Getting emotional about social networking

For years we’ve been told that the internet and new technology is stopping traditional face to face communication. Parents have been warned that if their kids spend too much time surfing the net and chatting on social networking sites they’ll become void of emotion. But new research by Dr. Paul J. Zak and Adam Penenberg, a contributing writer to Fast Company, blows all this out of the water and suggests that social networking connects with people’s feelings and emotions and is something that businesses shouldn’t ignore.

According to Dr. Zak’s research, oxytocin, the hormone we release when we are hugged, shown affection or generosity, can be linked to social networking. In a series of tests on Adam Penenberg, Dr. Zak’s research showed that when using social networking sites such as Twitter, the level of Penenberg’s oxytocin increased by 13.2% and stress hormones decreased. This suggests that Penenberg’s brain sees tweeting as directly interacting with people he cares for, has empathy for and, ultimately, trusts. With these results in mind, Penenberg proposes that online relationships can be as real as offline relationships as social networking may increase a person’s oxytocin level, which can heighten feelings of trust, empathy and generosity.

So what does all this scientific talk mean for businesses trying to connect with the social consumer? Well, businesses should adopt a sense of persona and a character to help raise their profile online, connect with audiences and help earn a level of trust and empathy. Those responsible for setting strategies should understand digital sociology and psychology. The web works in the same way as human behaviour so this needs to be reflected in social media strategies.

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