Blog PostsThe narcissistic principle — the secret sauce of social media sharing

The narcissistic principle — the secret sauce of social media sharing

What’s the “secret sauce” for shares in social media?

In traditional PR, the secret sauce has always been conflict. As human beings, we’re hardwired to look out for anything out of the ordinary and to make sure that we belong socially somewhere. This makes us extra observant to conflicts or potential conflicts.

But in digital marketing, the secret sauce is the narcissistic principle.

  • We share to to make ourselves look smart.
  • We share to fit in and to stand out.
  • We share to express individuality.
  • We share to belong to our in-group.
  • We share to be loved.
  • We share to be hated.
  • We share to extract sympathy.
  • We share to let out aggression.
  • We share to get ahead.

And so on.

Look at this tweet by @A9N76G3 along with my snarky share comment. Even though this might very well be a Russian bot tweet designed to polarise, I was unable to resist the temptation to fill in the gap (the narcissistic principle) and in doing so, making a point first and foremost about myself.

A tweet as an example of the narcissistic principle in social media.
Yes, I shared because I wanted to be perceived as funny and clever.

To test this hypothesis, I collected 50 social media updates from Facebook and Twitter where users had shared corporate content with an added comment (Group A) and I collected 50 social media updates with corporate content without any shares (Group B). I then showed five respondents (all highly active in social media) to see the original content and asked them what type of comment (i.e. “share comment”) they would add if they were to share it with their community. For updates in Group A, all respondents came up with ideas on share comments immediately. For updates in Group B, the respondents had to struggle.

Before publishing in social media, ask a test group how they, if they were to share the content, would choose to comment it. If they hesitate to come up with something, tweak your update further.

Think of a social media update as a jigsaw puzzle with an obvious piece missing. People’s narcissism will force them to want to fill in this gap to make the content, and also themselves, more complete.

Photo by Dennis Klein on Unsplash.


Avatar of Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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