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The Psychology Of Social Media - How to Influence Behavior

Yes, social media is about connection, but it is also SO about influencing behavior. Think about the intricate social media algorithms, how we can see who’s ‘liked’ what and how many comments are on a post. Consider the polls in Instagram stories, viral dances on TikTok, memes on X, and call-to-action buttons directly on Facebook. Brands (whether social media brands or brands like your own) are trying to get users to DO something. That can be sharing a post, subscribing to a newsletter, making a purchase, entering a giveaway, or writing a product review. 

But since we can’t fully see or understand the unique algorithms of each social media platform, how are we to best (*effectively and ethically) shape user behavior? To start, here are eight simple psychological principles that guide human behavior on social media:

8 Psychological Principles That Guide Behavior On Social Media

1. Social proof

People tend to follow the actions of others, especially when they are uncertain. That’s why apps like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok show the number of likes, shares, and comments on a given post. Greater engagement signals popularity and can encourage others to engage with content as well.

2. Reciprocity

When people feel like they’ve received something of value, they often feel inspired to return the favor. Giveaways, freebies, responding to comments and DMs, and even simply providing valuable content can influence your viewers to take desired actions like sharing the post, making a purchase, or subscribing to your newsletter.

3. Authority

People are more likely to comply with information provided by figures they perceive as authoritative. That’s why it’s important to come across as an expert in your field—especially on social media. Be sure to share your expertise, credentials, and endorsements from reputable sources. Collaborating with influencers or thought leaders is a great way to build credibility and reach new audiences.

4. Scarcity

Items or opportunities that are limited are often perceived as more valuable. This is why ‘limited time offers’ and ‘while supplies last’ slogans encourage more immediate action. Creating a sense of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out) will prompt users to engage with your content and follow your call-to-action.

5. Emotional appeals

Emotional, story-driven content often elicits stronger reactions and engagement from users. Joy, sadness, anger, etc. can elicit emotional responses and drive behavior. Storytelling and empathetic messaging helps brands connect with their audience on a deeper level. 

6. Consistency

Of course, it’s important for brands to post consistently on social media. But here we’re talking about how users tend to act in a way that is consistent with their past behavior. Understanding your target audience’s wants, needs, and pain points can help align you with their prospective behavior. 

7. Personalization

Tailoring your content to users’ past behavior, demographics, and interests can help enhance impact. This is another instance where knowing your target audience will help you create individualized content that resonates with them on a personal level.

8. Influence of peers

Peer pressure and social norms have a great impact on shaping behavior. In fact, users can see how others are interacting and engaging with social media. Leverage user-generated content, testimonials, and influencer endorsements to drive behavior. 

Now that you understand the principles that influence behavior, you can implement this knowledge into your content strategy. As a starting place, try to pick one way you can leverage each of the eight principles. For example: 

  1. Social proof: Create a branded hashtag.

  2. Reciprocity: Host a giveaway where users must share your post and tag 3 friends in order to enter.

  3. Authority: Put your brand’s credentials in your IG bio. (Ex. Awarded ‘Best Pizza on the LES by ___ Magazine”)

  4. Scarcity: Launch a flash sale with a limited-time offer.

  5. Emotional appeals: Film a TikTok of your founder speaking about why they started the brand. 

  6. Consistency: Research your core audience and delegate more time to those social media platforms where they most engage. 

  7. Personalization: Design a poll asking users what product or offering they want to see next.

  8. Influence of peers: Team up with some loyal followers to create user-generated-content.

…Now it’s time for you to come up with your own!

Looking for a little more guidance? Connect with Media À La Carte so we can help refine your social media strategy and get it more aligned with your goals. 

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1 Comment

Anna Myagkaya
Anna Myagkaya
6 days ago

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