Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twitter, je t’aime

You know how you’re totally addicted to social media? And how we always say it’s essential to a marketing plan because of the connections you can make with your customers on an emotional level? Now, thanks to this really fascinating article in Fast Company it all makes sense.

This article discusses the correlation between levels of oxytocin (affectionately referred to as the “cuddle hormone”) in your bloodstream, its effects on your emotions and why, as a result we can’t get enough.

Allow us to nerd out for a minute. Oxytocin is responsible for love, trust and empathy, and for the longest time, scientists thought it was primarily responsible for the reason mothers bond immediately with their babies. Now, thanks to some hefty research involving voles (basically fancy rodents), we know that oxytocin affects little receptors in our brain that give us that warm, fuzzy feeling and long-term attachment… you know, love. Furthermore, we know that this feeling is totally addictive (yes, Robert Palmer was right). The parts of the brain affected by love and this hormone are not the same as other emotions like anger, jealousy or even friendship. In reality, your response to oxytocin is more like your response to COCAINE.
Kind of cute, aren't they?

So that’s fine and good, but what Dr. Zak from the Fast Company article has discovered (albeit he needs a little more statistical evidence), is that oxytocin can do more than just make us fall head over heels. After giving a group of college students oxytocin or a placebo and then asking them to watch various PSAs, those that received the hormone were nearly 50% more likely to donate to the charity. It stands to reason– with elevated levels we are more inclined to trust and empathize.

But here’s the kicker. In another test, a before and after blood test of someone conversing on Twitter for 10 minutes showed an elevation of oxytocin levels rise as much as 13%! This is comparable to a similar test of a couple on their wedding day. Again, we need more conclusive research, but IF this turns out to be commonplace, its implications could be huge, essentially suggesting that companies interacting with people on social media are not only connecting on a higher level, but connecting at the moment when trust and empathy are at their peak.

Earlier in June a New York Times article documented a family whose addiction to technology was indicative of a much larger trend in our society - the need to be tuned-in, available and communicating as much as possible, sometimes to the detriment of our mental state. To us, it seems like this can further be explained by Dr. Zak’s findings and the addictive nature of oxytocin and consequently social media. Who among us hasn’t been a little distracted at the onset of a new relationship? When love takes over, we do crazy things, and just think – social media might have the same degree of influence.

So to everyone who questions the quality of social media relationships and worries about the decline of communication and real conversation, take note. These platforms could be even more powerful than we think, and the opportunities for capitalizing on this huge forum are endless. And, props to the voles (switch the letters and it spells “loves”!) for taking one for the team… you know we can’t support animal testing, even if it is for the sake of marketing.


Anonymous said...

RE "someone conversing on Twitter for 10 minutes showed an elevation of oxytocin levels rise as much as 13%!"

I'd be very curious if someone has done that same study with I find FB and LinkedIn to be reciprocal communication. While twitter and flickr are CREATION based communities. Create a photo. Do something creative. Post something funny on twitter. Knock out an awesome haiku. CREATE! And my bet is the number is even higher for flickr, the first social network that really "got" me.

Great geeky post BTW.

Christine said...

And Black Sheep, je T'AIME! Loved this post, Aimee: Really, I "loved" it! Like I tweeted just now, this got me thinking about oxytocin and mother love and how much I loved MY two voles (Thing 1 and Thing 2) from the very start--even before I laid eyes on them-- when Thing 2 called just to tell me that she loves me. How's THAT for uncanny timing?! Love, love, love: Love is all we need!

As for social media begetting love and connection and trust: I've felt the love from the start!

And one last love tap: Thanks SO much for including that classic Robert Palmer video: love, Love, LOVED that!

@meghannn said...

Insane. Awesome.