Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter that is a key part of what makes us human. Its transmission in the brain motivates us and can drive competitive behaviour. It also reinforces behaviours that make us feel good.

Social affirmation is a fundamental human desire: the need to be recognised and acknowledged is inherent in our self-esteem. Strokes are the recognition or attention we give each other, consciously and unconsciously. They can be positive “warm fuzzies” or negative “cold pricklies”. Dopamine helps us remember how good we feel when we get warm fuzzy strokes, and helps us adapt our behaviour to get more positive strokes in the future.


What drives people to engage in social media?

As long ago as 2009 Creston was already exploring different motivations for consumers using social media. Since then the development of more open and ‘democratic’ networks have created new ways in which we can all connect and interact, and more importantly, ways we can feel good about ourselves.

  • We can follow clever, funny, interesting people on Twitter and retweet their wisdom to our own friends (or simply pass it off as our own).
  • Simply following celebrities opens up (at least in our minds) the possibility of an actual relationship. Why else would Justin Bieber have 21m followers?
  • Instagram & Pinterest enable us to express our creativity, and to follow other creative people

We all need a bit of love

The basic number of our followers or friends is becoming less important than the strokes we get from those networks. In social media terms this means, Likes, Comments, Shares, @replies and Retweets, re-pins, +1s and so on. Not only do we crave these affirmations of ourselves, but we crave them from people we respect. This is not just about ‘ordinary’ people seeking out celebrity contact. A couple of days ago I noticed this very human reaction from TV & Radio presenter Lauren Laverne…

She’s clearly a fan of Molly Ringwald, and this simple conversation kick-started the Dopamine Effect for her. A whole food-chain of positive strokes then cascaded down to her followers, as one of them wonderfully explained…

Stroke your fans

Brands are like people: they need positive strokes too. On a basic level this includes listening to what motivates your followers and adapting conversations and posts to get a better response. More importantly, brands must give positive strokes to their fans. A significant reason they follow your brand is that one day you might acknowledge their existence, that they feel they can input and influence it. If they go to the effort of talking to you directly, the very least you can do is reply. And if in doing so, you kick off the dopamine effect in your fans, they’ll keep coming back for more.

So perhaps you should think about your brands, your consumers and their dopamine levels. What sort of positive strokes do your fans give you? What sort of strokes do you give them?

How do your brand communications encourage positive interactions? What channels, tools and techniques do you use that could help them give and receive more positive strokes?

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About the author

Chris Moody, Head of Insights & Data Strategy
Chris joined The Real Adventure in 2003 after 10 years working client-side with Kraft, St Ivel and Barclaycard. From Day One at TRA he has immersed himself in the world of mums and babies, leading our strategic planning for Aptamil, the leading brand of baby milk in the UK, with CRM programmes for both consumers and healthcare professionals. He recently took on a new role as Head of Insights & Data Strategy, to build the agency’s capabilities in developing compelling consumer insights as well as harnessing and exploiting the challenges and opportunities of Big Data for our clients.