Social Media Marketing and the Primeval Brain
January 24, 2014 by Mike James
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It may seem far-fetched to correlate ancient nomadic tribes and social media marketing, but research in the emerging field of social neuroscience shows within the neo-cortex of our brain lays the foundation of social behavior we inherited from our primeval cousins. With this insight, we can look at social media marketing in a new light.

On the plains of Africa, those early humans who formed social groups to gather, defend and find a mate, were the ones who survived and procreated the species. This is why social belonging is a fundamental evolutionary human need. When this need is fulfilled, positive chemical reactions within our brain motivate us further. 1

“Human beings can’t help it: We need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people.”
Seth Godin
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion . . . It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
Matthew Lieberman
UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior

Another aspect of social evolution was the structure of the group or tribe and how they interacted. For at least 90 percent of human history, we have lived as hunter-gatherers in small nomadic groups.2 It is here we inherited most of our social behavior.

It is thought that these hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, where all were equal.3  However, if leaders did emerge, these hunter-gatherers leaders were not authoritarian. Their roles were based on tasks or situations that would benefit the tribe.

One of those leaders was the “storyteller,” whose role included strengthening ties and creating belonging within the tribe by providing a narrative of the tribe and its connection with the human experience — past, present and future.

Tribal Marketing and Leadership

It might be argued that when we “like” a brand’s Facebook page or follow a brand’s Twitter feed we are joining a tribe. It is fulfilling a small part of our need to belong.

We can connect behaviors from the social structure and the communication dynamics of these ancient tribes to how we interact within our social media tribes today.

For marketers, it is key to identify and nurture relationships with your brand’s tribe especially those that emerge as leaders in the storytellers role. These leaders do not lead the tribe, but serve it through their passion and knowledge of the brand. They create connections with other members by becoming a bridge for newcomers as well as the social glue for members within.

Tribal leaders also exhibit greater brand loyalty than anyone else in an individual’s sphere of influence.4

“What we do know and what we talk about is our story. Our story about the origin and the impact and the utility. Marketing is storytelling.”
Seth Godin
All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories

“What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.”
Seth Godin
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

By understanding our ancestral past and how social behavior interacts with the brain, marketers can use tribal leaders to increase loyalty and engagement for their brands via social media.


  1. http://brainblogger.com/2012/09/17/the-neuroscience-of-belonging/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter-gatherer
  3. http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.com/2010/07/footnotes-on-things-ive-been-reading_21.html
  4. http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/423/89083.html

 

1 Comment

  • Elia Morling (6 months ago) Reply

    Hi Mike James, thanks for this piece. I agree that it's not far fetched, and believe in the power of tribal marketing and social media. I elaborated on this topic here: http://tribaling.com/blog/2013/07/17/tribal-marketing-in-social-media/

    Keep up the good work!

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