5 Psychological Principles Behind Effective Social Media Content

What do President Obama, Lady Gaga, and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common?  They are all on the list of the top 20 most followed on Twitter.  Twitter and Facebook are two of the fastest social networking platforms, providing real-time updates of what is trending around the world—Jack Bauer would be proud.  Social media has played…

What do President Obama, Lady Gaga, and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common?  They are all on the list of the top 20 most followed on Twitter.  Twitter and Facebook are two of the fastest social networking platforms, providing real-time updates of what is trending around the world—Jack Bauer would be proud.  Social media has played a key role in such newsworthy events as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, as well as the media frenzies over Charlie Sheen’s “Winning” season and Anthony Weiner’s… well you know.

Businesses can incorporate relevant ideas found in social psychology to improve the effectiveness of their online marketing and social media strategies.  Social psychology explores the ways in which people are influenced by their perceptions of the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviors of others.  Here are five of these principles that provide greater insight into consumers’ thoughts and behaviors.  Applying these concepts will enable your business to maximize the effectiveness of the content in your social media initiatives.  Let’s take a closer look at why they work and how your business can implement these successful strategies.

Social Comparison

Why is Everyone Singing “Call Me Maybe?”

We often compare ourselves to others in order to assess our own abilities, strengths, thoughts, and feelings.  In psychology, this is known as the social comparison theory.  We socially compare ourselves to others when there is no precedent as to how to behave in a particular situation.

For instance, individuals may be inspired to post a Facebook status that refers to events they are attending if they observe that their friends have posted about the event.  It’s always easier to admit you’re listening to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” when you know you’re in good company. Socially comparing ourselves to others is an automatic process that occurs quickly, without much thought; therefore, we tend to compare ourselves to anyone who may be around, rather than to people with whom we share similar backgrounds and comparable experiences.  However, once we’ve made this initial judgment, we take a step back and determine if this comparison is helpful.

Businesses use social comparison to benchmark and surpass the competition, as well as social media endorsements, some of which incorporate celebrities, to provide sincere testimonials about the product.

It’s common practice to examine the competition; however, those that are cognizant of the benefits of social comparison go beyond noting similarities and differences.  In order to become the paradigm user of social media, these companies need to establish themselves as early adopters and trend-setters.  For example, if a website designer is deciding whether a Facebook format should be switched to a timeline format, he or she might examine a competitor’s website to review its profile layout.  After comparing the formats, the web master might elect to switch designs to highlight the company’s history and provide easier access to past events for its fan base.

However, the true trend-setters are forward- thinking and drive innovation, rather than react to what their competition is doing. Social comparison can be used not only to keep up with the competition, but more importantly, to stay one step ahead of them.  Users of social media pride themselves on staying current by being aware of what is trending at any given time.  Want to know who to thank for the whole world singing “Call Me Maybe?”

One viral video from the Biebs and quite a few Disney stars, followed by reposts from their friends and followers, started this trend and jumpstarted Carly’s career.  The listening and viewing habits of people are greatly influenced by what they perceive everyone else as doing.  Celebrities with a huge fan base are often the most influential, as was the case with this song.

Users often adopt the preferences of their “friends” as their own.  Integrating fresh and relevant content will attract consumers interested in boosting their social media influence.  These consumers are applying the principles of social comparison when they advance the trending content of businesses to increase their social media presence… a win/win situation.

People who share common views are drawn to one another, so content should be updated to reflect the interests of the target market. Do some research!  Check out the profiles of those who are following and friending the company’s social media profile and tweak the content to create a profile that appeals to and personifies typical followers and customers. This process may prove time-consuming; however, the results will reflect the additional effort.  More people will be drawn to the profile and view it more frequently.  This additional viewership should ultimately translate into more conversions.

The content should be shareable, include relevant celebrity trends, such as activities in which they are engaged or causes in which they are involved, and incorporate viral trends to increase the entertainment value of your posts.  Users are most interested when the content is focused on trend-setters in areas of interest to that target market.

