I hadn’t touched a Cosmo magazine since I was 22 years old. But, I was on a plane en route to a bachelorette party in NYC and it just seemed, well, fitting for the moment. As I flipped through the pages (to my surprise) I came across an interesting article about Likes.
It talked about people who are actually addicted to them. I’m calling this addiction Likeaholism because it causes a neurochemical reaction. “When you get a Like and feel social connectivity, oxytocin is released, which triggers serotonin and a chain reaction in the [body’s] reward circuitry,” says Director of the Media Psychology Research Center Pamela Rutledge, PhD. “The reward encourages us to repeat the action.”
According to Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Susan Krauss Whitbourne, “You get an emotional high when your posts hit a responsive chord with your audience, so you keep going after it, and you’re never fulfilled because you’ll always want more Likes.”
“Some people wonder, ‘If I had an experience or thought that not enough people Liked it, did it still have value? Do I still have value?’” says Dr. Rutledge. “More women than ever are relying on social media Likes and views to give meaning to their lives, feel validated, and boost their self-esteem.”
Even sadder, research shows that even when posts receive Likes in the triple digits, it’s still not enough for people with low self-esteem. They continue to focus on their posts with a low number of Likes, fixating on the negative and confirming their crappy-feeling image.
Reading all of this really struck a chord with me. Luckily, I wouldn’t classify myself as a Likeaholic, but I do enjoy getting my Like buzz on and checking in on my posts a couple times a day. But, what I like even more than that is advertising you can feel good about. Work that doesn’t reinforce this societal problem, but rather helps to relieve it.
Here are some of my thoughts on what we can do as ad folks:
- Be transparent. If you enhanced a photo, don’t lie about it! Consumers will appreciate your honesty. There’s an 18-year-old model who made headlines for quitting Instagram proclaiming, “Never again will I let a number define me.” She’s back, but her posts are blatantly honest—and still getting a crazy number of Likes. For example, there’s a pic of her in a bikini with: There’s nothing candid about this shot. I felt the strong desire to pose with my thighs just apart #thighgap boobs pushed up #vsdoublepaddingtop and face away because obviously my body is my most likeable asset.
- Don’t ask for likes, retweets, shares, and reactions. Put it out there and let whatever happens, happen naturally. If your brand was a person, you’d be like someone Dr. Rutledge spoke of. An individual with low-confidence who’s begging the world for social approval and validation. Pathetic? I think so.
- Use real people. Real stories. Real everything. Think about what Dove does to uplift and encourage women to be themselves—and be happy about that acceptance. A Ford Report on “Vying for Validation” said, “A dozen Likes makes us feel great, creating a quiet, but fierce need to revisit the pieces of our narrative, to tweak, color, and edit them to our liking—and to the liking of others.” Why be deceptive about the kind of person who uses your services or products? Or the actual results? Why opt for the model when the real testimonial is more relatable to your audience?
I realize a lot of what has been said here is pretty controversial and several of you may not agree. However, I believe it’s all worth a try. And personally, I’ll sleep better (with Cosmo by my bedside) knowing I’m creating work that’s making a positive impact on society.