Mark Zuckerberg just turned up the dopamine. Here’s how

Yesterday Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, announced that Facebook would be showing us more of our friends and family and less news and corporate stuff on our news feed.

For the past few months I’ve been studying social media with fresh eyes since learning more about my addiction to it, and other things.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: engagement from real people matters a LOT more than engagement from companies. Over on Twitter two accounts are amongst those following me: Salesforce and Marc Benioff.

When Marc retweets me, or likes me, I get an immediate dopamine hit. We all know the feeling when someone big and important retweets us, or likes our post.

What I have recently learned is that if Salesforce’s account retweets me, I still get a dopamine hit but it’s easily 1/10th as much. Why? Well, it just doesn’t seem as big a deal.

What’s funny is it’s actually a lot harder to get a retweet from Salesforce than from Marc Benioff. Oh, and when you get a retweet/like from a corporate account it almost always is focused on that specific corporation, so doesn’t bring anyone nearly as interesting as a feed as when you follow just people.

But here’s the rub. I get the exact same dopamine hit when I get a retweet or a like from my wife, or my best friend. Now, there are other advantages of getting a retweet from someone “famous” beyond just the dopamine hit, but we’ll examine those later. The main thing is that the ability to addict you is much higher if a real person interacts with you than if a brand does.

Zuckerberg knows this. Now my friend Brandon Wirtz says that yesterday’s move also is because Facebook doesn’t have much advertising inventory, so needed to goose the numbers and force more brands to spend money to get the views they seek.

One does not negate the other.

Over on Twitter I’ve spent hundreds of hours in the past three months cleaning up my inbound feeds. One thing I did on my main feed is I unfollowed all accounts done by a committee. So no more following companies, like Salesforce. Only following people.

My feed today is easily 100x more addictive to read than it was just three months ago. It’s not intuitive, but Zuckerberg studies these things in depth.

Two days ago I had dinner with Francine Hardaway, investor out of Phoenix, AZ, and she wondered if Facebook could get to the place where it would make decisions based on what would help people instead of what would addict them. I don’t know that the two can be separated.

After all, I can tell you that seeing baby photos from friends, or wedding announcements, or funeral arrangements, makes our human lives better than seeing ads or news items. But they are more addictive too.

I’ve been studying spirituality recently, in my attempts to become a better human being. I’ve been getting around, talking to people who have happier lives than I do, and I notice that they do a few simple things:

1. Help other people. One, I met, goes to San Quentin and teaches classes there. She says that makes her so happy that the rest of the week can go to hell and she still is glowing.

2. Meditation. Everyone who does it says that this improves their ability to deal with life and centers them.

3. Praying. In rehab we learn about the importance of being less self-centered and by praying to a higher power this brings major benefits against anger and disappointment.

4. Exercise. Brings brain benefits from increased blood circulation, and other benefits. Makes you feel good about yourself too.

5. Organization. People who have organized homes, along with intentional lives (IE, make lists of things to do and goals for yourself) are happier and feel better about themselves.

None of those things comes from social media, with the exception of maybe helping other people. So I’m not sure how Facebook can become better for you until we get VR, where we’ll get exercise and maybe some of the other benefits. So, for 2018 I think Zuckerberg is right to focus on monetization and addiction, even if he calls it something else like an “improved human connection.”

One of my pieces of advice for Twitter would be to provide a “people only” feed. If it did that Twitter would see an increase in usage and addiction.

Regarding the difference between my wife liking a post and Marc Benioff: there is a storytelling difference and an influence difference. If I tell friends at dinner “Benioff liked my post today” and compare it to “Maryam liked my post today” my friends will say “so, she’s your wife” versus “oh, what caught Benioff’s eye?” But neither matters as much to addiction levels to these platforms as the difference between humans and corporate accounts.