Incorporate the use of Klout, PeerIndex and PeopleBrowsr to compile data on relevant influencers who can inspire action or are already powerful brand advocates.

The main takeaway from all of this is that if users are viewing others’ profiles as a means to determine their own likes, dislikes, attitudes, and beliefs, then businesses should create profiles that are as interesting and engaging as a friend’s page.

In order to capture users’ attention and keep them returning to the business’s home page, the sheer amount of content, activity, and buzz generated should be impressive.  Once these social media profiles have successfully incorporated interesting and noteworthy content, users will begin to adopt the business’s content as their own, which is referred to as social tuning.

Impression Management

The Lorenzo Von Matterhorn

Impression management is a psychological term, which refers to the idea that people try to influence how others will see them.  Social media is an ideal outlet for impression management.  This theory is helpful in explaining why users post certain content online, including their preferences and opinions regarding activities, lifestyles and interests.

Individuals develop personal brands by creating images of how they want to be perceived by those around them.  Therefore, it can be very beneficial for a business to examine how these “personal brands” align with its brand image and reputation.  People join groups because they want to interact with those who are similar to themselves, a concept that can prove valuable when implementing social media plans.

Note underlying commonalities to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the type of consumer the business is attracting. There is a wealth of information available to help a business define and target its fan base.  This information can be used to create the next big poll or viral video that will attract a significant number of viewers and fans.  Once a business has attracted a following, it should continue to evaluate the profiles to determine if the followers reflect the anticipated demographics or psychographics.  The company may find that it appeals to a new market segment and can revise its content accordingly.

Barney Stinson, from How I Met Your Mother, is ALWAYS at the top of his game and ready to impress, regardless of which persona he has to embody.  Watch how Barney uses social media in the guise of Lorenzo Von Matterhorn to impress a girl– it’s legen… wait for it… dary!

Businesses also create profiles on social networking sites to present their brand images to followers.  Rather than reaching an audience of “friends,” these companies are trying to connect with potential consumers.  While it is difficult to establish a loyal following amongst consumers who are inundated with messages across a multitude of media options, social media websites have the unique advantage of being interactive.

A business that structures its model to make consumers active participants in its daily decisions will cultivate a following of consumers who are engaged.  By creating social profiles that reflect both the values of the company and its target consumers, the company generates more buzz and has the potential to trend, which will ultimately translate into more business.

Operant Conditioning

Game On or Game Over

The process of operant conditioning occurs when the behaviors people exhibit are influenced by whether or not they are positively or negatively reinforced or punished.  Users are more likely to return to a site if it engages them in discussions or activities because they find the experience enjoyable and develop a positive attitude toward interacting with the profile page.  Develop content that is interesting and intriguing to encourage users to return more frequently and become your most loyal brand advocates.

How do businesses create content that users will find enjoyable? First, they do their research to understand what motivates consumers to share the content of their lives on social networks.  Social content reflects an individual’s interests, opinions and personalities.  Whether we are conscious of it or not, we seek the approval of our peers.  Social affirmation, such as Facebook “Likes” and retweets, makes us feel as if the content we post is valuable.  Businesses show that they value and relate to their followers by affirming their choice of content.

Gamification is one method businesses use to incorporate operant conditioning.  Consumers are rewarded for performing certain tasks, as they would be if they were playing a video game.  However, instead of moving to the next level, they can earn achievement badges and virtual currency, receive free merchandise, or obtain additional discounts for “check-ins” at restaurants or stores, posting a certain number of comments, or answering a quiz.

Businesses, such as Sprinkles, entice customers to stop in by offering sweet deals via tweets.  For instance, the first 50 visitors to the store who whisper the secret code may receive a free cupcake! Their offers vary and are tweeted daily.  Customers are encouraged to sample new flavors they might purchase another time or enjoy their one free cupcake and buy several more to share (…or not to share… that is the question).

