The Public Relations BlogMedia & PsychologySocial PsychologyThe Narcissistic Principle: Why We Share in Social Media

The Narcissistic Principle: Why We Share in Social Media

Leave room in your copy for users to express themselves.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


There’s a nar­ciss­ist­ic prin­ciple behind all social shares.

I’ll exam­ine why we share on social media in this blog post.

I’ll also demon­strate why brands should think dif­fer­ently about social media copy.

Here we go:

Why We Share on Social Media

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Why We Share on Social Media

People want to be loved; fail­ing that admired; fail­ing that feared; fail­ing that hated and des­pised. They want to evoke some sort of sen­ti­ment. The soul shud­ders before obli­vi­on and seeks con­nec­tion at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author

When we share on social media, we share for a reas­on. And that reas­on typ­ic­ally has some­thing to do with ourselves:

  • We share to make ourselves look smart.
  • We share to fit in and to stand out.
  • We share to express individuality.
  • We share to belong to our in-group.
  • We share to be loved.
  • We share to pro­voke reac­tions for atten­tion.
  • We share to extract sympathy.
  • We share to make us feel bet­ter about ourselves.
  • We share to get ahead.
  • We share to grow an audi­ence.
  • We share to com­pensate for our shortcomings.
  • We share to get the respect we need.

If you can get social media to work for you, great. But you should also be mind­ful not to let the pres­sure get the bet­ter of you.

A status update with no likes (or a clev­er tweet without retweets) becomes the equi­val­ent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewrit­ten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to con­form to the opin­ions of those around us.”
— Neil Strauss, Wall Street Journal

Learn more: The Narcissistic Principle: Why We Share on Social Media

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Prompts for Self-Expression

Look at this tweet where I’ve replied:

A tweet as an example of the narcissistic principle in social media.
I just had to add some snarkiness.

I’m being manip­u­lated by the nar­ciss­ist­ic prin­ciple here. The ori­gin­al tweet is bait­ing people to reply. I’m try­ing to sig­nal that I’m smart here, but that’s not the case.

The tweet is most likely sent out by a Russian bot aim­ing to ignite divi­sion. Like a noob, I reacted, try­ing to be funny.

The psy­cho­lo­gic­al power of tweets like these is how they’re designed to be prompts for self-expres­sion. Brand updates in social media prac­tic­ally nev­er do this.

The kick­er is that most brand updates are miss­ing the point of this nar­ciss­ist­ic prin­ciple. They use up all the oxy­gen, so there’s noth­ing left for any­one to add.

The Narcissistic Principle for Brands

So, we rarely share cor­por­ate mes­sages on our social net­works. Not because brands have noth­ing inter­est­ing to say but because they’re doing a good job ensur­ing everything is being said.

To run a DIY exper­i­ment, I col­lec­ted 100 social media updates re-shared by a user. Out of these, 86 updates included shared com­ments where the users expressed some­thing about themselves.

I then col­lec­ted a smal­ler sample of branded social media updates without shares. I tried to think of my share com­ment — if I were to share these tweets. Nothing came to mind.

So, what to do?

Look at your brand’s social media copy. If someone were to share your update in their feeds, would it be easy to instantly add share com­ments to express themselves? 

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

PR Resource: More Social Media

PR Resource: The Stupid Majority

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The Stupid Majority

From what con­ver­sion the­ory tells us, minor­it­ies tend to hold their opin­ions more firmly. This is reas­on­able since going against the major­ity comes at a high­er social cost. 1Silfwer, J. (2017, June 13). Conversion Theory — Disproportionate Minority Influence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​v​e​r​s​i​o​n​-​t​h​e​o​ry/

But some minor­it­ies have an addi­tion­al advantage:

Smart Minority = a minor­ity of today that will grow into a new major­ity of tomorrow.

In con­trast, some major­it­ies have an addi­tion­al disadvantage:

Stupid Majority = a major­ity of today that will stead­ily decline into a minor­ity of tomorrow.

Examples of Stupid Majorities

Stupid Majorities are to be found everywhere:

Riding a skate­board isn’t a real sport!”
(Stupid Majority vs Red Bull)

Computing is about bits and bytes, not design!”
(Stupid Majority vs Apple)

Websites and apps can­’t pro­duce movies and tele­vi­sion shows!”
(Stupid Majority vs Netflix)

Electric cars can­’t com­pete with gas cars!”
(Stupid Majority vs Tesla Motors)

Hotels must have hotel rooms!”
(Stupid Majority vs AirBnB)

Taxi com­pan­ies must have tax­is!”
(Stupid Majority vs Uber)

Media com­pan­ies must pro­duce media!”
(Stupid Majority vs Facebook)

Identifying a Stupid Majority (and sid­ing with a Smart Minority) will cla­ri­fy your core mes­sage and attract highly engaged minor­ity supporters.

Since time’s by your side (the Stupid Majority will be gone no mat­ter what), tar­get­ing a Stupid Majority might become your career­’s most influ­en­tial PR strategy.

Read also: The Stupid Majority PR Strategy: How Underdogs Dominate

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1 Silfwer, J. (2017, June 13). Conversion Theory — Disproportionate Minority Influence. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​v​e​r​s​i​o​n​-​t​h​e​o​ry/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has



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