How to Use Behavioral Triggers to Spur Social Media Actions

social media how toDid you know using facts and figures instead of images can lower interaction?

Do you appeal to your audience’s emotions to drive sales?

Our brains are hardwired to base decisions on emotion and familiarity.

In this article I’ll show you four ways you can use behavorial triggers to get more out of your social media marketing.

Visual and Emotional Content Inspire Action

As a marketer, your job is to drive behavior in others–whether it be a click, like or purchase.

It can be a challenge to know how to inspire those actions, but a little background on how people process and react to their surroundings can help you do just that.

I’m going to tell you about the basics of our “brain biology,” and then give you examples of how you can use it to your advantage.

hubspot new image

Hubspot appeals to our attraction to ‘new’ things.

Don’t worry! This isn’t going to be an in-depth, long, boring study of the brain. I’m going to give you a few points that I hope will give you that “Ah-ha!” moment and boost your ability to reach your audience and guide them through engagement that leads to sales.

In order to understand why any of this matters, it’s important to first understand (at least at a very high level) a bit more about the brain. So let’s get to it.

Your brain is split into two main sections: new and old.

Knowing how each section functions helps you tailor your marketing tactics to engage the part of the brain that drives behavior and influences our decisions.

Your new brain controls all of your conscious, rational and analytical thought. It’s responsible for your language and long-term thinking. When you talk about facts, figures, features and statistics, you’re speaking to the new brain. Decision-making doesn’t happen here.

Your old brain controls behavior, decision-making and emotions, but it can’t process words, numbers or language—it’s the opposite of the new brain.

istock 38184562 image

Think of brains in terms of old and new versus left and right. Image: iStockPhoto

What all that boils down to is that when you use facts and figures or list features and benefits, it has little impact on someone’s behavior or buying decisions.

When you use visual content and appeal to emotion, you get results because the old brain makes a connection with that emotional content and prompts action—clicking, liking, sharing and buying.

Below are four ways you can use the brain’s natural responses to create more effective marketing campaigns.

#1: Set the Tone with Facial Cues

Our brains evolved many thousands of years ago and we’re hardwired to be attracted to other people’s faces. We subconsciously look for non-verbal facial cues to build context around a situation so we can behave accordingly.

In short, people look at faces to set the tone (gauge the emotion) of an interaction.

The fashion industry takes advantage of this instinct. In the example below, Gucci included their product, but your eye is likely drawn to the model’s face first.

gucci image

We instinctively look for faces before products.

Although highlighting a model’s face instead of their product sounds counterintuitive, it’s actually a powerful tool. The face catches your attention then pulls your attention to the clothing or accessory.

Marketing takeaway: When possible, focus on the face and use facial expressions in your images to help grab the viewer’s attention and set the tone for your post. Because people react to non-verbal cues from the face, you want the face to match the emotion you’re trying to inspire in the viewer.

#2: Help Your Fans “Feel” the Experience 

Have you ever wondered why you cringe when you see someone fall off a skateboard? You’re not the one falling off the skateboard, so why do you flinch from the “pain”?

This reaction is caused by what’s called mirror neurons in the brain. When you see pictures or video of an action, your mirror neurons make you feel like you’re actually performing the actions you’re watching.

This has huge implications for marketers who want to inspire specific emotions and experiences in their audience.

Have you ever looked at Red Bull’s Facebook or Instagram feeds? They do a phenomenal job of showcasing high-adrenaline experiences like the Strato Jump and windsurfing.

redbull skydive image

Millions watched and held their breath as Felix Baumgartner jumped from the stratosphere.

When their fans see these incredible pictures and videos, their mirror neurons start firing on all cylinders, which causes them to feel the same emotions, even if only subconsciously, as the people in the picture.

Did you watch Felix Baumgartner break the sound barrier? How did you feel while watching? I’m betting you were just as tense as the rest of us.

Many of Red Bull’s posts don’t even show their product (though they do include their logo). The brand’s intent is to evoke an emotion when fans see their posts. Over time that kind of marketing conditions those fans and followers to feel those same exhilarating emotions simply by seeing the Red Bull logo.

redbull kite surfing image

Even still pictures convey intense activity.

Marketing takeaway: Introduce photos and videos that show others having a powerful experience. It doesn’t matter whether the experience shows your product or an unrelated experience. The important thing is to reinforce the emotions you want associated with your brand.

#3: Use Memories to Connect

I’m sure you’ve seen (or maybe even created) a commercial, marketing video or picture that really struck an emotional chord—probably because it reminded you of something you experienced in your own life.

Speaking directly to your audience’s previously stored memories is a powerful marketing tool because it immediately evokes emotion. You can then use that emotion to drive behavior or associate that emotion with your brand (similar to triggering mirror neurons as explained above).

P&G produced one of the best online and TV ads I’ve ever seen for the 2014 Olympics. The advertisement played heavily on viewers’ childhood memories and their relationships with their mothers.

Because many of the scenes in the advertisement are probably familiar memories from most viewers’ childhoods, it packed a powerful punch. It left many with goosebumps (or tears) every time they saw it. The ad ended up going viral with over 20 million views on YouTube!

Marketing takeaway: Find a common experience most people have had—memories from childhood or a strong relationship from the past are ideal—then tailor your social media marketing to trigger those memories.

