Why are you addicted to Facebook?
I’ve spent very little time on Facebook in the last few months. Mostly, I get on to use Messenger as an alternative to email. But besides that, I haven’t been much of a Facebook user.
And I generally feel pretty good for it. (I wonder if Facebook algorithms will automatically bury this post when shared?)
You see, Facebook is designed to give you constant, low-level dopamine hits.
These are the same neuro-chemicals that make drugs feel good — and make you addicted to them.
They’re also behind why we love sugar so much. And a whole host of other really interesting behavior.
One of dopamine’s major functions in the brain is in the reward system.
More specifically, the expectation of reward.
That is, if you’re at a casino, playing the slot machines, every time you pull that lever and it’s spinning and you don’t know yet whether you’re going to win or lose, dopamine spikes. And it’s exciting!
Then, when you win, dopamine stays high. But importantly, not nearly as high as that moment before you know the outcome, when the reward could be great or nothing.
And of course, if you lose, dopamine falls quick, which is part of what’s going on when you have that sense of disappointment.
Facebook does the same thing to your brain as a slot machine.
So does every other infinite scroll platform, where you can just keep swiping, and swiping, and swiping to get new content forever.
Every time you swipe, it’s like pulling the lever on that slot machine.
You get a little hit of feel-good chemicals, expecting you might find something worth clicking on. And when you find something worth clicking on, another dopamine spike as you figure out if it’s worth it, or if it was just clickbait.
Swipe, dopamine hit. Swipe, dopamine hit. Click, dopamine rush. And so on.
And it feels good, for a while. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical, after all!
So you keep swiping and clicking. It keeps feeling good.
But then you start to play with the same chemical mechanisms as drug (and sugar!) addiction. When you’re constantly releasing dopamine, your brain habituates to that unnatural level. And so you need more and more stimulation to have that same level of enjoyment.
And if you don’t get more stimulated, you’ll start to have a sense of low-level depression or meaninglessness creep in.
(By the way, rumors have it that a lot of Silicon Valley software company execs won’t let their kids use their platforms, because they understand what I’m telling you here.)
Here’s the offshoot effect of this digital media dopamine deluge…
When our prospects are constantly getting this barrage of high-stimulation messages, their dopamine systems are getting habituated to it.
They need more stimulation and excitement to get the same rise as before.
Headlines, images, curiosity, benefit, and all those other attention ploys need to be more and more over the top, just to get noticed.
Hype gets turned up to the max.
It’s a vicious cycle. Because in order to get attention, you have to get more spectacular, which increases habituation, which means you’ll have to get even more spectacular, and so on…
Call it a downward spiral.
That’s why clickbait is so bad.
It’s why marketers seem absolutely ridiculous in the claims and promises they make.
It’s because they HAVE TO do it that way, to even get your attention in the first place.
You take the high road, I’ll take the low road…
I’m referencing the song, not actually claiming my path.
There’s two ways to deal with this. One is to do everything you can to play to that expectation of reward and the market’s need for more and more dopamine.
And short term, that tends to be the most profitable strategy.
But taking the high road is, from my perspective, the better long-term play.
First off, you’re avoiding contributing the problem as much as you can, while still running a profitable business.
Second, you’ll build relationships for life with customers who trust you to not manipulate them.
And third, you can still build a successful, sustainable business.
So what is this high road? It’s all about actively siding AGAINST the dope(amine) men and women who are constantly playing to this need for ever-more stimulation. It’s about building lifetime relationships with customers based on delivering a ton of value, such that you’re less addicted yourself to getting new customers. And it’s about doing the right thing, even when that’s sometimes hard.
Facebook, like Google before them, is a good case study in this. Both were dealing with a glut of advertisers competing for limited ad inventory. And, both were dealing with dopamine dealer advertisers who were largely making empty claims and promises, and creating bad customer experience. And some of these bad actors were spending a ton on advertising, and willing to spend more.
No-go. First Google, then Facebook, and in the future any other similar platform pulled BACK in favor of a better user experience. One that played to the expectation of reward system a tiny bit less, even if it was (and is) still heavy on that. One that required straightforward, believable claims.
Neither are perfect, and they never will be.
But in a world where the dopamine systems are getting constant stimulation, they’ve done a pretty good job running a successful business that succeeds because of that, while trying to minimize abuse of their platforms.
How can YOU use this?
First, recognize it’s a truth of how our brains work that you have to appeal to that expectation of reward system if you want to communicate through any media.
A loving relationship also triggers the dopamine system.
As does a good (healthy) meal for someone who eats well.
It’s not bad or good in itself.
And so you should use it. Just be mindful of how, and what the trade-off is.
Because if you abuse it over and over again, you’ll end up with a bunch of marketing junkies on your hands, who are pretty much requiring you to lie to them just to get through their dopamine-deficient apathy.
Be believable. Deliver value. Build relationships. Look out for your customers, treating them like you’d like to be treated if your roles were reversed.
In the end, that’s a pretty good way to live life. And it leads to consistent, persistent business growth.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,