Social media marketing isn’t about playing around on Facebook and hoping to get some new sales out of the deal. It’s about building and implementing carefully structured campaigns that influence your potential customers’ emotions, improve relationships with your brand, and create environments that influence people to make purchases.
By understanding the psychology behind social media engagement, you can increase your chances of connecting with your audience. Many online social behaviors are based on simple psychological principles, and you can turn those principles to your advantage with a simple change in tactics.
According to research performed at the University of California, emotions that are shared online are contagious to other users. This isn’t exactly news—anyone that’s spent time in a public environment knows that when one person shows signs of happiness, others tend to be a little happier, and when one person shows signs of irritability, others tend to be a little more irritable. However, this University of California study shows that this same principle applies to an online social environment. When a person makes a status update with positivity and happiness at its core, that person’s friends and followers are more likely to also share something positive.
As a social marketer, you can use this information to your advantage. If you share something happy, for instance, all the people following you will feel a slight bit happier as a result. By gradually associating your brand with positive qualities, you can forge your brand as a positive force in your followers’ lives. Similarly, you can use this contagious emotion principle to post videos and content that evoke specific emotional responses, and use them as viral leverage points to influence wider audiences. Evoking such emotional responses also leads to a higher propensity for social shares, which you can read about below.
Researchers recently discovered that tiny alterations in facial expressions can leave users with an immediate, strong preference for one profile image over another. For example, two identical faces are shown in two differing circumstances: in one, face A is smiling slightly while face B is not. In the other, face B is smiling slightly while face A is not. That subtle difference is enough to persuade first-time viewers to favor one face over the other, even though the faces are of the same individuals in both trials.
This means that a first impression could make or break your marketing efforts immediately. If a user stumbles across your landing page and has a knee-jerk reaction to your brand as being untrustworthy, you’ve immediately lost an opportunity.
While establishing and building your social presence, you’ll need to take efforts to ensure your users’ first impressions are solid across the board. One easy way to do this is through A/B testing; before rolling out a campaign, run an experiment with two slightly different variations of a similar design and message. Compare the results against each other, and figure out which features cultivate the greatest first impression.
The University of Queensland recently showcased a study that demonstrated that active social media participation gave individual users a sense of connectedness and belonging. Essentially, the more a user participated in a given community (for example, the Facebook page of a favorite brand or company), the more connected he/she felt with the community around that page.
This information is helpful in understanding the social dynamics of social media interaction. It’s not enough to foster positive feelings toward a brand with helpful posts; a user could read updates from your page on a regular basis, and still not feel connected to the brand. You have to get your users to actively participate on your social channels if you truly want to build a social relationship with them. You can do so through direct means, such as asking users for questions or comments, or indirectly, by making posts designed to encourage comments and responses.
Another strategy is to use polls, surveys, and open threads to facilitate community discussion. If done consistently and correctly, eventually your community will begin to shape itself, and older members of the community will attract newer members of the community, shouldering some of the burden of the social marketer and leading to even greater numbers of fans.
A recent study on emotional arousal showed that users are far more likely to share any content that activates our nervous system. This is just scientific confirmation of a principle most of us in the social marketing world knew anyway: content that interests us, excites us, or surprises us is more likely to be shared. That means the more emotionally arousing content you produce, the more shares you achieve, and combined with the principle that emotions are contagious, the result is an exponentially widening audience of readers and potential customers.
Of course, creating such stimulating content is the difficult part. After all, the market is saturated with content, and finding something new to show people can be near impossible. You’ll need a creative team, or at least a solid vision to work with if you want to produce something that is particularly engaging. You can start with a piece of new information, perhaps some you found through original research, to construct an infographic or video that enlightens your followers, or find a funny, creative way to present a new concept. Striking the balance between entertainment and information, with a hint of shock value, is the perfect recipe to produce such stimulating, shareable content.
It’s human nature to want to talk about ourselves—it’s partially the reason why social media exists in the first place. Some evidence even suggests that people are willing to give up sums of money in order to talk about themselves more. If you give your customers a platform for talking about themselves, you’ll end up with happier, more engaged customers.
You can do this in a number of ways. First, you can call your users to action, asking for testimonial submissions, or comments about why they love your brand or your product. Here’s the key: frame it in a way that allows each user to talk about him/herself. Instead of merely asking, “Give us feedback on our product,” change your question to focus on the user by saying, “Tell us how our product makes you feel.” This subtle change alters the question just enough to allow users to feel like they’re talking about themselves.
You can repeat this strategy indefinitely by asking for opinions and thoughts on a variety of different products and broader ideas. The trick is to make each one a unique, personal experience, and reward your participants by letting them know their voices are heard.
You don’t have to be a social psychologists to understand some of the basic psychological principles that dictate online social behavior. Take these principles and put them to good use in your social media marketing campaign. By cultivating a positive atmosphere, nurturing social shares, and forging strong emotional connections, you’ll be able to grow your social media presence and increase both traffic and sales as a result.