5 Psychological Studies That Will Boost Your Social Media Marketing

Marketing Tools & Tips Social Media Best Practices

In the marketing industry, we’re constantly searching for the best ways to engage our audience.

Often this means tapping into our audience’s emotions. We take turns leveraging happiness, nostalgia, sadness, surprise, curiosity… the list goes on and on. Study after study has shown that certain emotions drive specific behaviors.

In social media marketing, we can use the results of psychological studies to help guide our strategies, content, and campaigns. Here are five psychological studies that will boost your social media marketing.

Tap Into the Halo Effect

In 1920, psychologist Edward Throndike published his findings from an experiment where commanding officers in the military were asked to give ratings of various characteristics of their direct reports. The researcher was interested in learning how impressions of one quality impacted perceptions of other personal characteristics. What the researcher found was that when people had a good impression of one characteristic, those good feelings tended to affect perceptions of other qualities positively.

Tap into this Halo Effect when you’re marketing products or services. If your customers are particularly fond of one of your products or a particular feature, you can spotlight that product or feature more often. If you’re running paid social media campaigns, you could use the Halo Effect of a product to generate more positive perceptions around your other products.

Be warned! This effect goes both ways. If your customer dislikes one aspect of a product, they could have negative perceptions of everything about it.

Takeaway: When sharing something new, look to lean on products, services, or features you already know your customers love.

Leverage Social Proof

Social proof is not a new concept. The chances are that you’re probably already leveraging social proof in your social media marketing. Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect (what they perceive to be) correct behavior for a given situation.

The rise of influencer marketing ultimately comes down to social proof. For example, one study’s results indicate that if people see a social influencer they identify with share something about a particular product, they may be more likely to purchase that product. Customer stories and testimonials are other examples of this.

Takeaway: Look to leverage customer stories and social proof content in your social media marketing efforts.

Explore the IKEA Effect

Have you ever had the chance to build your very own coffee table or desk from IKEA? If so, you’ve likely experienced joy and a sense of accomplishment when seeing the final product standing astutely before your eyes. When the time comes to sell, do you have a hard time letting go? The IKEA Effect explains this.

A group of researchers conducted a series of studies that looked at the how we tend to increase the valuation of self-made products. If we build something ourselves, such as an IKEA desk, we tend to hold that item in higher value. How does this apply to social media marketing?

Look for ways to include your customers on social as you build a new feature, evolve a current product, etc. According to the IKEA Effect researchers, involving your customers in the creative process can lead to a higher willingness-to-pay. Keep in mind this is only the case if the customer is aware of their impact. If you’ve asked your users to contribute to something, either through product feedback surveys or social polls, let them know on social.

Takeaway: Share the direct positive impact your customers have made, and they may find your company more valuable to them.

Draw on Self-Categorization

According to multiple studies and texts, people often like to self-categorize themselves into groups. For example, someone who regularly hits the gym may say “I do CrossFit” or “I’m a powerlifter”—these are two types of lifters, but people who perform CrossFit or who powerlift often identify with only one category. Research indicates that “categorization concepts [are] useful for a variety of types of consumer-driven categories and for a variety of marketing applications.”

When drafting target audiences and messaging to reach those target audiences, consider the categories you are placing those audiences in and whether or not those audiences will self-identify with the content you’re serving up. The information in your social copy or assets should be sufficient in helping customers draw the connection between their self-categorization and your product.

Takeaway: Help your customers categorize themselves into a group that would best benefit from your products.

Loss Aversion

This one is a bit more straightforward. The idea here is that once someone has something, they will take action to protect that something since they don’t want to lose it. Behavioral Economics explains, “It is thought that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining, and since people are more willing to take risks to avoid a loss, loss aversion can explain differences in risk-seeking versus aversion.” Where do you think FOMO (fear of missing out) is rooted? That’s right, loss aversion.

The concept of Loss Aversion plays into industries such as cybersecurity and products that have “protection” of some kind as a key feature or functionality. Every day marketers can tap into loss aversion as well by encouraging their customers to take action with a “don’t lose what you’ve earned/got” approach. For example, “Don’t let your hard earned progress slip away. Sign up for boot camp on Saturday!” This can be a risky approach, depending on your business and messaging, so it’s important to proceed with caution.

Takeaway: Your customers want to keep what they have. Remind them that you can help them do just that.

These are just a few of the psychological studies that can help boost your social media marketing. Before using one of these studies for your social media efforts, consider how it ties into your overall strategy. You can build campaigns around a psychological study, but it should not be the core focus as you may lose your way from whatever your organization’s true objectives are. The psychological aspect of a campaign is another tool in your toolbox, so use it for the right projects as you build up your social strategy.

Erica Bell

Erica Bell is an engagement-focused marketing professional with 7+ years of experience in digital marketing. She's worked with a wide range of companies including startups and corporations in industries such as wellness, gaming, and commercial tech. Most recently, she's been working in an agency setting to support broad social initiatives such as influencer outreach, event support, social listening and intelligence, and process optimization.

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