Is Social Media Overloading Your Brain?

March 31, 2011 / by Michael K. Redman

Researchers, Magazines, a plethora of new books on the market, and many of our friends and colleagues tell us that  Social Media isthe panacea of all things marketing... and social and whatever else someone thinks up…. but is it all good?  The new marketing mantra is that traditional advertising is dead.  I hear all the time that no one is reading newspapers anymore or watching TV or listening to the radio..  If I listen to what everyone is saying, no one is doing anything but spending time online.  The truth is that TV shows, like American Idol are still setting record highs for viewership and they are not alone. Radio listeners actually increased by 1 million people in America from 2009 to 2010 based on a study reported in Ad Age magazine. Within this past year, I have worked with at least 10 customers around the country and in England that used newspaper advertising last year and it produced a significant profit by outperforming every other media.  Does that sound like Traditional media is not working?  The problems with marketing are rarely the media itself but the underlying issues of marketing and advertising.  Issues of frequency, reach, clutter, attention and other such issues are my largest challenges as a marketer. These exist everywhere and as we will see in a moment some of them may even be more of a problem online.

Before I go any further let me explain my litany of vocabulary.  Frequency is how many times the average person sees or hears an ad message in a given period of time.  Reach is how many people are potentially exposed to my ad message for a given broadcast or printing or even an entire campaign.  Clutter refers to the total amount of messages that my ad is competing with, no matter where it comes from, to gain your attention.  It could be expressed as the average ads per person that are competing for your attention and that includes banners, bumper stickers and the rear end of the pants in front of you.  These are the real problems we marketers face every day as we try to get people to notice our companies, know what we do, believe that it is as good as we think it is and then remember us when it is time to buy as well as actually buy from us.  This is not a profession for the faint of heart.  And Social Media may not be making it any easier for us in spite of what all the evangelists are saying about it.

An article titled, “I Can’t Think” in Newsweek on March 7th, 2011, talks about brain research and the use of FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).  This type of research lets scientists and later us, see into the brain and what it’s doing in amazing ways that just weren't possible a few short years ago.  The article mentions a study that watched people’s brains with FMRI while they were fed more and more information that should have let them better solve a problem.  We have been taught that the more information we have the better decision we can make.  Well that isn’t really true based on the research, and believe me there is a lot of it out there.  Yes we need enough quality information but as we reach a certain volume our brain starts to stress out. Too much information becomes rather difficult to manage and process.  Our brains start to stress out as it tries to pay attention, access, organize, remember and apply all the new data.  This is called “Information Fatigue” and it was a term added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2009.  What the FMRI showed was not a gradual decay in processing ability but a sudden and sharp decline, “as if  a circuit breaker had popped” in the brain.  It gets even more severe, check this out.  “They”, the people in the study, “start making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for smart decision making has essentially LEFT THE PREMISES”. This is because this area of the brain is responsible for critical thinking and controlling emotions. When information overload hits us and this part of our brain shuts off we get overwhelmed or frustrated or angry and we make poor decisions.  Remember the last time you had to make a decision and you got really frustrated trying to make the right one? I bet you probably just gave up and randomly chose one.  That’s not logical and it’s not always wise but if it’s between the chocolate cake or carrot cake the consequences probably weren’t that high.

Social Media is argued to be good for us because we have all this information at our hands.  The proponents say that people are hungry for information and they trust it more in social media.  While I might trust it more from some of my friends I don’t trust just anyone with an opinion.  And if I try and use Social Media to advertise to you - how do I know that you aren’t experiencing information overload or fatigue?  And if you are experiencing information overload then why would I believe that you could or would make a rational decision to choose my product or service?  See what I mean about the faint of heart?

Social Media is a great thing but it’s also just another form of information and the issues of marketing are still the same.  The questions are still, Did you see my ad, or “referral by a friend” or my nifty creative video I did about me, enough times that you paid attention to it, know what I’m offering, remember it when you need it, and believe that my product is worth having over any of my competitors so you will come and buy it from me?  Social media is cool and useful and another great place people are paying attention to….. so I’m going to use it but I still need to solve the core problems of marketing before Facebook overloads your brain.

If you want help making wise decisions about where to market your company and what will give you the best chance of success then give us a call at “The Bubble”.  We help people with these types of things every day.

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