Social networks lead to self-control issues – that’s good for business, but bad for individuals

Beautiful peacockThe problem with human beings is that they like to impress. Men, in particular, have this peacock-like competitive spirit in a bid to show they are a really good mate. Meanwhile women like to impress other women in an attempt to prove they’ll be the ones selected by a fantastic guy. This is all regular basic biology of any species. Deep inside our brains there are behaviour patterns which are remnants from earlier evolutionary times which are there to ensure the species survives. It’s all about natural selection.

However, in a world where we have much more conscious control than our evolutionary ancestors lower down the animal kingdom such rather base behaviours are not that necessary; we can decide about potential mates in a rational way. Yet, that instinctive desire to impress still lingers on.

You can see it online every day when people simply “have to” make a comment on a blog post that is on their pet subject. Similarly, when you are in a business meeting there will often be a discussion which actually is about nothing except a “mine is bigger than yours” argument. It is all linked to the instinct to impress.

Of course, when you are alone at your desk, being logical, your desire to impress other people is blocked out; it falls to the deeper recesses of your brain because it is unnecessary – there is no-one around for whom you need to make an impression. But as soon as you are with other people, out pops our impression instinct lurking in your subconscious waiting for any opportunity to strut your stuff. And that leads to problems.

Conscious Control Weakened

It means that once you are in a social situation your conscious control of your behaviour is partially weakened. You do some things on instinct because your self-control is tampered with by your inbuilt desire to impress. It’s a fair bet that at least once or twice you have got back to your desk after a meeting and regretted some of the things you said. That’s because your impression instinct has been put back in its box and your self-control returns and your conscious thinking gets to start working again.

But what happens in the immediate aftermath of your peacock-like behaviour? You are still lacking in self-control because you are in “impression mode”. That means that other behaviours can also be less conscious. Walk into a shop after a social meeting and you are more likely to buy something because your self-control is still down.

Interesting new research from Columbia Business School shows that the reduction in self-control seen in “real world” social situations also extends to online social networking. When people have been using a social network such as Facebook they are more prone to spending money immediately afterwards because their conscious thinking is functioning less well than it might, their self-control is weakened and their desire to impress is running high.

For businesses this is a good thing. If your offer is presented to people immediately after they have been using a social network, or better still whilst they are still on that network, then you increase your chances of sales because people are less likely to consciously stop themselves from buying. Is it any wonder that many consumer brands have found that Facebook has helped increase their sales?

Of course, as individuals this lack of self-control whilst on social networks is troubling as we may be enticed to spend when we do not want to or should not. Indeed, the Columbia research shows that people who use social networks the most have the greatest level of credit card debt; it looks like being very sociable limits our conscious ability to spend wisely.

So, if you are a business owner you might want to use social media much more to engage people at their weakest. However, if you are a social networking user it might be a good idea to never open your wallet until a reasonable time lag has occurred, allowing your desire to impress to get to the back of your mind and your conscious thinking to get back in control.

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