SYDNEY: Understanding dopamine cycles could be the key to boosting social media engagement and more effective targeting, an expert in neuroscience believes.

According to Dr Peter Steidl, principal at strategic consultancy Neurothinking, social sharing activates the rewards system of the brain, providing the same "feel good" release of dopamine received from pleasure-seeking activities, such as sex, food and exercise.

(For more, including practical advice on the neuroscience of social sharing and how marketers can use dopamine to their advantage, read Warc's exclusive report: Dopamine and the science of social media sharing.)

The quest for another dopamine hit drives people to like, post, share and comment, Steidl says. It also drives consumers to check their social media sites frequently and, for marketers, a deeper understanding of how dopamine fuels social sharing can create more effective advertising.

Steidl recommends that brands competing in a category where social sharing is popular (such as entertainment, sport, holidays and electronics) should create highly shareable content followed up by re-targeting when content is being shared.

"The targeted consumers will still be in a positive mood but experiencing a decline in dopamine, which makes them receptive to relevant content – after all, they want to repeat their dopamine experience and so are more likely to consider your content as it may offer them such an opportunity," Steidl writes.

Already, programmatic advertising technology is harnessing consumer emotion in real-time, giving brands the ability to connect with their audience when they are right in the passion "sweet spot" of engagement.

For example, impressive results for a Tiger Air campaign in Australia revealed that some 34% of all sales occurred within 20 minutes of the sharing event and the advertising message being viewed – when sharers were at the height of a dopamine surge.

"It is not the content that is the critical factor, it is the process of sharing," Steidl contends. "More specifically, the secret to the success of social media is dopamine."

Data sourced from Warc