Social media psychologySo this week, Derren Brown descended on Bristol and a few of us at the office got to go and have our pliable brains picked by the ultimate puppet master. But all this talk of mesmerism and subtle suggestion has left us thinking about how effective it would be to use mind control in our marketing.

Well no, not really. But there is a case for the use of psychology in your social media strategy – and there’s no hypnosis involved, we promise (just look into our eyes…)

Use emotional triggers

This is the oldest trick in the book. Anyone who has ever watched a John Lewis Christmas advert can confirm the power of emotional adverts. It is used as a tactic over and over by big and small companies alike, because it draws upon universal human experiences that transcend socio-political boundaries and create authentic connections between brands and their audience. But which emotions elicit the strongest response and just how can they be implemented into a social media strategy?

There is a Buddhist maxim that goes: “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Studies have in fact shown that sharing happiness actually increases it.

In a recent analysis of 10,000 of the most shared stories across the web, researchers found that videos and content that awe, laughter or amusement” were among the most likely to be shared. While articles that featured negative emotions – such as sadness or anger – were only shared 7% of the time. The late great Maya Angelou wrote that you may forget what people say and do, but you never forget how they made you feel. If your brand can tap into this and make your audience feel something – be it a giggle or a gasp – then you will have made a connection that will endure.

I can attest to this. My favourite advert ever was created by ThinkBox. It involves a dog called Harvey, who when his owner goes to throw away his beloved best friend, Rabbit, he presses a remote and reveals an adorable video chronicling the two buddies’ friendship.

By combining our ingrained love for our furry friends, the human need for companionship and of course a catchy song – you have yourself an advert that will stick with the audience. It is four years old and will live long in the memory – mine, at least.

Emotional engagement is key. If a customer contacts you via social media do not just retweet or share it, join in and be part of the conversation. Show you care – modern consumers like their brands to have a heart.

Make them laugh

If joy is the most effective emotion for social media sharing, then what better way to unlock it than through laughter? Brands such as Taco Bell, Innocent, Netflix and Old Spice are very good at sharing original and funny tweets, videos and content with their followers.

Venturing into humour can be difficult when you do not have comedians making up your social media team, but play around and experiment to see what content is responded to best. You can do this via analytics or the reactions on your social media channels; gauge your audience’s interests and work from there. One tip though: try not to be offensive.

When in doubt, share something cute

Studies have shown that looking at cute animals is actually good for your health, happiness and productivity. The internet’s infatuation for kittens and koala bears is believed to be an evolutionary response triggered by humankind’s basic need to protect and provide for our tiny, useless but adorable offspring.

Unlike other mammals in the wild that are born ready to go, human babies are pretty useless. The BBC reported that “we have evolved as a species to make nurturing them one of our priorities… [to ensure] the survival of the vulnerable infant and the passing on of knowledge.” Scientists believe that by tapping into these ‘nurturing instincts’, our performance of perceptual and motor tasks is improved as babies require your brain being on pretty much constantly.

Studies have demonstrated that as cute animals tend to have similar features to babies – such as big eyes, chubby cheeks and itty bitty noses – they summon the same response, which is probably why the internet seems to be obsessed with cat videos.

So in short: if you are in a social media rut, share something cute and your followers will be gushing, glowing and most importantly, engaged.

Cute cats

Partner with credible people

Partnering with credible people does not mean you need to seek out the closest attainable celebrity for endorsement, but rather you should try to associate yourself with already established and trusted brands. You can accomplish this by using your social media platforms to support and communicate with other companies.

Another method is to build relationships with authority figures and influencers in your industry and develop an actionable strategy that works for you both. We emulate those who we admire, so find out who your audience idolises and use them as a brand ambassadors to promote your products.

Audiences respond much more to recommendations from trustworthy individuals over marketing jargon. Take the fashion blogging industry for instance. Brands pair themselves with high profile individuals and exchange free products for reviews and exposure on sites such as Instagram and Twitter. And it works – why else would the Kardashians be everywhere?

Social psychology theories such as conformity and social proof highlight this trend further, but if you are wary of seeking out endorsements, ‘the Halo Theory’ could be for you. The theory essentially states that humans have a cognitive bias in which our overall impression of a person or brand influences feelings about that entity’s character and abilities.

Ergo, if you consistently create intelligent, thought-provoking content you will begin to develop a reputation for it. Your audience will be propelled to believe that you excel at other things as well (which of course, you do!).

Give them something

The theory of reciprocity suggests that by giving someone something, they will be naturally inclined to return the favour. One study conducted by Cialdini found that waiters who gave their patrons a mint along with their check received a 3.3% higher tip. If the server gave them two, the tip was likely to go up by 20%.

Reciprocity highlights the give and take relationship that humans share and that brands must emulate. You can incorporate this into your social media strategy through give-aways, competitions and small gifts like discounts. Competitions such as ‘like this post and be in with a chance of winning X’ are popular and effective as people are often happy to promote brands in the hope of gaining something in return. Come up with an offer that they are likely to share with both real-world and virtual friends; get them excited.

These tips may be less like Derren Brown and more like clever marketing, but there are no cheap tricks or short cuts that can replace intelligent strategies and original content. Collaborate, communicate and connect with your audience and you will build loyal relationships that will last far longer than a hypnotic trance.

Ben Hollom

May 20, 2016