narcissism

There are fundamental drivers of every human action. Many people are aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but there are other theories about our innate motivations as well, such as William Glasser’s ‘Choice Theory’. I’d venture a bet that 95% of readers have encountered one of these lists at least once in their lives. Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, in almost all lists of the basic human needs there is a need called “Love/Belonging”, the need that is fulfilled by acceptance of family, friends, and society at large.

This need to be accepted and respected by others is powerful and universal. We all feel it, and now social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare have thrown us all quite a curve ball in terms of what must occur for us to feel fulfilled in this area. As a result, what was once a genuine effort to fulfill our need for love/belonging has mutated into the most widespread and deep-seated epidemic of narcissism the world has ever seen.

Here’s how I see it:

We have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of connections across our various social networks. We project idealized identities of ourselves onto those networks in the hopes of recognition, acceptance, praise, love, etc. But everyone else is doing the same thing, and peoples’ feeds get too crowded. That’s where the downward spiral starts.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. The number of people in your “social sphere” is larger than it was pre-social media, so…
  2. You feel an innate, hardwired need to achieve recognition and esteem from a much larger group than you previously did, so…
  3. You project an idealized identity onto those networks giving you the best possible chance at recognition, acceptance, and esteem, but…
  4. There’s so much going on in our feeds, and our attention is pulled in so many different directions, that you never get the full recognition that you want/expect, so…
  5. You post (project) more often, but…
  6. No person really has that much interesting stuff to talk about, so…
  7. You start making big deals about things that aren’t big deals, but…
  8. In order to do that, you need to develop an inordinate fascination with yourself, which…
  9. Is the definition of Narcissism

You know it’s true. You can only get married, have kids, graduate, move, get promoted, etc, so often. That leaves a lot of blank space in between your important events. And that blank space wouldn’t be so bad, except that because you are connected with 500 people on Facebook, you see that at least one person is doing something more interesting than you at any given point. Thus, you start taking artsy instagram photos of the cocktail you had in order to project to the world that whatever they might be doing, you are in the middle of a momentous life event via a great drink in a great bar in a great city. 560944_945584843257_654302733_n(And, just in case any of this comes across as me talking down to anyone, the picture on the right is an Instagram I took of my Old Fashioned in San Francisco.)

And that’s really the important part: we’re all doing it. For the purposes of this post, it’s not entirely important how or why we have become rampant technologically-assisted narcissists, it’s only important that we are.

“Why is it important to know this?” you ask. It’s important because it explains why so few of your Fans pay attention to your uninteresting Facebook posts and lackluster Tweets.

Just assume for a second that I’m right and a significant majority of consumers have developed this new form of narcissism. There are only so many hours in the day, and each consumer only has so much energy. Because they are trying to fulfill a basic human need, they spend that time and that energy on sharing the coolest new thing, or breaking the news, or trying to coin some witty new aphorism about American politics. That leaves no time to pay attention to your brand.

And this is one of those cases where you can’t fight fire with fire. A brand cannot win more attention by joining this game of projected-identity brinksmanship. Even trying is a losing proposition.

So, instead of being the other team on the field, be the field. If your consumers need to strut their stuff, give them a stage.

The brands that will win in social media over the coming year will be those that give their consumers a platform on which to further express their own projected identities. Help your community members fulfill their need to be the first, best, most in-touch, most interesting, etc, and you will see enormous spikes in engagement and brand loyalty. If you help me fulfill a core need of my existence, that’s a more powerful brand interaction than any standard marketing message you could force in front of me.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.