The obsession with metrics on the Internet, by the number of our followers who say I like it, leads us to compulsive, competitive and anxious behavior, and pushes us to create more and more content pursuing an opaque idea of ​​social success.

To combat this crazy desire to like companies are now offering software that hides all the data in social networks, with the intention of curbing the apparent damage to mental health, privacy and democracy that, according to some experts, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are causing to their users.

A month ago, Instagram announced that it is trying to hide the number of reactions to the photos “so that followers can focus on what is shared”.

For those who do not use social networks this may seem an irrelevant anecdote, but for millions of people it will be a revolution in the way they consume content on the Internet, where the likes, and also the comments and the times the message is shared, are a language in itself.

Our likes are not innocent. They have intention and meaning, they are linked to the human need to obtain an identity and belong to the group.

When interacting with a content we look for several things. The most important is social recognition. That is, “I want to show that I am an informed person who follows international media” or “I want my friends and acquaintances to know that I am a feminist”.

We want to build a public image that fits our circles and that gives us a sense of security and a certain reward: more followers; that someone we admire knows about our existence; or a positive reinforcement in the form of likes with the consequent discharge of dopamine.

But how generous do we show ourselves when it comes to delivering applause? This depends on the tool we use.

On a mobile, just a simple lazy click from the sofa to give a liking. Milenials on Instagram ration them more than, for example, middle-aged women on Facebook, because they are more concerned about their social capital, otherwise known as their digital reputation. 

On the Internet we also interact with content because we want to be useful. By finding something relevant, we become “information DJs”.

We do not think only what we want to hear, but we have the audience in mind. Therefore, what we mark with a heart or share sometimes does not correspond to what we consume.

This explains that not always the contents with more interactions coincide with the most read. We do not read 59% of the links we distribute on Twitter, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute for Computer and Automation Research of France (INRIA) and the University of Columbia (USA).

Anyone who has worked in social networks has faced the dreaded request or order, in the worst cases: “This has to go viral.”

It is convenient to explain, first, the nature of the viral.

“Something popular is not synonymous with viral. Popularity is like a community water poisoning: the poison reaches everyone directly, in one step. The viral is an infection that spreads from one to another and another. Although the number of final patients may be the same, the process is very different.

Explain to a boss that we cannot guarantee viralization, that success or failure depends, among many other factors, on algorithms that change. It is impossible for him to understand. In his mind, it gives the impression that you do not know how to do your job.

But there is a key question that almost everyone understands, and that can affect how a story works – if it meets requirements such as channel, audience and appropriate time …, and if the winds of the unpredictable algorithm blow favorably: – what emotion do you provokes? What do you offer?

A journalist from a digital media tells how the editors were asked to think specifically about the sentiment of each publication before launching it: hope, surprise, anger … The key is not that the emotion is positive or negative, but intense.

Better euphoria or anger than calmness. The channel chosen to disseminate the news comes into play, because Twitter and Facebook tend to be fertile fields for outrage, while Instagram receives inspiring or hopeful messages.

Advertising has been depending on emotion for years. In an interconnected market, with many similar products, you have to attract an overflowing consumer.

In a context of over-saturation and blindness is where emotion works best. Advertising no longer tells us that a detergent washes cleaner, but rather reminds us of the nostalgia for the smell of childhood. 

On the Internet, the tendencies, previously directed towards the aspirational and unattainable, return to apparently home-made content, vulnerability and close communication.

Those who set the trend, the influencers, are the answer to the saturation and loss of interest in brands. Interacting with people seems more intimate and reliable than doing it with a company. An emotional relationship is built with them, although they do, precisely, advertising for a company.

Neuromarketing or “consumer neuroscience” is one of the techniques that try to unravel the mechanisms by which we pay attention.

The multiplication of online offers supposes an overload of information for our brains, with a limited attention span, so these disciplines point directly at the mind, avoiding subjective and imprecise answers.

They use techniques such as eye tracking, the measurement of galvanic response of the skin, which detects sweat on the hands to measure the emotional response; electroencephalography, which measures brain activity and level of attention; or the facial recognition of emotions.

Neuromarketing confirms, among other things, that we act fast on the Internet. Our gaze moves at full speed from the upper left corner of the screen down and to the right, just like when we read – although this varies in cultures that write from right to left. 

Even voracious readers of books read superficially on the screen, looking at headlines and highlights.

How fast do we react? We can click on an ad in 0.1 seconds, according to a report in the Journal of Marketing Research, depending on how long it takes to identify the usefulness of the product and also what we are doing.

There are other techniques to capture our gaze in the infinite showcase of the Internet. We are conditioned to pay attention to human faces, especially when they look at us directly.

A 2014 investigation by the Georgia Institute of Technology (USA) concluded that Instagram images with faces receive, on average, 38% more likes.

You can do the test: how successful was your artistic picture of a landscape, and how much attention did your last selfi have? It influences how handsome you are. Studies from the early 2000s concluded that most of us are more interested in photos of the opposite sex, especially if they are attractive to us.

We are attracted to other elements for evolutionary reasons, like colors. We associate red to emergencies and video becomes increasingly important.

We react with a sense of urgency to which we respond instinctively, for example, notifications, in the form of a red dot. They are cheap, and difficult to deactivate in many applications. You do not know what they contain and you always want them to be useful or interesting.

But there may be a limit to this flood of stimuli. Our brains are adapting to the constant use of the mobile and the dopamine discharges that we feel with a liking or the response to a message.

People know they are being manipulated and are deciding to cut back, changing smart cell phone to less smart ones. Those who think about moving away from the screens, in the middle of this battle for attention and time, are becoming a legion.

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