Participating in relevant conversations with consumers and posting information that will be helpful to consumer’s lifestyles will cultivate a positive and mutually beneficial relationship. Companies will have the opportunity to promote products and services to a receptive audience of loyal patrons.

Once this connection has been established and a “friend” is made, people begin to share their life stories.  Companies who create these genuine relationships then have the opportunity to build goodwill in the community, which translates into increased business and profitability.

Social Impact Theory

Up Close and Personal

The social impact theory states that people are influenced by large groups that have a strong presence in their lives.  In business, consumers are more likely to respond to a company’s influence if it is perceived as important, close to their frame of reference, and a large developed organization.  An effective way to create a sense of immediacy is to continually update content on the profile; the greater the presence on news feeds or timelines, the closer a company can get to its users within space and time constraints.  However, daily updates to a profile’s content are not enough to keep users engaged.  The content must also be valuable to consumers. If content is constantly updated without having anything of value to say, the overall impression will be negative rather than engaging.

Companies such as Pepsico, McDonald’s and Sony Music use systems such as Hootsuite and Bufferapp to help them manage multiple user profiles, schedule tweets to reach the most followers, and update their Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn profiles.  However, not all tweets should be scheduled.  Tweets must be current, personalized, and meaningful.  If they are perceived as being automated, followers will quickly lose interest.

Propinquity Effect

A Little MORE Conversation, A LOT More Action (Why Elvis Got It Wrong)

The propinquity effect states that the more we interact with someone, the more likely they are to become our friends.  By facilitating chats amongst members, whether it is in a forum, blog, post, or contest, businesses enable followers to become more involved.  Consumers will then correspond with the businesses via social media and become more invested in their overall brand images.

Encourage greater participation by offering some sort of acknowledgment of posts, such as a free giveaway or a response to an @mention of your business.  Show that you trust and value your customers’ opinions by posting questions related to their opinions regarding industry-related trends or ways in which your business can improve its current strategies. Soliciting suggestions and input will make your followers feel appreciated; by responding to users’ posts, you will indicate your genuine interest in the opinions of your customers and will be better able to address any concerns.  The overall impression will be one of a user-friendly experience.

Zappos.com has a reputation for excellent customer service, which promotes customer loyalty.  They achieve this in part by acknowledging and responding to Facebook comments from customers and engaging followers in friendly conversation.

Companies are able to position themselves as a trusted friend or valuable resource through the use of Quora, which allows them to answer questions on relevant topics or subjects.  Companies also use Quora to host Twitter chats by creating a hashtag, schedule weekly or bi-monthly chats on a relevant topic, or facilitate question-and-answer sessions with notable guests.

Cultivating a strong business in not unlike nurturing a friendship; it is important to relay genuine interest and concern and to encourage open communication.

Know Your Brand and Your Consumer

Ultimately, employing psychological principles for online marketing success comes down to knowing your brand and your consumer.

  • Relate your message to your target market
  • Create a brand image that complements your fans’ core beliefs and interests
  • Encourage and engage with frequently updated and relevant content
  • Provide educational or entertainment value to readers
  • Present content that is clear, concise and current

Implementing the guidelines listed above will enable your website to be friended, be liked, be followed, and be successful!  Social media facilitates communication and networking.  Although to some, conducting business online lacks the charm of frequenting a local shop, social media enhances the experience by personalizing business transactions and providing high tech and high quality customer service.  The free exchange of innovative ideas and worthwhile information promotes strong relationships between businesses and their customers, which fosters good-will and loyal patronage, while enabling users to become involved, engaged and invested on a larger scale.  Happy social networking… and may the odds be ever in your favor.

responses to “5 Psychological Principles Behind Effective Social Media Content”

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  2. Shalu Sharma says:

    This is a very detailed analysis of the psychological behind social media. It is true that many companies try to get on the social bandwagon very early on and influence and maintain their status by spending a huge amount of money. 

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