The five core social motives: to grow

In Social Motives series on the five core social motives, we explore just what it is that drives us to feel, think and act.

According to social psychologist Dr Susan Fiske, the basis behind our decisions in social situations can be distilled into five core motives: trust, understanding, growing, influencing, and belonging.

Understanding these five core social motives is essential to any situation where we interact with other people; in essence, the five core social motives make up the very fabric of our lives.

To grow

It is a daily tension that physical growth and maturation don’t exactly correlate with mental and emotional growth. Rather than being disheartened by this, people all over the world try every day to achieve little victories in their lives and grow as people.

This social motive ‘to grow,’ this striving to reach our potential – which Abraham Maslow described as the pinnacle of the human experience – is a motive to which those lucky enough to live in the developed world can devote considerable time and effort.

Maslow's heirarchy of needs model shows us how the social motive to grow is part of the life goals one sets out to attain

Why is it important to grow?

As humans, one of our points of cultural pride is our accumulation of wisdom, information and technology, the inter-generational communication of which holds primacy in much of our shared narrative. It is therefore no wonder that much of our art and media is about maturing, learning life lessons, going on adventures of discovery, and why one of the most loved narrative tropes is the ‘rags to riches’ story (e.g. Harry Potter, Cinderella, Slumdog Millionaire, Bridget Jones’s Diary and the lives of Oprah Winfrey, Susan Boyle and Richard Branson) – in essence, growing up.

Richard Branson's success story is demonstrative of the 'rags to riches' narrative and an important one for digital marketing to grasp

The success story of Richard Branson is well-known and a classic rags-to-riches narrative.

What does growing look like?

Bridget Jones’s goals were to get a boyfriend (hopefully the right one), a better job and a bit of (self-) respect. Once she understood how these aspirational goals defined her, she set out doing her best to achieve them. By the end of the film she had accomplished her goals and had grown as a person.

The efforts Bridget made during 97 minutes of screen time propelled her to grow and enhance her ‘Self’; but her external achievements would not have been possible without internal growth and her mind being in the right place. Growth, then, is as much about accumulating and ticking off boxes as it is about learning and gaining understanding.

How do we grow?

Name three life goals off the top of your head. You can probably name three goals for this year alone too, this week or even this day. The fact that these are prominent in your mind means (or should mean) that the decisions you are making and actions you are taking are moving you towards achieving or manifesting those goals.

But what products, services and people are available to you to help you achieve those goals and, therefore, grow as a person? Are you a cyclist? Chances are you read up on cycling news, products, courses, races. If you want to buy your first investment property, you will be reading the property news, be a part of the real estate groups on Facebook, subscribed to newsletters. If your goal is as broad – but important – as simply wanting to be happy, you will understand what makes you happy and be striving to achieve those things.

What does it mean for digital communications and social media?

Growth and self-actualisation are the aspirational factors that motivate individuals to participate in any activity, acquisition or consumption. With disposable income and social mobility, people are free to decide how they define themselves and what their goals are.

In digital communications and social media – and in the age of the individual – attempts to manipulate those goals or aspirations are wasteful and often insulting.

With the enormous reach and market potential offered by digital channels, the clever strategy is to increase your visibility and announce your presence to those with goals that are aligned with your product or service offering. This serves the dual role of empowering consumers and saving your business money. Compare the waste of using a big net for a certain type of fish, rather than many fishing rods with the lure that suits your chosen fish.

Harry Potter started out with very little and grew to accumulate expeirence, wisdom, family and friends

The material wealth of Harry was always a distant second to the wealth he accumulated in respect, experience, family and friends.

The key, then, is to identify what your audience hungers for. What is their lure? What is it that makes them tick? What are the life goals that helps them to grow? On digital channels, you can discover this simply by researching what pages your audience likes, what they comment on, what groups they are a part of, what images they share (essentially their metadata) – in effect, you need to watch, listen and do your homework.

Those with the opportunity to pursue growth will be making decisions daily that move them towards attaining their daily/weekly/yearly life goals. If you can identify those goals then you can identify what your product or service is going to offer, what your marketing message is going to be and, therefore, how you are going to help your customer, client or audience to grow.

Internal growth and self-actualisation drive the external and Slumdog Millionaire demonstrates this

The internal and external growth of Jamal parallel each other throughout Slumdog Millionaire.

Follow up with a read on the social motives to trust, to understand, to influence and to belong.

That brings to a close our series on the five social motives. Understanding of these motives is an important part of understanding who we are as individuals and communities and it is vital to success in a socially-connected world. Thanks for reading. Be sure to check into Social Motive for regular discussion on communications and marketing in the digital sphere.


Written by Mason Engelander