Neuro-economist Paul J. Zak (Claremont Graduate University) has discovered, and scientifically proven for the first time, that social networking triggers the release of the feel-good hormone, Oxytocin.
Oxytocin (not Oxycontin, the addicting painkiller) is the hormone which triggers a mother's labor and delivery, thus fostering the bond between mother/child. It seems reasonable that it would also trigger other types of related coupling and trust behaviors. It has been proven that Oxytocin release also produces feelings of affection and contentment. A general sense of calm and love are also triggered by the release of this powerful hormone. Oxytocin remains dormant and stored in our brains and in other parts of our bodies. It is the release of this hormone which produces the feelings. So strong is the effect, that most people would not need to be encouraged to try those activities which release Oxytocin. In fact, they may naturally be addicted to them e.g. octo-mom, "crackberry", etc.
Zak's study of Oxytocin and social networking revolved around time spent on Blackberry use, Facebooking, MySpace and Twitter and the measurement of Oxytocin levels. I think that these social networking tools simply facilitate and, in some cases, replace the now old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. That conversation is now known as "social networking." Its content was built from the question, "What's new with you?" All of these new social media tools are simply a new way of "broadcasting" the answer to the age-old question of: what is new with you?
There are other known health benefits related to networking as well. Additionally, we know that being connected to people and having many friends has long been associated with increased lifespan and the ability to ward off illness. There is a inborn human desire to communicate with others. Isn't that the most viral definition of social networking?
I believe that this data should be a wake-up call for every company who is revisiting their marketing programs and determining whether or not social media is "real or here to stay." Today, some type of social media strategy should be part of every firm's marketing plan. People want to connect with others who have shared interests via the hand-held mobile network, laptop computers/Internet and otherwise.
Research tells us that when Oxytocin is released, trust and contentment increase while fear and uneasiness decrease. This sounds strangely similar to the longstanding, widely-known goal of "brand loyalty" which companies strive to achieve through a variety of means. It appears that the most viral way to create brand loyalty may indeed be word-of-mouth.
What has yet to proven is whether this "feel-good" feeling is or can be translated into increased and measurable consumer spending habits and patterns. But that data can't be far behind.
Smart marketers will create simple, intuitive ways in which their users, vendors, customers and so forth will be able to connect and "reach out and touch someone." Perhaps Bell Telephone Systems was just ahead of their time. Today it will be on your handheld mobile device rather than your pink princess phone...