Does #MondayMotivation actually motivate anyone?

Academics examine whether a trending hashtag can really spread positivity. 

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

How did #MondayMotivation start? There is no definitive answer. Some say it has always been there, like the sun, or the stars. Others say it was forged in the fires of Mount Doom sometime around April 2015. Yet although we don’t know when it started, we do know when it will end. Never. The answer is never. Humanity is doomed to a low-budget Groundog Day remake in which every single Monday without fail, the hashtag trends online.

This is arguably too cynical an analysis of a social media trend that – at least, ostensibly – aims to spread positivity. For the uninitiated, #MondayMotivation is a hashtag used on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to spread optimistic, life-affirming messages every time Monday rolls around. But can a hashtag really spread positive feelings? And if it can, can it really do so week in, week out?

“Emotional contagion means that a person can spread emotions to another person,” says Dr Stefan Stieglitz, a professor of professional communication on social media at the University of Duisburg-Essen. “Studies show that emotions can also spread via computer-mediated communication, for example on social media.”

It is proven, then, that emotions can spread across social media, although Stieglitz’s own research shows that negative emotions have a greater impact. In the case of #MondayMotivation, he theorises that the hashtag can create a community feeling among people who don’t actually know each other in real life, and therefore have a positive effect. “However,” he warns, “there might also be people who use such a popular hashtag to get attention for their own account, or for marketing.”

This is the crux of the issue. The reason the hashtag repeatedly trends is because brands use it to spread their messages. “More or less all popular hashtags are used by companies to generate attention for their products,” explains Stieglitz. “In this case the companies are trying to put their brands in a positive context. At the beginning this strategy might be successful but in the longer term it might destroy how natural the communication seems. This might result in a decreasing interest of the users.”

It is easy to see how being confronted with Power Direct’s message to “Get some #MondayMotivation & enter our #New #Free #Competition #Giveaway to #Win a CrockPot Sauté Slow Cooker” could diminish the impact of the hashtag (unless, I guess, you really like crockpots). The monetisation of motivation arguably reduces the chances of people being actually, genuinely moved by #MondayMotivation.

Yet then again, retweets don’t lie. Despite the sharing of motivational quotes being scientifically linked to low intelligence (because more intelligent people often spot when such quotes are meaningless), people on social media continue to spread them. Dr Jacqui Taylor, an expert on the social psychology of online communication, argues that uplifting comments online have been shown to have a positive impact.

“Uplifting comments online can make people feel better and a number of behaviour change progammes in the areas of health psychology – for example, stop smoking or healthy eating campaigns – have shown success with such messages," she says. "This can be particularly effective if online messages are targetted, eg. on days that are significant, such as holiday times for eating, or stressful times for smoking. In the case of #MondayMotivation, messages on a day traditionally associated with a negative mood (Sunday or Monday) may be more effective than those posted on a Friday or weekend for example.”

Stieglitz, however, warns that any positive feelings gained from #MondayMotivation might not last long. “Most probably it will be a short-term effect similar to how most people consider a positive hint from a friend or a positive text in a fortune cookie,” he says.

In short, it is clear the #MondayMotivation has a positive affect on some people (and their sales targets). If you are already inclined to be motivated by inspirational quotes then there is no reason that a hashtag can't have a positive effect on your mood. If you're not, well, don't worry. You only have to wait another four days to get that #FridayFeeling. 

Amelia Tait is a freelance journalist, and was previously the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. She tweets at @ameliargh