Social’s Dopamine Rush & Why Twitter Is Missing Out

I took a fabulous family vacation last week to Long Beach Island at the Jersey Shore. It was one of the few times I’ve taken off all year and I relished the moment to spend time with my wife and our four-year-old son and soon-to-be two-year-old daughter. It was also a good time to capture some family photos.

I follow semi-strict self-imposed guidelines with the social networks I use: Facebook and Instagram for friends and family and Twitter for everyone else. On the first two, I’m conservative with my postings, only reserving the updates for the best of the best. (Similarly, I’m also conservative with the likes I give out.) It’s not uncommon to not hear from me for a couple weeks on the first two.

At one point during our trip, we visited a new brewery that had opened up near where we were staying. We had the kids with us so we took a cute family photo. When I showed my wife, she asked me to post it on Facebook and tag her, so I did.

A few hours later, I logged in to Facebook and noticed the photo had only one like — from my wife.

It was disheartening. I mean, how cute is this?


I moved on though and didn’t think much of it until later when my wife asked me if I thought it was weird no one liked or commented on the picture. It was clearly disheartening to her, as well.

My first reaction was to delete the photo. I didn’t want my precious family photo to sit on social media, only to be liked by one person. I thought back to a story I read about college kids on Instagram who delete their photos if they don’t garner enough hearts. I’m about 10 years out of college, but I immediately felt they were on to something.

Before I did that, I had one more idea: privacy settings. I navigated to the photo, clicked on the lock icon, only to see why my wife and I were the only ones who liked the brewery photo: only her and I were allowed to see the brewery photo. A quick fix of that and we were at about 100 likes a couple hours later.

People post on social media for a variety of reasons. Most do it to brag, while some do it for social validation or simply to keep people in the loop with their lives.

I was looking for dopamine, the chemical that stimulates the brain, but I only received disappointment.

This is one of the reasons I believe Twitter is failing to find a much larger audience, and I say this as a huge supporter and user of the platform. There isn’t enough dopamine flowing from Twitter’s servers to users.

I have a lot more followers on Twitter than friends on Facebook. But if I were to post that same photo there, it would get a few hearts, if that. That’s not gratifying. Going back every five minutes to see more likes and comments, for several hours, that’s the rush people seek — the dopamine, the social acceptance. You don’t get that on Twitter, unless you’re maybe a celebrity with a massive following.

Part of the reason is the Twitter timeline is so cluttered and everything blends together — I’m confident Facebook has mastered the art of maximizing the display ratio of photos, text, video, etc.. Twitter’s part what-just-got-posted and part algorithmic. Posts get lost though, meaning no retweets or hearts. If you post and no one reads it, no one will like it.

This isn’t anything new, but it’s also what makes Twitter so amazing. When breaking news happens, I go to Twitter instead of Facebook. I fear missing out on as-it-happens since Facebook’s feed is pure algorithm. In Twitter, if it happens two seconds ago, it’s in your feed two seconds ago.

I don’t know if it’s possible to have it both ways on Twitter — the dopamine that creates habits vs. news as it happens. When I post a blog post, I want to feel comfortable my followers will see it, after all, they followed me to see my updates. Today, I don’t have that type of confidence, but it hasn’t stopped me from posting every day.

I would bet that most people don’t join Facebook or Instagram just to follow other people. They post themselves and are now trained to get social validation for their efforts through likes and hearts that pile up. Since most Twitter users are likely also on these other networks, when they do post on Twitter and only get silence, there are no hooks to keep them interested and learn the true value of Twitter: live coverage.

Recently, I read a quote that technology is the cigarette of the current generation. If so, Twitter just needs to find more nicotine.

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