How Psychology Will Shape the Future of Social Media Marketing

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With marketing analytics software so pervasive, marketing professionals have the power to monitor everything on a business’s social media accounts. How many retweets did a post get? Did customers favorite or reply to it? Thanks to automatic alerts, like Google Alerts, staff can also know immediately when their business gets mentioned, allowing them to take action if necessary.

One major shortcoming with current technology, however, is its inability to accurately detect context in human behavior. As the Washington Post recently pointed out, some businesses are relying on natural language processing software to sift through millions of social media posts being generated each day. While this technology is effective in pinpointing mentions of keywords specified by a user, it lacks the human touch. To correct this, developers are now relying on psychological principles to develop more sophisticated algorithms.

The Human Touch

If your business relies on technology like alerts, the Washington Post article points out the weakness in depending on software to find instances of a brand’s mention. You may be notified every time your brand name is mentioned online, but will you know when someone misspells your name or uses the abbreviated version of your name?

Technology will never replace the human ability to extract meaningful data from volumes of information. If a human were to sift through each post and identify only those items that pertain to him, he’d likely pull out more than he’d originally thought. The same applies to brands and social media. A brand might think it only needs to be alerted when someone mentions it or a competitor by name, but what about a local eatery that misses a post along the lines of, “Looking for a great place to eat tonight. Any suggestions?” As technology advances, brands can expect more sophisticated algorithms to attack these challenges.

Contextual Sifting

Another shortfall for technology-based searches is context. A complaint from a social media user who is constantly complaining about companies online carries less weight than a complaint from a social media user whose posts are generally positive or neutral. Companies are often required to dig deeper into a user’s profile to determine if a post will be taken more seriously by the poster’s followers.

Current technology also lacks the ability to detect human personality traits like sarcasm; posts tend to be taken literally. Because of this, if an algorithm is set to extract any negative posts on a company, it may miss a post stating that someone “Really loved the experience” at a particular establishment, followed by a hashtag stating that the company sucks. Over time, developers will be required to enhance software to address that, as well.

Different Platforms

Another area of context that poses problems for current technology is the context surrounding the platform through which posts are made. As I pointed out in my post Twitter vs. Facebook: How Do They Compare?, each social media site has its own unique uses. Facebook tends to connect users with people they know personally, while Twitter allows more anonymity. Facebook also tends to be more of a way to capture snippets of people’s lives, while Twitter is a great way to keep up with news and celebrities outside of a person’s life.

These major differences have an impact on how users respond to marketing messages. A Twitter user will likely have completely different expectations for his newsfeed than a Facebook user. When your marketing message is scattered among family vacation photos and forwarded recipes on Facebook, it might be perceived differently than it would on Twitter, where it’s more likely to be surrounded by links to articles of interest and photos of celebrities.

Algorithms vs. People

What algorithms miss today will likely be solved in the near future. Still, the human ability to reason is difficult to duplicate. Many users don’t even realize that they filter their perceptions based on the medium through which they receive communication. Even a savvy marketer may recognize and address the differences between Facebook and Twitter without putting those differences into words. Posts are simply tweaked to address the separate audiences and adjusted as responses are calculated.

Even if algorithms are tweaked to directly address these issues, professionals need to tweak their own thinking. Whether reaching out to users on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, or one of the other many social media outlets, businesses must consider the platform and its users, adjusting messages to ensure users will respond to them.

Understanding Customer Motivations

One way businesses can better reach customers is to develop an understanding of why customers interact the way they do. As I wrote in my article “The Four Elements of Any Action, And How To Use Them In Your Online Marketing Initiative,” there are four elements that define any action a person takes, and those elements apply to social media. They are:

  • Opportunity
  • Ability
  • Incentive
  • Willpower

When a business initiates a social media marketing campaign, it immediately addresses the first of those four elements, opportunity. If a customer isn’t first aware of a business’s existence, that customer can’t take action. Ability is a little more challenging for businesses, since social media sites don’t make it easy for users to click to purchase an item or service. ClickMeeting blogger Agnes Jozwiac suggests providing an array of access points that “involves a mash-up of the three basic learning styles: visual, audio, and kinesthetic.”

Once a customer is aware of your business and able to easily order from you, that customer must have an incentive to take action. What will have the power to lure social media users away from their newsfeeds, ideally to make a purchase? Once a customer has been lured away, it’s important to feed into the fourth element, willpower, which prompts a person to overcome barriers to completing a task. In the social media marketing world, this means your shopping and checkout process should be so straightforward and challenge-free, your customers carry through until the end.

A Call to Action

Underneath all of these psychological factors is the fact that businesses must incite a call to action from customers to be successful. Simply posting about your great product may build awareness, but it won’t result in any ROI. Customers should feel compelled to click on links within your photos and text and, once they’ve clicked, to take the action you’re requesting, whether it’s enjoying savings using a coupon or signing up for an email newsletter.

If you want something, don’t be afraid to ask. Small things like asking customers to like, share, or retweet an item can make a difference in your results. In fact, an independent study by SocialBakers found that simply asking followers to retweet led to a greater response rate than when a post didn’t request that action. If you provide an incentive for sharing like an entry in a contest, you’ll see even better results.

Social media marketing is still a relatively new field, but basic psychological concepts still apply. The best way to succeed in reaching your customer base is to begin to see things as they do. Study your online results and make notes on which behaviors get the best response and soon, you’ll have a roadmap for getting better results.

Image credit: nv.gov (public domain)

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