Digital technologies, like social networks, online shopping, and mobile games use a group of persuasive and motivational ploys to keep recurring customers (don’t even get us started on micro-transactions!). These include ‘scarcity’ – the name of a snap or status is merely temporarily available, encouraging the urge to stay online or to respond quickly; ‘social proof’ – 20,000 users retweeted a piece of writing so you ought to read; ‘personalisation’ – your news feed algorithm is personalised to your interest; and ‘reciprocity’ – invite more friends to urge extra points, and once your friends are a part of the network it becomes far more difficult for you or them to leave.
Most technology exploits the human need to have a sense of belonging and see similarities to others. So, the intentional use of fear of missing out, or FOMO, is at the heart of the many features of the social media design.
Groups and forums in social media promote active participation. Notifications and presence features keep people notified of others availability and activities in real-time this can often lead to people becoming compulsive checkers. This includes the two ticks on instant messaging tools, like Whatsapp. Users can see whether their message has been delivered and read – encouraging fast replies which leads to more in-app time.
The concepts of reward and infotainment, material which is both entertaining and informative, also are crucial for addictive designs. So, by design, social media strives to always supply content and stop disappointment. The seconds of anticipation for the pull to refresh mechanism on smartphone apps, like Twitter, is analogous to pulling the lever of a coin machine and expecting the win.
Most of the features mentioned above have similarities in our non-tech world. Social networking sites have not created any new or fundamentally different sorts of interaction between humans. Instead, they vastly amplified the speed and ease with which these interactions can occur. Social interaction is, at the basest of instincts, a key human need. The rush of endorphins provided by social interaction is similar to that of a drink to an alcoholic. The features described above seek to enhance that response.