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Facebook addiction: Myth or Truth?

And how do you understand if you are addicted?

Facebook was never supposed to be in my repertoire. But for business purposes, the social network does have distinct advantages. It’s also great for finding cool events, bars and parties in reaching distance and staying in touch with family and friends. And all for free! Maybe…

When I first tried Facebook, it was a major disappointment. I don’t care about mundane information such as what people are having for dinner, the TV programs they are watching or that they have just put the kids to bed.

However, now that brands have joined the party and people are actively debated all manner of engaging topics, I have found myself getting pulled in and it’s fair to specify that while I’m writing this, I’m officially on my “Facebook detox” for more than 3 weeks, and I definitely don’t regret it.

I’ll express the reasons and the results of this personal experiment in a different article.

The growing influence of social media for business purposes is indisputable. Although not for everyone, social media marketing does offer the potential to acquire more customers and boost revenues. At the very least, for customers services and sales teams, Facebook is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.

As a matter of fact, there are more active users on Facebook than any other social network. Statistics published for Q2 of 2017 reveal there are over 2 billion active users a month. And the growth rate of this online juggernaut is around 600,000 new users each quarter.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to use Facebook. But when you find yourself scrolling through the endless stream of memes, status updates and debates, constantly checking in at every opportunity of the day (especially first thing in the morning), or you can’t pull yourself away before going to sleep, there’s a good chance you’re addicted.

Facebook related studies

Studies assessing the effect of Facebook in today’s society produce several theories about why people become addicted to social media networks. Conclusions include boredom, jealousy, lack of self-esteem and a handful of other underlying psychological conditions.

However, the driver behind Facebook addiction is because our brains are wired to seek self-gratification. Yes, that’s right. Facebook becomes a drug for some people just like heroin, cocaine and nicotine, yes you smoker heard it right! And like any drug, it is in our nature to become more withdrawn and stop interacting with people altogether.

Scientific research has discovered that social media can be beneficial for teenagers that struggle to interact socially face-to-face. There is an argument that Facebook and its likes can help shy teenagers bond relationships in the real world through the virtual world, but in reality, when you observe the real world, you typically find millennials and younger generations engrossed in their smartphones even when they are together in a social environment. They are not talking to one another.

The reason society does not interact anymore is multi-faceted. But one of the drivers to social detachment is the way we use the digital space. So why is social media as addictive as a recreational drug?

The dopamine effect

The human brain is an incredible instrument. Inside the complex network of the brain are synapses which secrete chemicals that send emotional signals through the central nervous system. When we’re using Facebook and other social media accounts we are “drinking” a cocktail of emotion-controlling drugs, principally dopamine.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of pleasure and elation. This naturally occurring chemical can be released by a hug, a kiss or a word of praise. On Facebook, a like, positive emoticons, responses to a comment and a share will trigger a dopamine release in the brain. Social media marketers have to be careful to guard against obsession.

Scientists have discovered that because dopamine transmits pleasure signals, the chemical is like a chisel that sculpts addictive behaviour in certain individuals. One of the principle reasons people struggle with drug addiction is because their brain is not naturally producing sufficient amounts of dopamine.

Facebook users that are not getting sufficient levels of emotional fulfilment in other areas of their life will ultimately become addicted to social networks and the internet in general. As mentioned in the next article (I know it’s weird to mention the next article but I have it in my drafts already), social media networks fulfil a human need for self-gratification, and there are tell-tale signs you are obsessed or becoming addicted.

Facebook lights up your brain

There are a lot of theories and studies that help to reveal how Facebook effects your psychology – and not all of it is good. In some studies, overusing social networks can cause low self-esteem. The irony is, addiction is because likes, shares and replies are the self-gratification needed for you to survive on an emotional level.

A study conducted at Freie Institute in Berlin measured the brain activity in Facebook users while interacting with so called “friends” on the social network. fMRI scans showed the Nucleus Accumbens became more active when volunteers received feedback that was relevant to them.

The Nucleus Accumbens is the part of the brain that reacts to rewards. This is the region that lights up when drug users take a hit and is an integral region in the development of addictive behaviour.

A second part of the Berlin study focused on time spent, and the number of followers affected users. Interestingly enough, the researchers found a correlation between the amount of brain activity and the number of time participants typically spent on Facebook. The volunteers that spent most of their online time on Facebook had more lights flashing in their Nucleus Accumbens. The human mind is conditioned to seek attention, gratification and opinion.

Psychology Today published an in-depth article which examines whether Facebook helps or hinders productivity. Much like every other study, there are contradictions. Critics argue that “hyper-socializers” are serial time wasters, while a study in Australia determined that social networks can effectively be used to give employees a mentally stimulating break that boosts productivity by 9%. However, the latter study cites YouTube, not Facebook, so I guess we all know the truth.

Viewers that watch video on YouTube actively search for content they want to see and will also be introduced to related videos that appeal to their interests. Facebook is passive whereby random videos appear in your feed yet have the power to suck people in, at least based on the actual FB algorithm.

The conclusion we can draw from endless studies is that using Facebook without becoming addicted requires a disciplined mindset. Limiting use and setting targets for each time increment may be the best solution for social media marketing models.

Facebook and marketing

Social media was not originally intended as a marketing platform, yet Facebook has grown to become one of the most powerful advertising spaces on the planet. With the internet driving the paradigm shift, Facebook has been a revelation for generating the conversation between brands and consumers. Someone believes that in 10 years from now, Facebook might cover the biggest market share when it comes to digital advertising. No, I’m not one of them. I would bet that Google will still eat the biggest piece of the digital advertising cake.

That’s not to say social media marketing will propel revenues for every business. Facebook executives may claim paid ads are engineered to align with the interests of end-users, but modern consumers don’t want ads, they want conversation.

Facebook and other social avenues are the best online space for brands to join a conversation with customers. Even brands that do not have much success increasing revenues can benefit from social platforms in other ways that support business activity.

And there are significant advantages. Social media is a great tool for enhancing brand awareness, product promotion, earning consumer trust and gathering customer data. The downside is, social media could be affecting the productivity of users in the workplace.

A paper published in the United States by Kelly Services, indicates that 53% of people polled in the Americas believe Facebook in the workplace hampers their productivity at work. Yet 77% of firms allow access to social media regardless of whether the platform is being used for work purposes or not.

Using Facebook as a marketing tool is, therefore, something of a paradox. On one hand, social networks are a necessity more than they are a nice-to-have. But if performance levels of social marketers drop because they become addicted, evasive action may be required.

If you want to find out if you are addicted and which category you belong to, you should give the next article a read…

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