The Psychology Behind Social Media

By Lori Turner-Wilson

Brands leveraging social media as an arrow in their quiver of marketing tools naturally want to know what drives people to engage with their brand. It’s perhaps the most important question of all, as mainstream social media sites like Facebook are placing increasing emphasis on how much your followers engage with your brand versus your total follower count.

According to a recent Stanford Study, conducted in collaboration with Facebook scientists, just 28 to 35 percent of those who have “liked” a brand’s page are likely to see that brand’s posts. That’s because Facebook’s algorithms filter content, delivering posts from the people and brands a user engages with most as a priority in their news feed. If those liking your page don’t engage with your brand, your content development time could be for naught.

Determining how to deliver content that drives engagement begins by understanding why people share.

A recent New York Times study uncovered the primary reasons people share or otherwise engage with social media content. Above all else, people share to bring valuable and entertaining content to others. They also like to get the word out about causes for which they are passionate. Social sharing is an extension of relationship building for many, with a large percentage utilizing social media communication as a way to define themselves to others and feel more involved in the world.

There are also a number of deep-seated psychological principles at play, such as the rule of reciprocity. We naturally feel compelled to do for those who have done something kind for us. If a brand shares your content, you feel compelled to communicate in return.

People trust social evidence, meaning they are much more likely to believe content shared by several peers versus self-promotional content delivered directly by your brand. Visibility equates to likeability. A consumer is more likely to choose a brand with strong visibility and likability than a lesser-known entity. When consumers see others, especially those they know, engaging with your brand regularly, their trust in your brand will increase, even without direct contact. People have an innate fear of missing out. In fact, most social media users believe not regularly checking social media sites means they’ll miss out on news, updates or events. They also like to rely on a handful of trusted sources for this information. If you can position your brand as an authoritative source of credible news and thought leadership, people will rely on your brand as a trusted reference, returning and engaging time and time again.

Understanding psychological needs of customers can help refine your content so that it resonates and encourages two-way communication, which is what social media is all about.

Lori Turner-Wilson is CEO/Founder of RedRover, a sales training and marketing firm based in Memphis, You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (