twitterbirdWhat Makes Twitter Successful?

The beauty and success of twitter is built on 3 steadfast psychological principles - the same ones casinos bet on. Companies might consider how a twitter-like tool can increase employee engagement, desired behaviors and business performance.

Principle 1

Intermittent rewards are most effective for getting people to repeat a desired behavior.

When we are rewarded each and every time, we get bored and stop. Chimps do too. If we are never rewarded, we give up and stop the behavior. Chimps do too.

Principle 2

Immediate feedback keeps us engaged in and repeating the target behaviors. True for chimps too.

Principle 3

Each of us has an ego. We like feedback that others value us. Not sure if chimps do too.

How Twitter Applies These Principles

If  you have a “mentions” or “direct messages” column on your tweet deck or hoote suite site, continue. If not, you are rather unusual and might want to stop reading here.

Here’s how it rolls.

Step 1. I tweet something.

Step 2. I return later to see whether anyone has retweeted. If yes, bingo - reward. I check later to see if there are more retweets. If there are no retweets, I check again later. (intermittent rewards, immediate feedback)

Step 3a. If my tweet is not retweeted, I try again. Repeat step 1.

Step 3b. If my tweet is retweeted I am rewarded and repeat step 1.

Step 4.   If over a period of time none of my tweets are retweeted, I either change my behavior (Step 5) or stop tweeting (end here).

Step 5.   I study how to get retweeted. Repeat Step 1.

There it is. Simple psychological principles. Ego. Intermittent rewards. Immediate feedback. I return to twitter over and over again.

There are other benefits of course - frequent updates on topics of interest, the 24 hour cocktail party, the ability to communicate what I ate for breakfast to 1,438 “friends” etc., but I’m convinced without the principles outlined above, twitter would not be a leading social media hot spot.

What If Companies Catch On?

It might go like this.

Company XYZ establishes an internal twitter site. (Yes, I’m in conversations wtih twitter founders about this idea, so don’t even think about it.)

Step 1. Sharon, who works in customer service at XYZ, tweets “Responded w/empathy 2 irate customer. He calmed down & rescinded threat 2 cancel account.”

Step 2. Sharon gets a retweet. She repeats the empathic behavior the next time.

Step 3. Others, along with their egos, are reading Sharon’s tweets and observing all the retweets.

Step 4. They respond to irate customers with more empathy, resulting in fewer cancelled accounts.

Step 5. More employees tweet about what happens when they respond empathically to customers.

Step 6. They are retweeted.

“Every one’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin it.”

Soon it’s an empathy movement.

I have gr8 fun thinking and writing about all things at the intersection of psychology, business and leadership.

You are invited to agree, disagree, share a story or a unique point of view.

Anne Perschel
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Anne’s favorite sound is ocean waves receding over stones. Her favorite scenes include beaches and the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions. She loves the smells of freesias, lilacs and salt water, and in warmer weather enjoys being active in all variations of nature’s gifts.

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