Your brain is wired for Facebook (really)

There is mounting evidence that social networking sites like Facebook tap into a need for connection that is embedded in our DNA.  We may be actually chemically-predisposed to wasting time on social networks.

A recent post by David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work put it this way: “The brain network that is always on in the background is a region involved in thinking about yourself and other people. This network is so ubiquitous it has been labeled the ‘default network.’  When not doing anything else, the brain’s favorite pastime is to think about people. One study showed that inactivity for just two seconds switched the default network back on.

“Many studies have emerged about the importance of human social interactions to our well-being. We know that social rewards light up the brain’s reward circuits more than non-social rewards, and that social threats, such as feeling lonely or ostracized, light up the threat center more than non-social threats. We’ve even seen that social pain, like being left out of an activity, lights up the same regions as physical pain.

The University of Chicago recently conducted one such study and found social networks to be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.


The bottom line is that the easy and ubiquitous access to electronic connections ignites our brain and creates an addictive formula that keeps people coming back.  It creates intoxicating rewards with little risk.

Facebook is brain crack for a generation.

The smart folks in the gaming business have known this for years. The average World of Worldcraft player spends six hours a day playing a game.

In the long run, this may be the real business benefit of Facebook for many companies. Not ads.  Certainly not accumulating “Likes.” But finding ways to get people to spend increasing amounts of time with their brand … even in an addictive way.

The new economic battlefield

Today, engaging with a brand on Facebook can be mildly interesting.  But isn’t there an opportunity for so much more? Think about this. Facebook must get you to spend more time on its site (to collect personal information and sell you ads). Companies, who are tuning in to the psychology of Facebook, will be finding more and more compelling ways to get you to spend that time with them.  The Attention Economy. This is the new battlefield.

I have yet to see a brand Facebook page that involves me to the point that I can’t wait to come back the next day.  But certainly that is coming, right?

What do you think?  Have you seen any companies effectively getting you hooked on Facebook?  Something more than a short-term contest? And what are the implications when they figure this out?

Link to Your Brain at Work is an affiliate link.

All posts

  • Interesting thoughts Mark. I think that every commercial marketing is trying to get into ones brain behind the actual ratio. The clever make ones achieves this goal the other not really. Kind regards from Germany and have a great week Hansjörg

  • Pingback: Your brain is wired for Facebook (really) | fabriziofaraco()

  • This is so interesting! absolutely fascinating. Having just had an experience with my little one, a seven year old, and ‘in app purchases’ that went a bit awry, I can vouch for the fact the gamers have this stuff nailed! (setting aside the actual issue for me, which was that he bought a whole load of stuff without entering a password – how does that work?)
    I think thats really a ‘holly grail’ for marketers, that level of engagement, to the point that the ‘client’ gladly ‘buys’ in the game / app in that very real sense.
    The closest Ive seen I guess, is the very well branded Zynga games on FB and the like, (as well as the other sorts that Ive already mentioned.) which are capable of holding ones attention for weeks / months, in my experience! 😉
    How long before Gamers get the attention that the kids doing social media now get, and are brought in to design brand pages and websites?
    Not too long I’d imagine
    Great peice again Mark, really made me think today!

  • Pingback: Your brain is wired for Facebook (really) | Learning Molecules |

  • Hopefully if they get into my head and I can also get them out : )

  • It’s happening already. “Gamification” will be one of the hottest trends for years to come! Thanks Tony!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the notion that human beings are “hard wired” to be social. Social mores reinforce this. Individualists that ignore the welfare of others are branded as some sort of psychopaths.

    I also agree that no company has made a case for my spending time with them on Facebook. I imagine that day is coming, but I don’t look forward to it. So much of the time I seek out F2F social interaction in non-commercial environments.

  • Having spent a bit of time on Warcraft a couple years back I know I am pretty susceptible to the odd electronic diversion. Facebook has a long way to go in getting my attention, for me facebook aps are a devolution (like your take on pinterest) from something I would be willing to fritter my time away on. Judging by the enormous amount of “abc has invited you to beat their score in farmville” requests i get that there are plenty of others falling prey to facebook apps though. Thankgod I worked out how to block those requests this week!.
    Oh but OMG to the AVERAGE player spending 6hrs a day on Warcraft. The average player definitely is not married I can assure you of that 🙂

  • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  • Ha! You had me laughing with that one Alec! Thanks for adding your perspective!

