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Social media and psychology – 4 lessons with background science

Understanding your target audience is key to social media. To do this, it’s best to learn at least the basic principles of psychology that govern each of us. They affect our behavior in every area of life, including activity in social media. In this article you will learn 4 lessons we can learn from scientific research and experiments:

Why do we share content?

What motivates people to share information on their profiles so willingly? The New York Times conducted an advanced study that identified five key reasons why we share content online:

– Improving the lives of others – almost all survey participants (94%) admitted that they were sharing content because they believe that in this way they can improve the lives of recipients of this information. You should therefore strive to create useful content that will help your target audience and its audience.

– Self-definition – two out of three participants (68%) share content online to create their own “idealized version of themselves online”. So when you create content, think about whether it will be something that the recipients will be able to feel proud of or somehow build the content about themselves.

– Develop relationships – four out of five participants share content because they can maintain relationships with others. Consider how your content can help develop interpersonal relationships. Ask your audience to mark their friends in the comments or engage them in other ways, e.g. “share this movie with the biggest dog lover you know”.

– Self-fulfillment and a sense of belonging – everyone likes to feel useful and valuable. The study showed that its participants enjoyed when they shared the content themselves. However, they enjoyed it more when they received interesting and useful information from their friends.

– Manifesting their beliefs – 84% of participants said that they share information as a way to support the topics or brands they care about. So think about whether you are able to create content related to topics relevant to your audience.

So, as you can see in the examples above, the main reason we share information on social media is our relationship with other people.

We share positive content more often

According to the Association for Psychological Science, arousing certain emotions increases the chance that the information will be passed on.

The study explains that sharing stories or information can be partly caused by agitation. When people are aroused, whether due to emotional or other stimuli, the autonomic nervous system is activated, which motivates social activities. Emotional features of content always have a greater effect among recipients. However, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have determined that positive content is more often shared.

How to share emotions in turn? In face-to-face conversations, we often imitate the facial expressions and behavior of our interlocutors to build a sense of unity. The Emoticons in mind: An event-related potential study showed that when we see emoticons, we react just like watching real facial expressions.

So share positive content and decorate it in the right way with emoticons. This is of course the beginning of the road. You must also use creations that cause emotions, as well as the right words that will stimulate you in the right direction.

We all apply the reciprocity rule

Reciprocity and gratitude are of great importance in society, as is altruism itself, which socially pays off. Each of us was taught to say “thank you” and that “it is not right” not to help someone who had done something good for us before. We feel a huge disappointment when someone does not repay us for previous favors and the other way round – we feel obliged to repay for favors.

We look badly at people who, for example, receive something good, but do not show adequate gratitude. We do not want to identify with such attitudes, so we are ready for a big effort to reciprocate for the help we have received.

That’s why people like each other’s pictures, they mean those who marked them before, etc.

This principle – because it is very strong in us – is widely used in marketing. An example would be giving free samples of the product in the expectation that such a gift would encourage you to buy more or trying out some equipment for free (e.g. long ago you could use the Internet for 3 months for free and hardly anyone after that time decided to return the equipment. In this case, not only the matter of gratitude, but also … habits worked.)

Use this rule also in your marketing activities. Free e-books, reports, trendbooks, publications, tool lists, etc. are of great value in the eyes of the recipients. This may encourage them to buy your product, subscribe to the mailing list, like your profile on social media or share your information.

We compare ourselves with others

A company that produced utility software wanted to encourage people to reduce energy consumption at home. Therefore, selected residents received letters saying: “your neighbors reduce energy consumption”, followed by a comparison of figures for energy consumption in the area.

The information presented in this form was met with a vivid reaction. When residents learned that 77% of their neighbors turned off air conditioning, they did the same. As a result, energy consumption in the districts has changed noticeably.

This way of communication brought much better results than typical slogans like “save energy to save money”.

Comparing yourself to others is also linked to the phenomenon of social proof, according to which our position on selected people, issues, etc. is governed by the reaction of the majority. But how to use this knowledge?

User-generated content is a great way to show your target audience what others are saying about your brand. Positive comments and reviews published by your clients are examples of social proof working in your favor.

In addition, another study showed that 76% of customers consider the opinions and reviews of ordinary people to be more reliable than the advertisements of the brands themselves. Theoretically, every marketer knows this, but not everyone emphasizes it strongly enough in advertising.


You don’t have to be a professional psychologist to understand people’s behavior on social media. Remembering the facts discussed here, you will definitely be able to better engage your target group and gain customers in social media. It is also worth seeking knowledge in professional literature that agile combines the issue of marketing and “imprinted” human behavior.

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