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Social media has become an integral component in every business’s digital marketing strategy today. More and more businesses pursue social media marketing because of how important customer engagement has become. But even as more brands continue to pursue a large social media following and create engagement, only a few understand how to achieve it.

Creating engagement on social media is not easy. In order to achieve it, you will not only have to be active, but you have to be active in the right areas in order to see your efforts come to fruition. This all begins when you understand your customers – how they think and how they behave on these platforms.

A better understanding of your audience can be formed when you understand the different underlying factors that govern how people on social media behave. Once understanding has been formed, how then can engagement be created? To answer that question, we will explore different psychological rules that govern social media interaction and establish a basis for these rules that affect social media engagement.

Let’s get started!

Six Rules of Engagement: The Psychology of Persuasion

There is no doubt that the foundation of social engagement is persuasion. You convince your audience that you are worth following and engaging with. And there is, in fact, a science involved in how people are persuaded. Dr. Robert Cialdini writes about these factors in his bookInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. In his book, he identified six principles that guide human behaviour and enable persuasion. The same principles can be used to examine how humans behave on social media platforms and identify motivating factors on why they choose to engage with you and your brand.

The Principle of Reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity dictates the mutual exchange of favours. If someone does a favour for you, you feel indebted to the person doing the favour and, chances are, you will feel obliged to give back the favour. This also means if you are nice to someone, they will be nice to you. In social media terms, a basic example of this is the unwritten “Follow-Back” rule wherein following someone will earn you a follow in return. Since this has become so commonplace in recent years, it is unlikely to drive real value for your business more than simply adding to your follower number.

This principle works well on social media because it builds a relationship with your audience – a relationship based on mutual trust. By working in a trustworthy manner, your audience will, in turn, trust you back. The key here is that you go first, and it will come back to you.

The Principle of Scarcity

Have you ever wondered why prices tend to go up whenever supplies go down? In Economics, it’s called the Law of Supply and Demand wherein an item that is low in supply but high in demand will have increased prices. The same thing goes for human interaction, in some way.

When the supply of something you want diminishes, its perceived value increases, which makes you want the item even more. Simply put, you will want something more the less you can have it. This is the principle of scarcity. This not only works for limits in the number of items being offered, but also for limits in the time they are offered. It works because it creates a sense of urgency for these offers and communicates what people can stand to lose if they fail to consider what you’re offering.

Limited stocks, limited-time offers, and limited slots for certain events are some examples of the principle of scarcity at work.

The Principle of Authority

Authority figures are often in the position to persuade people to take action. These are the people who are able to demonstrate credibility, sufficient knowledge, and confidence on a certain subject matter. This is very powerful because you can immediately gain the trust of someone simply because of your position as an authority figure.

For instance, people are more inclined to believe the advice given by psychotherapists when their diplomas and certificates of training are displayed inside the room. People are also more inclined to ask directions from a police officer in uniform than a complete stranger.

In the case of social media, people will be more willing to engage with you and your brand if you are a person of authority in your field. They will engage you in conversation, seek you for advice, comment on your posts, or even just like your posts and agree with you in silence.

The Principle of Consistency

When a choice has been made, or a stand has been taken, people are more than likely to stay consistent with that commitment. That is because we encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave in accordance to that commitment – and doing otherwise leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

This can be observed when social media pages neglect to consistently stay active on social media postings. Their followers either don’t grow in number or end up forgetting or unfollowing them due to the lack of consistent updates.

The Principle of Liking

This is actually a no-brainer.

People will not respond to something that they do not like. On the other side of the spectrum, they will prefer and will say yes to those that they do like. The question that should be asked, then, is how to get people to like you.

As persuasion science dictates, there are three governing factors.

We like:

  1. Those who are similar to us or have similar tastes.
  2. People who give us plenty of compliments.
  3. Those who have similar goals and can cooperate with us.

These factors can be applied seamlessly when launching a social media campaign by understanding your audience and targeting those that will gravitate towards you and your brand. Tailor your brand identity to what people will believe to be just like theirs and share your beliefs and values.

The Principle of Consensus

Especially when they are uncertain, people will look to the actions and behaviours of others to determine their own. – Dr. Robert Cialdini

Another term that you can use to describe this principle is social proof. People tend to mimic the behaviour and decisions of others when they are unsure of which path to take, or which decision to make. This is also, perhaps, the best way to summarize the entirety of social media. They look to the actions of others as a means of validating their own actions or decisions.

Because human beings like to seek validation for their own actions from others, they will look to sites like Yelp for advice on the best restaurants, or TripAdvisor for advice on where to travel. This tends to have a snowball effect on social media as people are more inclined to engage with posts that already have high levels of engagement.

The Effector Guide to Kickstart Your Social Media

Struggling to get started with a consistent and effective strategy online? Use this guide to develop an understanding of how to make social media and other digital tools work for you and your business.



Social Media Engagement Tactics Based on Four Psychological Principles

Ask Questions (Cognitive Dissonance)

A good way to begin any engagement with your audience is by asking a question. A better way is if those questions are thought-provoking or offer them a mental challenge. These questions can range from simple personality tests and quizzes or simply questions that trigger conversations by challenging an already existing belief. A well-structured question or inquiry can trigger many responses from your audience.

Avoid: being controversial for controversy’s sake; asking too many questions.

Share Your Compelling Story (Self-Perception Theory)

As the principle of liking tells us, people often gravitate to those that share the same values and interests as them. Remember that for your content to resonate with your audience, it has to be in the sweet spot where your values and your audience’s meet. What better way to share what you stand for and what you believe in than through a compelling story? Your story will need to be structured in a way that it is empowering and eye-opening in order to evoke the response that you want to get from your audience.

Avoid: being self-serving; personal rants.

Provide Incentives (Reward Principle)

Any sort of incentive you can provide for your audience will motivate them into engaging with you and your brand. These incentives do not have to be physical rewards or monetary. They can be in the form of creative content – something that can educate, inform, entertain, or motivate. In terms of sales, people are more inclined to buy from you if you offer them rewards such as reward points, discounts, or freebies. The main point is that you should provide something of value to your audience and not offer them meaningless content to motivate them to engage with you.

Avoid: meaningless content; being “rewards-based”.

Develop a Consistent Presence (Norming)

In group psychology, norming occurs when someone develops acceptance of others and their differences and feels that they are part of an established social group. In terms of social media engagement, this is a point where your posts resonate with your audience and start to feel brand loyalty. This happens when you develop a consistent presence on your chosen social media platform and have created a perceived social group among your followers that they have a sense of belongingness. Continuously provide content that resonates with your audience to unite your audience and help them feel that they are part of a greater group.

Avoid: out-of-place content; too much humour.


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