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Published June 23rd 2016

Ask an Expert: Clickbait, Dopamine Loops and Using Psychographics

We all know that social media is extremely important in the digital age, and at her keynote speech at Brandwatch’s Now You Know Conference, Nathalie Nahai unpacked what drives that—specifically the psychology that drives social media behavior.

Why is social content so appealing?

During Nathalie’s talk, she explained different types of social content, and how it connects to the humans that absorb and share the content on their social platforms.



Using five distinct points, Nathalie provided the psychological reasoning behind social gold  like  gifs, slogans, and innocuous videos that have suddenly become viral sensations.

According to Nathalie, social content can:

  1. Be a carrier for emotional contagion (Nathalie shared adorable gifs of a sleepy bunny and kitten)
  2. Indicate the mood of the sharer (Nathalie recalled the sensation of Grumpy Cat)
  3. Provoke curiosity (She shared the Killer Headline formula, which I’ll touch on later)
  4. Act as social commentary (Nathalie shared an image of the Je Suis Charlie movement)
  5. Create a shared cultural experience (Nathalie shared the story of a young flautist becoming a sensation from a shared Facebook event).

These reasons behind social content effectively capture why social content is so appealing to people.

Before diving deeper into the psychological factors that play into our interest and desire to  share content, let’s look a little closer at provoking curiosity in a social audience.

How we get hooked

Nathalie explained that you can use psychological principles to get people to read, watch, and share just about anything, giving an example of a Clickhole video about a stick of butter with a grabby title.

As explained in her own words in a previous post here on the Brandwatch blog, here’s Nathalie’s formula for creating shareable, clickable headlines:

Number and Trigger Word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise = KILLER HEADLINE

Using this formula, you can take something simple—frying an egg—and make it exceedingly more appealing to people: “13 Unbelievable Ways You Can Fry a Small Egg with a Sock.”

13 Unbelievable

+ Small

+ Egg

+ Fry a Small Egg with a Sock


13 Unbelievable Ways You Can Fry a Small Egg With a Sock

Nathalie explained that these kinds of headlines are more appealing on digital platforms, and inspire users not only to click into the headlines themselves, but also continue their exposure by sharing them on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

What social content says about us

So why do we share social content? According to Nathalie, “It reflects not only who we are, but also who are friends are, and why they will accept.”

  1. We seek social validation and self-esteem
  2. We want to change our emotional state
  3. We’re seeking out information
  4. Affiliate to reduce stress
  5. Dopamine loops.

It’s no surprise that we often share things socially because we’re seeking validation, and looking to connect with people that share our views.

Or, we share content because we’re trying to broaden our perspectives.

But Nathalie goes beyond that idea, explaining that social media is actually addictive, highlighting what she refers to as “dopamine loops.”

Dopamine causes pleasure-seeking behavior, and we often use social media to get this reaction. But, dopamine really highlights the “seeking” aspect of this, rather than the pleasure itself.

The instant gratification of being able to look something up quickly on your phone, contact a person via text, get likes on a photo—all of this inspires our brains to keep seeking, which means we’re constantly checking our phones, and it’s hard for us to resist that impulse.

Sarah Tyson@sarahmtyson  

Reward of social med is too small to kick in opioid (liking) so body goes back to dopamine (wanting) creating loop – @NathalieNahai #NYKCONF

Tracy Bell@TBellwether  

Finally the real truth about social media, it all boils down to dopamine loops from fabulous web psychologist @NathalieNahai #NYKCONF


Fascinating talk by @NathalieNahai on why social media is so addictive. We’re all dopers! #NYKCONF

What can we do with this?

In closing her discussion, Nathalie talked about the benefit of using psychographics—studying and classifying people according to their attitudes and aspirations.

Nathalie shared what she called “The Big 5,” which classifies all social users into five different personality types, allowing you to research and segment your audience by traits, based on the patterns they use socially.

The Big 5 Personality Traits Are:

  1. Open
  2. Conscientious
  3. Extraverted
  4. Agreeable
  5. Neurotic

Understanding why and how we behave socially helps us to become better communicators, and build more compelling, engaged  communities in the digital age.

Thank you to Lauren for sharing her thoughts.

We’ll be sharing more insights from this year’s Now You Know Conference in the coming days and weeks. Keep us bookmarked, and follow us on Twitter: @Brandwatch.

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