What Does This Social Media Campaign Teach Us About Our Brains?

I’m sure almost every one of you has seen at least one of the countless pieces (over 140 of them) written about French model, Louise Delage. She became an Instagram sensation seemingly over night with her account exceeding 106,000 followers in just a few short months.




But there was a little more at play than an attractive girl living the life you’ve always wanted. Her account was a strategic creation put together by the French ad agency, BETC, to raise awareness for addiction for Addict Aide.

Stephane Xiberras outlined their plan to garner popularity and bring thousands of people into Louse’s world that featured photos of her at nightclubs, on yachts, with family and friends along with everything in between.

The common thread was that nearly all of them featured Louise drinking alcohol.

In order to execute their plan of a mass audience, they focused on key areas that dominate social media:

  • They posted 2-3 photos per day at high traffic times (morning, lunchtime, and late at night)
  • Used 20-30 hashtags applying to fashion, food, parties and nature
  • Set up a bot to strategically like and follow “Key Opinion Leaders”
    • Selected certain KOL’s to promote Louise on their pages

And as a result of their efforts they managed to put a huge problem right under the noses of the thousands of followers they had enticed to join them on Louise’s journey. The final step of the process was to release a video outlining their experiment, which caused Louise’s notoriety to expand even more.

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While this brought people’s attention to a very real and pressing issue that impacts countless young people it may have inadvertently brought our attention to a lesser known one that impacts nearly all of us that begins with an easy question:

What is our infatuation with sharing daily moments and obsessing over those of others?

How did Louise’s account gain the popularity of thousands of strangers in just about 2 months?

It seems simple enough, she’s a gorgeous woman living a lavish lifestyle, but why is that enough to justify following someone else through snapshots of their experiences? What draws people into that world and leaves us concerned about the happenings in the existence of someone we will likely never meet? It has a lot to do with how we’ve conditioned our brains since social media became a, if not the, dominating part of our lives, an addiction acclaimed to be that of cocaine with its own host of surprisingly bad side effects. It’s gotten to the point where we recognize images on Facebook faster than we do road signs.

It’s our reliance and need to be available online at all hours of the day, everyday, that has become the driving force in the decisions we make. This phenomenon, being as relatively new as it is, has enticed scientists of all sorts to look deeper.

Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi, describes the theory of “flow” as a “high focused mental state where someone is involved in an activity for its own sake.” Basically, you do something just to do it without any true purpose behind it.

In the 90’s this idea was applied to people who are addicted to slot machines by anthropologist Natasha Shull, and focused on the comfort provided by being in “auto pilot.” She found that genuine satisfaction was created in the subjects just by pushing a button and seeing a different result – a mindset that is very similar to what we experience scrolling through our feeds.

“… it’s this fear of missing out on the moment. And the solution to alleviate that pain point, that psychological itch, is to open Instagram and scroll through.” – Nir Eyal, Stanford University Lecturer.

Our brains basically light up like a Christmas tree with every social media interaction.

If Pavlov’s dogs drool at the sound of a bell, what does a like-addict do when his phone buzzes? Well, reach for the phone, obviously. But there has to be a dopamine receptor going off in there, too. – Maureen O’Connor, The Cut

Neuroscientists now believe that seeing a like pop up on your phone has an intoxicating effect and the bit of your brain associate with rewards “hums” at their appearance.

This source of satisfaction and happiness creates an immense amount of pressure that lends itself to increased anxiety, low self-esteem and an increased risk of depression – either from a failure to impress in the way we had hoped for or the fear of missing out on a picture perfect moment that may have attracted validation from our social media peers.

This devalues interactions that occur without documentation and leaves us less satisfied with our interactions that occur outside of the web.

The Thailand Department of Mental Health (yeah, that’s super random, I get it) goes as far as to vocalize their concern that this obsession may lead to the decline in potential of their future leaders:

If they don’t get enough ‘likes’ for their selfie as expected, they decide to post another, but still do not receive a good response. This could affect their thoughts. They can lose self-confidence and have a negative attitude toward themselves, such as feeling dissatisfied with themselves or their body. … This could affect the development of the country in the future as the number of new-generation leaders will fall short. It will hinder the country’s creativity and innovation.

Tom Gara of the Wall Street Journal said it best when he described our online personas as needier than our real ones.

Receiving one compliment in real life can make our entire day, but receiving just one like on a selfie can dismantle our self-perception. And when it comes to our obsession it’s not only with how we’re perceived by others, it’s also about our perception of them. This is where the rise of the aforementioned Louise Delage could have stemmed from.

All I’m trying to provide you with is a bit of knowledge that may spark an awareness in our minds every time we take a picture of our food and disrupt dinner conversation or take 17 photos of a sunset then proceed to fiddle with a photo editing apps all while actual life is going on around us.

This video below does approach an intimidating 5 minutes in length, which discouraged me at first, but it’s worth the watch and Gary Turk has a positively delightful accent, if you need any more incentive.

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