Redefining Social Engagement

A few weeks ago, I shared a piece titled, How Much is a “Like” Worth? Whether you blog, vlog, or share someone else’s, checking all those looks, likes, and shares is part of the game. It’s not really our fault; it’s just how the brain works. Every positive interaction on social media activates the reward center in the brain and gives us a little boost of dopamine. That dopamine is what keeps us coming back to get more dopamine, more likes. That feedback loop is a little like a high.

So, riddle me this: If a single click of the mouse by a complete stranger can have such an impact on the brain, what happens when you experience a real connection? (Hint: It’s a lot like a high.)

When we connect with others, the brain produces a hormone called oxytocin.  It’s often called the cuddle drug or the love hormone because the strongest surges are produced during breastfeeding and sex.  But, we also generate it with platonic touches and hugs.  Even petting your dog or cat can give you a boost of oxytocin. And we now know that we get a boost of oxytocin when we experience a sense of belonging or feel connected to others.

It happens to me when I get a phone call or text out of the blue from bestselling author, Kimberly Davis or International TEDx speaker, Heather Younger. I get a nice boost when Jeff Ikler leaves a thoughtful comment on one of my articles. Or when Susan Rooks or Laura Staley write something and tag me on a post that they know I’ll love. Or when Andy Vargo or Kevin Monroe invite me as a guest on their podcasts. There are so many others that I could go on and on, but there are two remarkable things about all of these folks.

The first is that they are all Featured Contributors on BizCatalyst 360°.  If you don’t know their work, I highly recommend that you check them out.  I get smarter from them every time I interact with them. And I say interact with them because that is what happens within the BizCatalyst community. It’s a platform about much more than just numbers and reach. It’s about real engagement built upon having conversations and building relationships. Learn from one another. Support one another.  Share the good stuff. It’s like belonging to an exclusive club of brainiacs with a mission of inclusion. (You’re invited, by the way!)

That brings me to the second remarkable thing about this group. I initially connected with all of them on LinkedIn, but ultimately met them all of them face-to-face at the No Longer Virtual Conference.  I’ve never been a fan of networking events, so I was skeptical the first year I went.  I had no idea what to expect from Sarah Elkins’ brainchild other than there were some wicked smart people from my network attending. I haven’t missed a year since. As professional experiences go, this is not a networking event.  It’s connecting to share knowledge, thoughts, questions, and sticky ideas. It’s laughing, sharing contact info, and clinking a lot of glasses.  It’s leaving with relationships that you want to nurture. (There is still time to register for 2020.)

Intellectually, I know what happens in my brain when I bond with others or feel connected to a tribe. (Check out the clip below to learn more about that.) And, I know that it has nothing to do with the number of likes or shares my articles get. The connections I’ve made with some of these folks have grown stronger, the mutual support has grown deeper and it’s safe to say we’ve all gotten a little smarter from sharing new thoughts, ideas, and the occasional virtual glass of wine from time to time.

At a time when virtual relationships are the rule rather than the exception, it’s easy to overlook the cognitive and psychological benefits we get from meaningful interaction with others.

By all means, build your social network, and check your numbers now and again.  But don’t ignore opportunities to be more than another “like.” Perhaps it’s time to redefine what social engagement means.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Great article Melissa – sorry I missed it the first time around and you are so right…when people take the time to actually share their thoughts sparked by something we have written that’s when it really matters because we are part of something bigger…you’ve given me a push to engage better too…thank you

  2. Well, you know how to make a guy’s day, don’t you? The day I met you at NLV was one of the best days of my life! I’m constantly inspired, energized, and oxytocin-ized by your work and the way you think. It’s given me such a great perspective on my own coaching. Thank you, dear friend!

  3. Awesome points. Totally agree.
    It is always empowering to engage with minded individuals and professionals who think outside the box, are willing to explore and eager to share their knowledge giveng others with the opportunity to grow and expand their knowledge base.
    I have learned a great deal from all contributions.

  4. YES! I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way, Melissa, how much more of a positive impact I can have when I engage with more than a *like*. I think a lot about engagement, of course, but those *likes* become a simple way to acknowledge a person… and yet, we can participate more with just a simple comment, sharing a bigger boost of those feel-good hormones. Awesome.

    And thank you, as always, for being a believer and supporter of #nolongervirtual. It’s really about those who attend, those who self-select to be part of this group of wicked-smart, generous, loving professionals, those are the people who make this event memorable and with long-lasting effects. Cannot wait for #nlvchicago2020! #nlvorbust

  5. I loved the article and your video, Melissa! Friday nuggets of knowledge never felt so good. Your energy shines through in both your writing and your videos. Thanks for sharing what the science says and breaking it down so that it is understandable and relatable.

  6. Thanks for sharing this excellent article about virtual reality and our programmed brain’s neurotransmitters. I don’t worry as much about adults with a more mature neocortex for logical decision-making; but I do worry about vulnerable teenagers trying to cope in an adult-hyped media.

    • At first thought, I might have agreed with you, Annemarie, but as I think more about my recent experiences with teenagers, I’m more concerned about young adults and people in their 60s facing difficult transitions with a serious lack of self-reflection and true connection. Most teens I’ve observed recently have turned back the clock on digital interaction quite a bit. Our younger son, 18, spends more time hanging out with friends than he does engrossed in the tiny screen. They go out for coffee together, walk together, and spend time just swapping stories.
      It’s the older adults I see who are relying on their digital relationships to address their loneliness, and it simply doesn’t cut it, leaving them more depressed and anxious.
      We have to remember that as humans we are designed to interact face-to-face, to experience all senses in relation to other beings.

      • I wouldn’t have thought that to be true, Sarah, but I just read an article that backs up your son’s step away from the screen. One reason, the author offered, was adults are far more inclined to rely on digital communication out of convenience and busy schedules. It makes sense to me now but was a surprise to read it. Thanks for confirming with your own experience!