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The Narcissistic Principle: Why We Share in Social Media

Leave room in your copy for users to express themselves.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

There’s a narcissistic principle behind all social shares.

In this short blog article, I’ll demonstrate why brands should think differently about their social media copy.

To begin, we will take a closer look at the psychology behind why we share on social media.

Let’s go:

Why We Share on Social Media

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.

And so on.

And most of us get this. As humans, why would we do anything if it doesn’t do anything for us?

Perception Quote - Anais Nin
We’re all biased.

Prompts for Self-Expression

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.

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 for 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 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 of 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 added share 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 what my share comment would be — 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?

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.



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