Social Media and Psychology: 4 Things Marketers Need to Know

You can’t expect social media success if you don’t understand your audience. And there’s no better way of doing this than getting inside their heads with a few basic psychology principles.


At Social Media Thunder, we’ve long known that these principles are key to making content spread. This article introduces a few of the most important concepts you can put to work in your strategy, like:

  • Why people share the social media content that they do
  • How to use color to build trust with your audience
  • How to create a successful social strategy using emotion

Continue reading to discover the psychology facts that social media managers need to know.


4 psychology lessons for social media marketers

1. The reasons why people share content online

Have you ever thought about why you share the social media content that you do? The New York Times conducted an extensive study to find out. They found five key reasons why people share content online:


  • To improve the lives of others. Almost all participants (94 percent) said they share because they feel the content will improve the lives of their audience. As a marketer, it’s important to create helpful content that will do something to make your audience (and their audience’s) lives better.


  • To define themselves. Two in three participants (68 percent) reported sharing content in order to create an “idealized online persona” of themselves. When you create content, consider whether it will be something that fits with your audience’s interests—and whether they will be proud to share it.


  • To grow and nourish relationships. Four out of five participants said they share online content as a means of staying connected with others. Consider ways your content can be used to foster connections between others. Ask your audience to tag other users in the comments or encourage sharing with a compelling CTA (ie. “Share this recipe video with the best cook you know for a chance to win this new cook set!”)


  • Self-fulfillment. Everyone likes getting positive feedback and feeling valuable. The study found that “consumers enjoy content more when they share it, and that they enjoy content more when it is shared with them.” Create informative content to help your audience achieve this feeling on the regular.


  • To get the word out about causes they believe in. Four out of five (84 percent) participants say the “share information as a way to support causes or brands they care about.” Think about which causes your brand cares about and create content that supports these causes.


These five key motivations clearly show that your audience’s main reasons for sharing are their relationships with other people—not your brand. Keep this in mind as you continue creating and sharing audience-focused content.

2. The right (or wrong) color can change audience behavior

You might not consider color an important part of your social media strategy, but the psychology behind it proves it’s worth careful consideration. According to the study Impact of Color on Marketing, “People make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with either people or products. About 62 to 90 percent of the assessment is based on colors alone.”


But it isn’t so much about the color itself as it is about whether the color suits your brand and product. As Entrepreneur explains, “nearly every academic study on colors and branding will tell you that it’s far more important for your brand’s colors to support the personality you want to portray instead of trying to align with stereotypical color associations.”


To make strategic color decisions when it comes to your social media content, consider how your color choices fit with your brand voice. What message do you want to send, and what colors can help in that regard?  While there are common associations with certain colors (such as green for ‘go,’ yellow meaning ‘happy,’ etc.) context is key.


For more information on the power of color in your marketing strategy, check out this handy Color Psychology guide.

3. How to build trust with your audience

You wouldn’t buy anything from someone you didn’t trust, and your target customer is no different. Ogilvy PR CEO Chris Graves hosted a webinar in which he discussed the ways marketers can earn the trust of their customers.


A chemical called oxytocin plays an important role here. Called “The Trust Hormone” by economist Paul Zak, oxytocin is a feel-good chemical released from the brain when, for example, someone feels accepted and a part of something.


“People are more likely to change their mind or behaviors when the result will make them feel better about themselves, and oftentimes that means being part of a larger group,” Graves explains.


He describes an experiment conducted by a power company who found that customers who were shown their neighbors’ consumption habits wanted to mirror those (whether they were previously using more or less energy). As Graves explains, “This is an example of Social Proof, the practice of not pointing out bad behavior, but showing consumers that their tribe is already doing the desired behavior.”


You can apply this theory to your social strategy to try to build trust with your audience. User-generated content (UGC) and positive customer reviews are a great way of showing your audience that others are already happy customers of your brand. Millennials trust user-generated content 50 percent more than any other media source. In another study, earned content platform Olapic found that “76 percent of consumers believe the content that average people share is more honest than advertising from brands.”

4. Emotions are contagious

According to Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, evoking certain emotions can help increase the chance of a message being shared. Their study explains, “The sharing of stories or information may be driven in part by arousal. When people are physiologically aroused, whether due to emotional stimuli or otherwise, the autonomic nervous is activated, which then boosts social transmission.”


While all emotion-inducing content was found to have a bigger impact on the audience, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that the more positive the content, the more it was shared. To use positivity in your social media strategy:


  • Share feel-good stories from your customers or industry.



  • Ask your audience to share their own positive experiences in the comments or through a contest. For example, a grocery store chain could pose a question on Facebook asking their followers to share their happiest family meal memory from the past year.


  • Share a video of your employees or CEO telling an inspirational story.


  • Add “happy” emojis to your content where appropriate.


Human beings experience emotional contagion—the practice of mimicking expressions in face-to-face conversations—as a way of building connectedness. Scientists with the journal of Social Neuroscience found that the same parts of the brain are activated and the experience is replicated online with the use of emoji.


The study Emoticons and Phrases: Status Symbols in Social Media backs this up. After studying emoji use on Twitter, researchers found “individuals who use emoticons often (and positive emoticons in particular) tend to be popular or influential.” The bottom line? Don’t be shy about using emoji in your social media content.


Understanding your audience’s behaviour can go a long way in creating effective social media content. Get inside your audience’s heads to create content that will have an impact on them—and your business’ bottom line.