to contribute to the success of the tribe.

What other key drivers of human behavior would you add to this list? What motivates YOU to use the social web?

Mark Schaefer is a marketing consultant, author and college educator who blogs at {grow}. You can also follow him on Twitter: @markwschaefer.

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