He didn’t talk about social media platforms in the way that you and me talk about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

He talked about social media through the eyes of a biologist. He looks at it like an actual living organism.

He posed questions that changed the way we should look at social media:

  • What if social networks weren’t things, but had a life force of their own?
  • What if they could be correlated to living organisms?
  • What if you could build your social media in the same way a living organism wishes to thrive?
  • What if the emotions and experiences that are shared on the platforms, are the forces that create the lifelike qualities?

Building a social network takes time, energy and focus. Just like the animal kingdom, social media networks compete for valuable resources, and have to respond to their environments. Some platforms evolve, and some have already gone extinct.

Oliver gave some real world examples of the power behind looking at social media from a humanistic perspective.

For example, Disney marketing had a huge challenge of reaching a maturing 18-24 year old college audience that had not seen Buzz and Woody for 11 years. Their team had massive challenges in capturing the market that grew up to be too old to watch cartoons.

It was their third film and they were now dealing with a drastically different demographic from their first fans.

Oliver was tasked with solving this problem. 

To do so, he turned to human emotion.

Oliver picked out a picture of Woody and Buzz Lightyear holding each other looking into the sunset, then captioning it with ‘you have a friend in me’, it sparked up the very real emotion of nostalgia.

The platforms on which this image was shared, took on a life of its own, as it made a core “unreachable” demographic of 18-24 year olds resonate with the message, regardless of it being a cartoon.

That nostalgia made Toy Story 3, which was almost a flop, into a massive box office success, all through understanding rules of how social media can operate like a living organism.

Oliver went further into detail and laid out 7 rules of life and biology that will help you get the most out of your social networks, and help your messages evolve and survive for generations to come:

1. Life must be nourished

Much like how a newborn child must be nourished, the social organism must be nourished by human expression. Each day, there are billions of people interacting on Facebook and Snapchat. We have an innate desire to connect with each other. Technology has enabled this sharing to happen online. It has become a part of our evolution as humans. We need connectivity.

2. Life reacts to stimuli

Emotions are the metabolism of social networks. In order to thrive, the metabolism is an expression of our human emotions. Fear, sympathy, nostalgia. This is what stimulates a person. The same happens when you put that content up on your social network.

The exchange of these emotions is very important and it is happening on social platforms.

If you approach someone with the heartstrings of emotions in a real way, people will be moved.

3. Life exchanges with its environment

The social organism is influenced by the physical world. Inside and out, the world of social media is a direct reflection of our real world experiences.

When thinking of content creation, focus on real life experiences, then focus on their digital extensions.

Think about how you hook into people’s emotions of trust, then connect the dots.

4. Life rids itself of pollution

Living beings rid themselves of toxins, such as colds and viruses. The same happens with the the social media organism, as there are processes to protects itself from negativity and spam. Banner ads that don’t convert are eventually changed. Spam is filtered, and toxic posts are flagged, then deleted.

5. All life has the ability to flow and move internally

Much like how humans have a natural desire to share and have billions of neural connections that share information all the time, the social organism flows through frictionless sharing.

The need for sharing extends beyond the neuroscience. People want to share what they are a part of, what they experience, what they feel. Once you realize this, there is opportunity to reverse engineer the success of your campaign.

An example of this would be The Selfie Song by The Chainsmokers. The song broke 400 million views on Youtube.


First, they found 46 powerful influencers to be in the video that sparked a sharing chain reaction of free flow sharing.

This caused a mass phenomenon that spread the song to being number 1 in 43 countries and selling over 10 million singles.

6. Life evolves through reproduction

Much like humans reproduce, the social organism evolves through reproduction as well. When memes start to gain popularity, and topics start to trend, it generates more of the same content. This is the essence of content that ‘goes viral’. Memes not just pictures with funny phrases, they are actually the center of cultural influence. A meme could be wearing a suit to work each day or duplicating a celebrity’s style. These memes, or replications of ideas, spread systemically through social media. It is reproduction on a mass scale.

7. Living things become larger and more complicated as they grow

As each day progresses, social organisms that evolve with their environment gain size, strength and ubiquity. Questioning how to make something viral is the wrong thing to ask.

Instead, it requires us to reverse engineer our success by taking things backwards. Think of how researchers take end states and try to dissect how it was caused.  Looking at things like a biologist will help you to uncover the key steps that your message will need for maximum impact of a successful social campaign.

These are simple rules and simple concepts that follow the science of life.

According to Oliver, social has similar qualities, and as such has the power to elevate humanity. We will be seeing many changes come this next decade in both science and technology. Make sure you are leading the forefront of these movements, but keeping in mind what it takes to make a living organism not only survive, but thrive.

** Oliver’s book, co-authored with Wall Street Journalist and author, Michael Casey, “The Social Organsim” will be out in November of 2016 from Hachette Publishing.

How has social changed your business? I’d love to learn more! Comment below.

Originally posted on Inc.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.