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The Hidden Factors That Drive Social Media Behavior and Success

  |  May 14, 2013   |  Comments

Your success in social media hinges on the psychology of a social user and what motivates her action (or inaction).

We've all heard the age-old saying: the customer is king.

But the evolution of social marketing has taken this adage to a whole new level. Today, the social end user is king. And that king has more power than ever before.

For brands, this is critical. Specifically, understanding how and why this balance has shifted is a prerequisite to social campaign success.

For example, consider the traditional experience of "opting in." We volunteer personal data and give a brand permission to contact us; essentially, we trade data and access for information and inclusion. But this exchange also shifts the balance of power in favor of the brand. They control the frequency and intensity of the relationship, pushing out content when and how they choose. Only at that point can users react by engaging, ignoring, or unsubscribing altogether.

However, this balance of power is completely reversed in social. We're able to proactively access the latest content from any brand at any time and can do so fairly anonymously. "Opting in" - i.e., gaining information or inclusion from a desired brand - really just means navigating to that brand's Twitter feed or Facebook page and engaging as we like. And unless we virtually raise our hands - by liking, following, commenting, or otherwise interacting with what we see - the brand doesn't know much about us at all.

For the end user, this is incredibly empowering. And it creates a set of expectations of how we think social should work for us. Expectations of control (we choose how and when we consume social content). Expectations of accessibility (a brand is only a tweet away). Expectations of speed (we want the latest information, and we want it now).

Why This Matters to Marketers

These expectations also reflect a larger paradigm: in social, brands are not in the position of power. End users are. That means you can't just craft the perfect tweet or design the world's sexiest Facebook app and expect users to come running. Success hinges more on the internal: the psychology of a social user and what motivates her action (or inaction).

This is especially important for brands looking to run interactive social campaigns, ones based on experiences and actions, not just consumption of content. Specifically, the psychology of social users translates into critical factors that can make or break campaign success.

Some of these factors are fairly obvious - including tone and type of content offered, when and where to post, and how a campaign is presented - and well-covered throughout the rest of this site. But I want to draw your attention to three factors that don't get as much attention, but ultimately play a huge role in determining how a campaign performs.

  1. Ego. Part of the beauty of social is the ability to track just how many people deem your campaign worthy enough to share with their colleagues and friends. But here's one thing we overlook: the amount of shares you receive isn't purely a function of the number of users with large follower/fan counts spreading your content; there's another underlying motive at play.

    Specifically, a recent study by social sharing platform 33Across revealed that sharing is often motivated by a user's ego. In other words, every share is an exercise in personal branding, meaning it's not always about what's being shared, but whom it's being shared with. Even more enlightening: we don't even necessarily care that other people engage with what we share; we just care that they saw we shared it.

    That should raise a key question for marketers running campaigns: is my content/offer/post structured in a way that would help raise the profile of the user among her networks, or does it come off as dull or shallow corporate content?
  2. Value. Many of our social campaigns culminate in some sort of prize. We tend to equate that prize with "value." But a closer look at successful social campaigns reveals a different trend: the key isn't delivering value; it's delivering incentivized value.

    In other words, not only is there a prize to be won, but the best campaigns deliver latent benefits to users just for taking action. Last week's promotion from Klout and American Airlines exemplifies this perfectly. There was an overall prize (access to an American Airlines VIP lounge) based off a simple action (log in to Klout). But the nature of the campaign also incentivized two further actions: 1) increase your interaction with Klout (in the hopes of boosting your score and redeeming a prize), and 2) share the promotion with friends (for a bonus entry).

    But that wasn't all. The campaign also subtly capitalized on the aforementioned notion that personal ego drives sharing. After all, people often rush to share about exclusivity, or exciting things they've experienced or won. By making such an exclusive prize readily attainable (VIP lounge passes were awarded to anyone with a Klout score of 55 or higher), the campaign actively incentivized participation by giving users an easy avenue to tout their status - and boost their social ego.
  3. Momentum. Call it the "morning after" effect. You launch an amazing campaign to tremendous day one acclaim…but then the next day comes. And what was cool a day ago is now old news.

    The reason? The immediacy, accessibility, and sheer volume of content available via social mean users need an incredibly compelling reason to engage beyond the first touch. Social users expect new, they expect fresh, and they expect it constantly.

    The challenge for marketers, then, is to create sustainable campaigns that can generate interaction and visibility even after the initial buzz has subsided. Practically speaking, this means understanding that even a fantastic promotion or attention-commanding creative concept requires more than just a one-time experience.

    Challenge yourself to think of the next step in the user's journey: is there an incentive to reengage? Do all of your content and offers need to be released at once, or can it be staggered to prolong engagement? If you do stagger your content, what's your plan to ensure you can maintain user interest throughout the duration of your timeframe? Constantly focusing on "that next step" will help reveal where the holes are in your engagement strategy, and where "This is awesome" might fall off to "That was awesome."

The Takeaway

Social doesn't just change the means through which we engage with customers. It changes the very balance of power inherent in that relationship. It's also a moving target. For as established as social is now, it continues to evolve, particularly in the recognition of the psychological and sociological factors that drive user behavior.

Successful marketing means staying at the forefront of understanding these shifts. What worked a year ago in social may not necessarily work today - not because it's any less of a great idea or campaign, but because the space has changed and users' decisions and actions are driven by ever-developing and ever-shifting motivators.

Today, more than ever, the social user is king. And the brands that account and adjust for its continued evolution are the ones that'll succeed both now and tomorrow.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Lee

John Lee is Manager, Brand and Social Marketing at Webtrends. In 2012, he was recognized by PR Daily for creating both the year's "Best Branding Campaign" and "Event of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @lee_john.

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