Dr Sarah Cowie from the Auckland University’s Behaviour Lab looks at three reasons why social media is still a marketer’s best friend:
Social media knows your customer, just like a good friend does.
Algorithms allow social media to learn about what an individual wants, and to show them content it thinks they’ll like. This is customisation that television, radio, and print marketing simply can’t offer, and it is this customisation that gives social media platforms an edge. The ability for algorithms to tailor content to the individual makes social media platforms a reliable source of reward. Research tells us that the more rewarding something is, the more we direct our attention toward it, and the longer we will keep attending if that thing gets boring. This means social media marketing is likely to grab our attention in a way that other, more traditional marketing will never be able to do. Social media offers a constant stream of small rewards – funny videos, engaging debates, and interesting bite-sized content are all just a few scrolls away on most social media platforms. The constant and slightly unpredictable nature of these rewards, and the ease with which we can access them, means we use social media often.
Social media creates loyalty.
Few things are as impactful on our behaviour as social rewards; social belonging is a fundamental human need. Thanks to social media, geographic location is no longer a barrier to meeting people with similar pastimes, interests, or orientations. Being part of a group boosts wellbeing and feelings of happiness, and social media groups are no exception. The relationship between happiness and intention to purchase is well-documented, and hence social-media marketing campaigns that create communities and facilitate positive social interactions are good for both the consumer and the business. Further, social-media campaigns that create feelings of belonging and togetherness have potential to build customer loyalty in a way that parallels the loyalty we feel to those within our social circle.
Social media primes social decision-making about brands.
Friendships and connections on social media typically share many of the same features as face-to-face friendships, including trust and mutual enjoyment. The importance humans place on social belonging means our decision-making systems notice and place great importance on social information. We are more likely to do things when we see others doing them, and social media offers a fast, easy way to share our experiences of doing things with a vast audience. Associations have a powerful effect on the extent to which our brain perceives value in something – hence, a like or share of an unknown brand by a friend builds trust and appreciation for that brand rapidly. Of course, it’s just as easy to share bad experiences as it is to share good ones – but because social media allows businesses to respond rapidly and publicly, unfavourable social-media mentions can be turned into demonstrations of how a brand has all the qualities we value in a best friend, including the ability to accept responsibility and make things right. Even the simplest social media activity by a person or brand in our social-media network – a like, a share, a comment – is likely to leave a lasting impression that that person or a brand cares.
Dr Sarah Cowie is a Senior Lecturer in psychology at the University of Auckland. Sarah is the Director of the Behaviour Lab, a research group that looks at how decisions and actions are influenced by experience and by the world around us.