  • The reason that the really successful games like WarCraft (and to a lesser degree, Eve Online) are successful is that they _require_ a social interaction for game success. In WarCraft, you can’t go off on your own and get the cool stuff. You *need* a group of people working together. Same goes for Eve Online, and in Eve its an even bigger group than in Warcraft. Facebook also encourages social interactivity, encourages increasing one’s circle of “friends” because the interactivity increases.

    In order for a company to succeed at what you’re imagining, they must create something that requires social interactivity for success. A simple contest isn’t going to do it, but something where people must interact with each other in order to obtain some reward — that will be the ticket.

  • Pingback: Customer Service: Don’t Forget the Follow-Up()

  • Very interesting observation Tom. Many thanks for that!

  • Sandra Isaac

    Games are successful because WE go to THEM. Its not about selling any more, its about engaging. People don’t want to be talked at, they want to be talked to. If I see a person helping another out on the street, and they have a name tag on because they work at the local diner, you better believe I’m going to go out of my way, stop in that diner, have a cup of tea, and maybe more and tell everyone about the great people that work there, etc. Relationships and emotions are what sell in this economy. Branding has to become human(oid).

  • Well said Sandra!

  • Great post as always, Mark. I always find myself reading a lot of your writings. Keep them coming!

    I do agree with the gamers’ understanding of this (per the previous comments), but there is also a catch. They are all PLAYING together. Being entertained. Having fun. If brands get that, they’ll be light years ahead of their competition.

    So, here’s a challenge for you. The one thing that hooked me into commenting was your line toward the end: “I have yet to see a brand Facebook page that involves me to the point that I can’t wait to come back the next day. But certainly that is coming, right?” Albeit, my example is not on Facebook but rather its presence on Twitter specifically, I do know of one brand that is doing a pretty solid job. I dare you to not to keep scrolling down to see what is coming next. 🙂

    Have a look at @TacoTimeNW (NOT me). I would love to hear your take on how Taco Time is doing in your response or even a future blog post!

  • OT in VA

    Mark, FYI, there is an article on Psychology Today’s Web site entitled “Facebook and Your Brain” that explains how Facebook creates positive experiences for its users (and get them “hooked” on Facebook) in terms of brain chemistry, You can read it at:

    Thought you and your readers may find it interesting!

  • Pingback: Hello, 1995! – Why You’re Not Getting Found Online()

  • I had missed that article. Thanks so much for passing it along!

  • Ok. You have me hooked on Taco Time. Very interesting account. Just might be a blog post sir. it’s pretty damn good. Kind of breaks the rules. If there are rules. : )

  • Pingback: Your brain is wired for Facebook (really) | Social Media Marketing for Small Biz |

  • Pingback: Your brain is wired for Facebook (really) |()

  • I watched Single Dad Laughing (a daddy blog) blossom nearly overnight (from friends and family to millions of hits within a year) because the writer has an uncanny way of involving people and getting them to contribute to his Facebook page. I’m certain his FB page and his blog are inextricably linked, and without FB, he wouldn’t be nearly as popular as he is.

  • Pingback: What’s Driving Social Media: Altruism, Hedonism, Narcissism? : Globally Social: New Media and Policy Change()

  • Julie Bittner

    I knew this to be true when my 67 year old mother, also the most stubborn woman born on the planet, very sternly replied “NO!” upon my asking if she would like to have a Facebook account. My brother and I decided to be as stubborn and set one up for her in spite of her clear distaste for the idea. After having done so, I very nervously told her and explained that no tech skills were required on her part, it was fully loaded with family photos and information about her. I also informed her that as quickly as it was set up, it could be taken down. You could not pry her lumia 900 out of her hands now with Crisco & a spatula! She cracks me up when she is scrolling through her news feed and with a grouchy tone, saying the she doesn’t care about these people with their stupid recipes and such and then angrily tosses her $600 phone to the side like it’s a piece of junk mail.. Then QUICKLY picks it back up and returns to FACEBOOK!!!

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast that I co-host with Tom Webster.

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details


Send this to a friend