Hierarchy of Social Media Needs

Editor’s Note: Guestblogging week continues with the awesome Dana Larson who is going to school us all on the psychology of social media marketing. –Susan

We all know by now that in order to become a true social media maven, one must spend time within each specific social community and actually participate (and if you don’t know that by now, you are doing it all terribly, terribly wrong). Social sites are not designed for the classic swoop-and-dump (think seagulls) tactic, so users need to be careful with how they are using social media for marketing and what kind of information to pass along to other users.

Do you think I’m wrong? Example: You don’t go onto a social network and start shouting out, “Hey! Check out this super cool site I just found! You can get great deals on baby clothes from them! Visit www.buy-my-baby-clothes.com/?affiliateid=LOSER” because then you get un-friended. In this situation, you would find those who are having babies or thinking about having babies and make a suggestion, “I was thinking of you when I came across this baby boutique and thought it might be cute for your little one.” See? That’s nice. It’s relevant.

But why should we be taking our time networking with other users? Why do we get banned if we aren’t using the social media sites correctly? I’ll say “because it’s polite” and give my baby example above. But the reasons could go much deeper than just a simple one-sentence answer. As tempting as it may be for marketers to practice the drive by link drop, there’s a good reason time should be spent networking with other users, submitting useful content, voting things up/down and ultimately “participating” with the community. It’s about needs. Yours and mine.

In 1943, Dr. Abraham Maslow published an article called “A Theory of Human Motivation” in which he described a needs-based framework of human motivation. Basically Maslow said that humans are motivated by needs that are unsatisfied. One cannot attain higher need goals if the basic needs are not met.

Physiological Needs
Maslow outlines the physiological needs as those necessary to sustain life. Those needs include the basics, such as:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter
  • Sleep

If these needs are not satisfied, the individual will be urged to find a way to satisfy them. These basics of life are the motivators for getting out of bed in the morning.

Within the social media world, these basics of life can be compared to creating an account and updating a profile. This profile is a place to “shelter” all your information and what you feed off of when you begin networking with other individuals on a certain social site. Before you can begin anything else within the social community, you need a substantial profile (a.k.a. home).

Safety Needs
Safety and security are next on Maslow’s journey. Once the basic needs are met, one feels the need to make sure one’s life is safe and secure. The safety needs include:

  • Insurance
  • Job security
  • In-case-of-emergency finances

Further needs will not be met if the person feels unsafe or threatened in any way.

When would a person feel threatened within a social media setting? Feeling insecure and unaware of popular topics in different social sites can definitely make a person feel threatened. Being repetitively “poked”, “friended” or intruded upon by social marketers may not feel threatening or unsafe, but when they fail to stop, it comes pretty close. This is why so many of us start out by building our profiles in social sites we are comfortable in: voting up stories that we know about, chatting in forums where we are an “expert” or creating groups based on our favorite topics. Once we are safe and comfortable within our own knowledge base, we can branch out to others.

Social Needs
This says it all, right?

Maslow says that once the lower needs are met, the person pushes forward into the higher level needs. Social needs are all about the interaction with others, such as:

  • Loving
  • Friendship
  • Being in a group/club

It just makes sense that once you feel secure in your new social community and have done the work to build up your profile by commenting on items on which you are familiar that you will feel the need to make friends. And lots of them! When making friends or adding followers, be polite and respectful to them, and do them a favor every once in a while. See someone ask for a Digg on Twitter? Sure, Digg it for them if it’s interesting. They will probably reciprocate the favor later.

Esteem Needs
Now that you have friends and you feel like you “belong”, Maslow says the person needs to feel accomplishment and respect. Higher self-esteem can come from both internal and external motivational forms. Examples of internal motivators are:

  • Self-respect
  • Accomplishment

External motivators can include:

  • Social status
  • Recognition

Social media-wise, once you’ve created your profile, built it up by networking within your comfort zone, made some good friends and added value to the community, other community members will begin to recognize you. A higher social media self esteem will motivate you to showcase your work and interests more and network to increase your “personal brand”. You will also see more comments on your submissions and posts and have more people engage with your conversations because they feel they “know” you.

Using the same screenname and avatar helps too, because then your friends can easily find you across multiple social media channels, building up your popularity even more.

The pinnacle of Maslow’s theory, self-actualization is when the individual reaches their fullest potential as a human. However, Maslow says that this level is never fully satisfied; there is always room to grow.

When a person has reached a state of self-actualization, they will feel content and satisfied for the time being, motivated by any or all of these factors:

  • Truth
  • Justice
  • The American Way :) Wisdom

Then the person comes down from their peak experience when they need to attain another form of self-actualization. Once this area is reached, bouncing up and down is quite normal.

One might say that for a social media maven, self-actualization can be reached when becoming the utmost resource for a specific topic or maybe just a power user on Digg. Such self-actualized social media mavens are sought after to provide truth and wisdom to others. This power user becomes the go-to-person because of the huge amount of influence they have. Has anyone created a “I Wanna Be Like Tamar” shirt yet? Because I think they should.

But, as Maslow states, there is always more to learn and soon this self-actualized individual will need to learn even more and possibly hit a new peak with this new topic as well.

Because social media is about community and participation, the more time spent communicating and providing value to other social media members the more your knowledge and personal social credibility are increased. Understanding these steps and why we take our time to network through online sharing, poking, Plurking, voting, Twittering and throwing a few sheep once in a while can help make sense of it all. Once each set of needs are followed – for yourself and those you are communicating with – you can become a true social media maven.

Dana Larson is a Search Marketing Supervisor with TopRank Online Marketing. She works with a multitude of search marketing tactics and processes including SEO, blogging, link building and social media marketing.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (3)
Filed under: Social Media Marketing
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3 Replies to “Hierarchy of Social Media Needs”

This is a GREAT article. It is so true about social media – you cannot just come in and do as you please, you must build your relationships wisely and then attempt to influence. We love the side by side comparisons too. Great job.

maslow is part of the core of any psyche class, also check out jung’s theory of colors as it relates to blog design.
otherwise good post.

I just got done with an organizational behavior class and Maslow is something we covered naturally. I love the parallels you made here. I think Michael Gray would live the Self-Actualization part. I see people like him and Rae at that part.

Great post!


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