Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Facebook is not a press release (the psychology of social marketing) – the rules of engagement

Alan Martin
20th September 2014

People are generally pretty cynical of brand intentions, and with good reason.

When the company blog was set up, I was handed the rather vague brief of writing ‘something about psychology’.

I have my previous life as a freelance feature writer to blame for this – I wrote about the psychology of online dating, the psychology of trolling and the psychology of changing political viewpoints (spoiler: it’s very hard) for Wired. I suppose I can’t really complain about the typecasting, and in any case, it’s a fascinating area. As a content marketing agency, it makes sense to talk in very loose terms about the psychology of social marketing. Strap in.

The first thing I’d observe is that people are generally pretty cynical of brand intentions, and with good reason. Facebook is primarily intended for making and maintaining friendships, so why would I want to be friends with (say) my toothpaste? I may like and use Colgate (I do), but I can justifiably feel that our relationship has gone far enough as soon as it’s out of the tube and onto my teeth. So why do people click that little ‘Like’ button?

The rules of engagement

There are a few reasons, and depending on what your brand does, some will be a harder sell than others:

  1. Coupons, discounts, freebies, competitions, etc. Psychology Today reports that 67% of people have liked a Facebook group because of this kind of incentive

  2. The brand is something I identify with and I want everyone to know it – think iPhone, Calvin Klein and Derby County Football Club (just me for that one?)

  3. Entertainment.

If you have the budget to pull off 1 and the reputation to pull off 2, then they’re a great start, but number 3 is the real long-term secret sauce that’s both lasting and more accessible to brands of all sizes. 3 is the style that turns passive users who have become fans for personal gain (1) or for appearance’s sake (2) into active fans who may actually become real, rather than fair-weather, friends.

If you can provide a steady stream of useful, insightful, entertaining content then you’re laughing, because that’s the stuff that people want to share, and what ultimately shapes feelings towards brands in a positive way. Take a look at Betfair Poker’s wonderfully cult surreal Twitter channel or some of our recent work with LG to see how people can grow fond of brands that are prepared to loosen their stuffy corporate tie and behave like real people rather than brand zealot machines.

Pearls of wisdom

But how does this link to Psychology? Well, as Peter Noel Murray PhD says in Psychology Today:

“The significance of brand personality has been demonstrated in research showing that the greater the congruity between personality characteristics that describe a consumer’s actual or ideal self and those that describe a brand, the greater the consumer’s preference for the brand.”

… or in other words, the more the brand behaves like me (or how I’d like to be) the more likely I am to become a loyal brand evangelist for it.

Now how many people do you know who speak like press releases? Even if you do, how likely are you to want to hang out with them? Yeah, that’s why a constant stream of shameless self-promotion turns people off your brand. Sounds obvious, but surprising how many people still fall into the trap.

Being fun, humble when necessary, occasionally self-deprecating, being funny, but always fiercely proud of achievements – all of these things are attractive in friends and family. Is it really such a surprise that when brands do it well people like them for it?

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