Neuropsychology and Social Media

In our last blog in the series, Neuropsychology and Marketing, we explained why one of the most effective strategies in digital advertising is also one of the simplest: if you make consumers feel “warm and fuzzy” about your ads, they’ll associate these positive feelings with your brand.

Now, we’re expanding on our exploration of the human brain and looking at the place where the majority of online video marketing occurs: social media sites. Here’s a breakdown of social media’s effects on the human brain, and how marketers can leverage these neurological pathways to communicate an effective brand message to their target audience.

How Social Media Affects the Brain

Dr. Paul Zak, a Claremont University professor who has a developed his own field of “neuroeconomics” — a discipline that combines parts of economics, biology, psychology, and neuroscience — spent nine years conducting experiments on the ways that we interact with social media, culminating in this discovery: the human brain is affected by social connection in the same ways online as it is offline.

The key to this is something we discussed in our last article: oxytocin, aka “the cuddle hormone” — the neurotransmitter that’s released when we feel love or affection for any reason. Essentially, oxytocin represents the way we feel when we make a legitimate social connection. As Dr. Zak found through his research, we feel something similar when we make a connection on Facebook or get a like on an Instagram post.

The Developing Brain on Social Media

What this means is that social media has more of an influence on how our brain reacts to things than we want to believe. Oxytocin has been found to amplify both positive and negative social experiences, meaning that we’re more emotionally susceptible to what we see when we log into Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

So how can marketers use this information to cultivate brand loyalty?

How Marketers Can Use Neuropsychology to Their Advantage

There’s a growing school of thought around using neuropsychology to inform a marketing strategy, called “neuromarketing”. More and more marketers are using research about neuropsychology to figure out exactly how to sell to their target audience.

Since there’s no “Intro to Neuromarketing” textbook, we’ve compiled some key points. Here are a few tips on how to use the neurological effects of social media to your advantage as a marketer:

Use emotional appeals to your advantage

In our last piece on neuromarketing, we explained why cat videos (and similar content) are never going to go away: the effects of oxytocin and mirror neurons combine to ensure that that “warm and fuzzy” feeling that a person gets from watching a video starring a cute animal is the same way they feel about your brand when you incorporate this type of subject matter into your advertising.
When you broadcast a video or even a regular social media post to your followers, use this effect to your advantage. Appeal to your audience’s emotional response by showing them something heartwarming that can be associated with your brand, and you’ll have a better chance of developing these followers to be more loyal to your brand.

Create an “exclusive” brand

You already know that social media produces oxytocin in its users and oxytocin causes the impact of social connection to be stronger, but did you know that this can have the opposite effect as well?

You might be familiar with the phrase “FOMO”. It means “Fear of Missing Out”, and just like it sounds it describes a feeling of pain and jealousy about being excluded from something others are doing. This feeling is actually rooted in neuropsychology:

The Cyberball experiment

CyberBall is a computer game in which one participant takes part in a game with two others. In the game, the three parties throw a virtual ball around by receiving it and then choosing who to throw it to next. Researchers first used this game measure a person’s neurological response when the “ball” suddenly stopped coming to them because the two other parties began to play with each other. Using equipment to measure neuron activity in the brain, they found that the “left out” player had extremely high arousal.

This phenomenon explains why “exclusive” marketing can be so effective with audiences that regularly use social media. For example, when the streaming music player Spotify reached American consumers in 2010, it was invite-only. Consumers had only a loose idea of what the product was, but since they could only get it via a code, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with people talking about how to get their hands on one.

We can observe this more on a daily basis with rewards programs, members’ clubs, and loyalty discounts — brands are capitalizing on oxytocin by using variations of the same message: “all your friends are doing it, why aren’t you?”.

Don’t worry about ROI as much

Sure, you can measure and monetize your efforts on Facebook and Instagram. To capitalize on all the opportunities of neuromarketing, not all of your efforts should prioritize the bottom line.

Your real priority here should be authenticity. Consumers will respond more to relatable daily musings than a big brand clearly trying to pander to them. Here’s what we mean:


When crafting a message, it can be difficult to resist saying exactly what you think your audience wants to hear. A 2018 survey from AdWeek shows why this may hurt more than it boosts your brand:

  • To the statement “I am turned off to advertising that portrays my generation in a clichéd manner”, 77% of millennials agreed
  • 82% agreed with this statement: “I like when brand messages are honest and transparent”

What this shows is that audiences, especially those who are more aware of variations is brand messaging are not falling for the fakes. If you communicate something, it had better be authentic to the persona of your business.

Relatable Content

Relateble Content

On the other hand, here’s Wendy’s Restaurants’ popular Twitter account taking part in a trend and integrating “behind the curtain” humor in a way that presents the brand as a natural, authentic and relatable figure.

Leverage social proof

Social proof: social media influencers

Most brands know the benefits of using influencers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) in their industry marketing, but have you ever wondered what makes social media figures so influential?

It all goes back to oxytocin, which is associated with social behavior, compassion and trust. Being able to relate to a public figure on social media releases neurotransmitters that make a person feel a personal connection to that person and any product or brand they endorse, even when that connection has never existed.

Social proof: priming

Priming is the study of how an earlier stimulus affects the way you respond to a later stimulus. So, in our case, priming refers to how hearing something first impacts the way you hear what comes later.

Let’s say your company sells some type of business software. When it comes to your organic social media, you’re naturally going to post things that highlight the benefits of using your software, but what if you take your team away from the office for a day to do a service project? How does that fit in?

Leveraging this seeming unrelated content is key to neurological priming. Even though the photos of you volunteering probably won’t do anything in the short-term to sell your product, your followers will associate you doing a “good” thing with your brand. The next day, or the next week, or even the next month, when you post a special discount on your software, the people who saw your previous post about charity work are probably going to be more likely to buy it than those who didn’t.

Using Neuromarketing to Get Ahead on Social Media

The fact is this: the social media space is oversaturated with messages, so marketers need new ways to cut through the noise.

Neuromarketing is the science of working with the natural responses of the human brain to develop your brand and communicate more effectively with your target audience.

Need help utilizing the tactics mentioned to leverage neuropsychology on social media?
Contact us today.