Succeeding in social media sometimes feels like taking a wild stab in the dark.
Though you’re working with data, numbers and words on a screen, it’s people you’re ultimately trying to win over. And people are unpredictable – just because you ‘build it’, doesn’t mean they’ll come.
I mean, who really knows why audiences respond to some posts while completely ignoring others that, to all intents and purposes, seem to be identical?
The good news is that you can step up your social media game with a few lessons from psychologists. In his classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, psychologist Dr. Robert B. Cialdini shares several valuable principles that we can apply to our social media marketing.
Let’s look at the top six psychological principles that can help inspire social media success.
Principle #1: Reciprocation
According to Cialdini, people generally feel compelled to pay back a favor. This is known as reciprocation: an overpowering sense of obligation that we, as social creatures, may well have evolved with. You probably won’t get too far in trying to oblige someone to respond to you. But by offering a little reciprocation yourself, you can show the human side of your brand – a precious quality in a space littered with bots (and uncaring, bot-like behaviour).
@BestBuy reciprocates the support their customers show them.
Try this: Like back, follow back, and selectively repost and retweet from your audience’s sea of voices. Reciprocating the appreciation they show you is a personable gesture of goodwill – a very human thing to do – that can in turn help you build a captive following, which can help improve your brand perception and possibly even your conversions.
Principle #2: Commitment and consistency
The way we see ourselves – our identity or self-concept – holds powerful sway over our day-to-day decisions. So Cialdini’s ‘commitment and consistency’ principle goes. Once people commit to something (that is, establish a piece of their identity), they’re more likely to honor that commitment to stay consistent to who they are.
Writing coach @RayneHall follows other writers who may find her services useful.
Try this: Directly engage people who already align with your brand (just don’t be creepy about it). Social media gives people the opportunity to represent who they are and what they believe in. You’ll see it in their posts, shares, likes, follows and profile bio. All of this information can be used to gain insight into how your audience sees themselves, helping you craft messages consistent with what they’re most likely to respond to.
Principle #3: Social proof
When we’re unsure of how to act, we tend to look for guidance from what other people are doing. This is called the principle of social proof. You’ll often see commercial websites apply it in the form of user reviews, testimonials, awards and ‘customers who bought this also bought…’ references.
Plagiarismcheck.org offers social proof by sharing the size of their user base.
Try this: Collaborate with influencers, micro-influencers and other players in your brand niche. By building strong, publicly visible alliances, you tell your followers it’s okay to think you’re cool because the people they admire think you’re pretty cool already.
Principle #4: ‘Liking’
People are more willing to say yes to someone they know and like – so goes Cialdini’s principle of ‘liking’, which also suggests that we respond well to physical attractiveness, people who are similar to us, people who compliment us, people who cooperate with us, and people we associate with good things.
Just like in real life, you can’t make someone like you, and trying to make someone like you often has the opposite effect. But being likeable is often as simple as staying down-to-earth, finding common ground with others, appreciating people for who they are, and working together towards positive experiences.
Uxdesign.cc’s Medium publication, featuring their lovable mascot, ‘UX Bear’.
Try this: First of all, get your social media profiles looking sharp. Choose visually appealing profile photos and feature/background images. Ensure your posts feature content, tone and wording that your followers can relate to.
When companies fail at social media, it’s usually because they’ve failed to connect with their audiences or failed to drop the stuffy formal tone that’s rampant in corporate culture. So crack jokes, have fun, keep it real. Show your audience a good time and you’ll show them you’re worth saying yes to.
Principle #5: Authority
Cialdini highlights a chilling lesson from the Milgram experiment in the 1960s – when instructed by an authority figure, perfectly ordinary people would be capable of performing damaging acts, going against their own conscience.
This demonstrates how ingrained our sense of duty to authority can be. But fortunately, in the social space, the principle of authority can work positively too.
@studioguerassio tweets on topics relating to her personal area of expertise.
Try this: Share useful advice from your area of expertise. It shows off your knowledge and helps people who may otherwise have struggled without it. Don’t worry too much about giving this information away for free. The truth is, other experts will do the same, so it’s worth putting yourself out there and letting people know you as someone who knows their stuff.
Principle #6: Scarcity
In his book, Cialdini perfectly sums up the principle of scarcity with a quote from writer G. K. Chesterton:
“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”
Just about everywhere in advertising, from huge “one day only” Black Friday signs to tiny “while stocks last” fine print, you’ll see this principle at play. It’s true – people value things more when they realize they can’t just have it anytime they want.
Try this: Hold competitions, giveaways, limited-time offers and member-only (or follower-only) exclusives via your social media platforms. By highlighting the exclusivity and potential for missed opportunity, your followers will be less likely to take your offer for granted.
@dcpedalboard’s limited-time contest to win a highly coveted prize pack.
As modern marketers with technology at our fingertips, we have a duty to communicate responsibly and do the right thing by the people who constitute our audience. No honest social media strategist would condone using psychology principles to manipulate the consumer, but sadly, many companies still find a way to trick people for their own gain.
It’s a rotten thing to do, not to mention a risky move in this busy, noisy, digitally empowered world. For once you lose a customer’s trust, you might have lost them for good – especially since your competitors will welcome them with open arms.
So use the above principles for good, not for evil, and remember that it’s all about understanding people’s motivations – not trying to twist their thinking.
Guest Author: Nancy Christinovich is a content strategist behind www.plagiarismcheck.org, a tool that helps combat plagiarism in academia and web writing. She writes for blogs and social media, and you are welcome to follow her on Twitter to ask questions or simply say hello.