Aditi Bhatnagar


How Social Media uses Influence Psychology to Keep You Coming Back

Part 1

This post will talk about how social medias — and, in a way, all existing apps and websites — use psychological hacks and triggers to keep bringing you back to their platforms.

If you’ve been thinking that it’s your fault/careless attitude that you end up spending hours on YouTube, well, it’s not exactly your fault. Today we have an “attention economy” and our cognitive triggers are been taken advantage of to get us back on the medium again and again. In other words, to get us “hooked”.

Let’s dig deep into how it happens:

Throughout this series I will be drawing references from the book Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and propose how the trick might have been used in designing social medias in their current form.

In the book, Robert B. Cialdini begins with giving examples of how the action of certain animals are fixed for certain triggers, no matter how illogical it may seem. For example, in the case of female Turkeys, if a chick makes the “cheep-cheep” noise, its mother will care for it; if not, the mother will ignore or sometimes kill it. Experiments showed that she responds to the trigger “cheep-cheep”, even if a natural enemy goes “cheep-cheep” she will embrace it — but mistreat or murder one of her chicks if they don’t.

This is demonstrated across different organisms, there are certain triggers they respond to it a patterned way for most of the times. And, even though we may think this is utterly nonsensical, the truth is: even humans respond to certain triggers.

An experiment showed that while asking for a favor, if you use the word “because”, the chances of getting an approval increase dramatically. So when a person at the back in a waiting queue for the printer instead of saying , “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” rather says “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies”, the odds increases from 60 % to 94 %, just because a reason is provided, even if it’s not a real reason. In essence, the presence of certain triggers exist in humans too, unlike the mostly instinctive response sequences of non humans, our automatic tapes usually develop from psychological principles or stereotypes we have learned to accept.

Humans can respond to certain triggers in a patterned way, which might not seem logical always. Therein lies an automatic compliance response.

The Rule for Reciprocation

“Make no mistake, human societies derive a truly significant competitive advantage from the reciprocity rule and consequently they make sure their members are trained to comply with and believe in it. Each of us has been taught to live up to the rule, and each of us knows about the social sanctions and derision applied to anyone who violates it.”

There is a general distaste for those who take and make no effort to give in return , we will often go to great lengths to avoid being considered one of their number.

This is how we have grown up. This reciprocity is been used across the marketing space, when they give you free samples or small favors, there is an unsaid rule executed that would urge you to reciprocate their favors, thus making you more likely to buy their products. There are several examples from history, be it the fund raising techniques of Hare Krishna religious sect in England who used to give a flower or Bhagvad Gita copy to person before asking for donation (which made them more likely to give donation), or be it actress Sally Kellerman lending her name and efforts to democratic hopeful Jerry Brown because he was the only one who showed up out of ten friends she asked to help her move ten years ago.

People reciprocate. Period.

And this rule is really powerful; sometimes even overpowers existent distasteful feelings towards a person too.

I guess our major activities on Social Medias are driven by this rule.
Tagging a person if the person has previously tagged you.
Mutual liking of pics.
Follow for a follow.

No doubt one technique which has gone viral on Instagram to increase followers is just go and follow a person and the person would be more likely to follow back under the instinctive reciprocity rule. Later they might unfollow them secretly, which the other person is unaware of, thus keeping their own followers count high. Sigh.

An overview depicts that this rule maybe one of the driving factors in keeping the platforms going, making people get back to it and use it, because, well, they have pending list of reciprocation at the back of their mind.

I’m not claiming that every one does this, but when a “mob” is involved there are strong chances for this behavior to exhibit.

What’s next? What makes us click that red notification bell? What keeps us pulling down to refresh our feeds or mail box every now and then? What makes us post stories on Instagram? There are many intriguing questions coming our way…

But as this post has reached its length, let’s end this one here.

Hope you enjoyed this post. I’ll get back to you on the remaining questions in upcoming parts of this series.

Till then, take care, be happy and disconnect for a while ~

This post is authored under the concept of Summer of 90s.

Summer of 90s is an initiative to consciously analyze our usage of tech and spread awareness about the issues it brings along like digital privacy, security, tech addictions and design ethics.

You’re welcome to join us in the cause!

Follow us on medium, on Facebook or @summer.of.90s on Instagram because we need to spread the word.

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