How to create change one behavior at a time.

Trying to Change Behavior? Lessons from Social Media

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If you’re one of the 2 billion active Facebook users, 319 million active Twitter users or 700 million active Instagram users, I’m willing to bet there’s been a time when you opened your app for a quick check only to emerge after more than 30 minutes that felt like about five.

You’re not alone. Search for “social media addiction” and you’ll see headlines like, The Shocking Lessons I Learned After I Quit My Social Media Addiction in 3 Days in the Desert, 12 signs that you're addicted to social media and What I Learned In 12 Weeks Of Therapy For Social Media Addiction.

Why is it so easy for us to spend so much time interacting online with other people?

It’s simple — social media sites are built to be fun, easy and popular. That is, they leverage many of the 14 common determinants that drive behavior. If you’re looking for insight into behavior change best practices, look no further than your social media feed.



Rewards. Have you ever refreshed your post to see how many people liked or commented on it? It’s okay, you don’t have to raise your hand — but you wouldn’t be alone. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even email or texts provide near-instant gratification, which makes it easy for the brain to fall into dopamine induced loops.

Penalties. If you couldn’t go see the latest Star Wars movie the weekend it came out, you probably know what it’s like to feel left out of a conversation. Not being able to participate socially with friends or colleagues as they talk about the latest trending topic, or understand a meme that’s making the rounds in news feeds across the globe, can be enough to make people want to sign up for a social media site (Read: FOMO).

Emotions. Baby animal videos. Enough said.


Environment. Do you remember when videos didn’t autoplay in your timeline? To keep users active, social media developers are always looking for ways to make it easier to get you to act. When sites like Facebook and Twitter moved to autoplay videos and added captions, we saw views and reach go up. As Facebook battles it out with other sites, like YouTube, for your attention, they’ll continue to adapt so you’ll spend more time with them.

Control. Social media sites are built to put each user in the driver’s seat. From who you friend (or unfriend) and follow to what you engage with, you’re the master of your news feed or timeline. You say what goes and what stays, which makes it easier for you to choose to continue to engage.

Investment. This one’s simple — it’s just less time-consuming to engage online than it is in real life. It can also be less mentally draining. Can you imagine starting a conversation with someone 10 minutes before you want to go to bed? Probably not. But sure, you can handle giving their vacation photo a “wow” on Facebook.


Norms. Go ahead. Tell someone you’re not on Facebook. Watch their face as they try to comprehend how that’s even possible. While I’m sometimes envious of people who can choose not to join Facebook, I also know that it’s not likely I’ll ever leave. First of all, I’d have to change careers to leave Facebook. But it’s more than that. As a millennial who joined when a college email address was required for Facebook admission, I feel like I’m supposed to be on Facebook. My college friends are there. My high school friends are there. My middle school friends who I haven’t spoken to in person in over a decade are there. And now, my mom’s there — along with a gaggle of aunt and uncles.

Self-standards. Okay, so I’m a bit of an odd duck here in that a self-standard for me is being someone who can be called an expert on social media. While that self-standard won’t apply to most social media users, many share content because they want to be viewed as a thought leader — the first one to get pop culture, politics or just a fun fact in your feed. We also use social media as a way to better define ourselves to the world. What we share, like or comment on allows us to show others who we are, or who we want to be.

TL;DR, social media developers are taking full advantage of behavioral determinants to keep your eyes on their sites.


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