Social media is more dynamic than ever before. We don’t know if it will be gone tomorrow, or in five years. Now that the algorithms are modified by machine learning rather than human intelligence, it is impossible to anticipate the changes. However, social media is consistent in one area: its basis in and effect on human psychology. The mechanics are often so subliminal, we are oblivious to them.
Here are three ways the psychology of social media is making an impact.
Interaction is at the heart of social media, but this behavior is different because it is not human interaction. Let’s take Instagram, for example. Content creators use a variety of tactics to increase engagement, with the ultimate goal of gaining a massive following. To gain interest in their content, they follow similar accounts or members of their target audience in the discover tab. To increase engagement, they like several posts on individual accounts, go on following sprees, and send DM’s to form partnerships.
Instagram interactions are just another manifestation of the reciprocity in which we all participate in our everyday lives. Reciprocity as a social behavior forms friendships, alliances, and communities. For marketers, proper use of social media carries with it the potential to earn attention for your brand. For example, if you tag a celebrity or brand in a post, getting a response could win you hundreds of followers. In fact, brands now have a huge opportunity to leverage the psychology of social media both creatively and strategically. They can establish a unique persona and personality, answer questions, address concerns, and take a stand on social issues. Brands can gain exposure and reach potential customers on an enormous scale.
Social media interaction is fueled by both reciprocity and confidence. People post stories and images on their profile to impress friends with humor and shock value, and stay connected to each other. The response a user gets can elicit a dopamine kick, or brief disappointment which pulls them back to the app to recheck likes in a few minutes. It’s not only individual users whose behavior follows this pattern, but brands as well, as they display a human element. Brands treat social media as a competitive space in which they attempt to dominate the conversation, especially on Twitter. They want a bigger following than the other players in the market. Brands leverage the psychology of social media to not only foster and manage customer relationships, but also gain confidence in their reach through engagement. Social media engagement metrics are more often about establishing or improving your brand image than gaining ROI, but a call to action can be appropriate when done right.
We mentioned dopamine kicks, but there is much more to unpack when it comes to the neuropsychology which pumps blood to the heart of social media. While the research is limited, there is a growing interest in this topic. A professor from Claremont University spent nine years conducting a study which found that the social connection that affects the human brain offline affects it online as well.
The term “neuromarketing” has surfaced recently in the psychology of social media, which dutifully explains a new way in which marketers should be focusing their efforts. As a result, we have the opportunity to inform our marketing campaigns with neuropsychology. Everyone likes to feel “warm and fuzzy,” and fortunately for marketers, this can happen online between brands and customers. By evoking a positive feeling when a customer views an ad, marketers can increase their oxytocin levels, which may inspire them to make a conversion.
By evoking a positive feeling when a customer views an ad, marketers can increase their oxytocin levels, which may inspire them to make a conversion.
Here are a few neuromarketing examples that can inform our marketing strategy. First, post heartwarming content. People love cat videos for a reason. They’re drawn to something that makes them feel good. If you successfully associate this “feel-good” emotion with your brand, you’ll attract new customers and inspire brand loyalty.
Next, scarcity. “Exclusive marketing” works because it targets a select group of people, which makes customers feel special. Because people hate being left out, FOMO pushes them to stay in the know and ensure inclusion. Your marketing strategy may include a special promotion, giveaway, sweepstakes, or exclusive event. Lastly, authenticity is key. Don’t post or interact on social media solely to drive ROI. That’s not the point of social media, and people will see through it quickly.
The way people participate on social media is very nuanced, and in many ways differentiated from in-person interaction. But while the concrete differences are ones to pay attention to, human psychology is the same everywhere you go. People operate in a reciprocal way and build their confidence through gaining recognition. What is happening on a neurological level has an impact on how the psychology of social media can be leveraged by brands. If marketers understand reciprocity, confidence, and neuromarketing, they will put themselves ahead and compete on a higher level in their industry.
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