With repetition and consistency, your audience begins to tie those emotions to your brand, product or service. The result is an influence on behavior.

#4: Promise (and Deliver) Something New

Since our early days, our brains have been attracted to things we’re familiar with because they give us a sense of security and safety from predators so we could go about our daily lives.

However, as much as we’re drawn to the familiar, we’re equally intrigued with new things. It’s human nature to innovate and improve ourselves. Anything “new” promises that opportunity.

People have an underlying urge to share knowledge in order to look good or in-the-know (you want to be an influencer, right?). So when we see something new, we’re attracted to that information in the hopes that later we can tell others about it and build our own social currency.

For example, HubSpot is constantly releasing new tools, content and features. They capture their audience’s attention by offering new products or services to help them learn.

hubspot image

HubSpot consistently offers new ways to improve.

Marketing takeaway: Use the word New to wake up the brain and draw attention to your products and services.

Make a point to showcase all of the new things going on with your company, products or services, especially if they’re different than your competitor’s related products.

Depending on how frequently new items emerge at your company, you may want to consider creating a dedicated Twitter account used only to announce new items.

Get Results with Emotional Connections

If you focus on facts, figures and features, you’re talking to the wrong side of the brain. It doesn’t care a bit about buying your product. If you want to inspire action, you have to appeal to the emotional side of the brain.

Create common ground so your audience feels comfortable—provide familiarity. Highlight faces along with products, appeal to empathy and shared memories and provide something new.

The recommendations in this article are just a few of many marketing concepts based on the brain’s instinctive reactions. Use these ideas and read up on others to influence the behavior of your audience.

What do you think? Have you used any of these behavioral triggers? How did your audience respond? Please comment below—I’d love to chat!

Images from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Luke Summerfield

Luke wakes up inspired each day to spark inspiration with knowledge. He currently does this at Savvy Panda, leading their Inbound Marketing strategy consulting team. Meet Luke at LukeSummerfield.com. Other posts by »




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  • Sam Fischer

    Nice points, you have explained your point, giving scientific
    examples, and that’s make it clear effective one, things mentioned really work
    and should be noted while promoting services on social media. Thanks for
    writing so sensible and meaningful information.

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Thanks Sam! Hope it got the gears in your head turning a bit!

  • http://mysocialpractice.com JackHadley

    Nicely structured, Sam. As marketers we all know this stuff intuitively, but it is ALWAYS helpful to have another marketer “frame it out” the way they see it. Helps us all. Thank you.

  • http://www.cyberliciousinc.com/ Ben Guest

    Hey Luke! You hit the nail on the head my friend. Psychology plays a very important role in marketing. Thanks for sharing some insight without the psychological jargon. Make them FEEL those facts, figures and statistics. ;-)

  • Jenny Brennan

    Luke, I Love this post – great points that will help brands to connect :-)

  • alicia

    thanks! You make a lot of sense, actually you make me feel that if I don’t follow your advice I am being pretty dumb. How more emotional can we get?? And I appreciate your logical buildup and recap.

  • Tanfastic

    Great article, I couldn’t agree more! This is especially relevant to me as a left-handed creative type who finds it difficult to remember facts and figures! Will definitely be sharing this with my fact-loving colleagues.

  • http://makeextraincomeathome.com/ Felipe Kurpiel

    Really interesting approach. I loved the part about using memories to connect! This is so valuable when it comes to social media!!

    great post!

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    ha, thanks Ben! It is easy to get caught up in Psy jargon. Glad you liked the article and hope it helps :-)

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Thanks Jenny :-)

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Ha, well you shouldn’t feel “dumb” Alicia :-P But these are definitely some important concepts that have been proven by modern neuroscience… also remember that you can apply these concepts all over in your marketing, not just social. Thanks!

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Thanks! Glad you liked it and hope it gets the gears turning in you and your fact-loving colleagues heads! :-D

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Thanks Felipe! yeah memories are so powerful, especially if you can connect with memories in all the 5 senses…. they say smell is the most powerful memory recall agent, although it gets a bit trickier to use smell in a digital setting. Luckily, you can play off people’s mirror neurons and show videos of others smelling something which will spark the same brain activity in the viewer.

    Hope these things help you :-)

  • http://www.it-sales-leads.com/ Barbara Mckinney

    Great tips. Using images to showcase your product is the best way to connect with your audience. Every marketer should embrace the power of visual content in their campaign to compete with others.

  • http://www.degree32studio.com Ricky S

    This is so true! I think we always choose the other way and work hard to convince our customers with facts and figures! I am excited to use this new way of talking to customers.

  • http://billsolano.com Bill Solano

    Social media requires that we interface with our target audience in very up close and personal way. The time of pushing our message across the airwaves may soon be over, glad to see this change occur as we no longer communicate in a meaningful way. Keep the great content coming.

  • Mayssa Samaha

    Hello Sam, very nice article, but I have a
    quick question: how can you explain high engagement rate related to
    Infographics?

  • Margaret Mariela Consuela Brit

    What you say smacks of dumbing down my information for readers who need big colorful pictures to hold their attention. While I have no doubt that what you say is true, i feel I would like to be smarter in my communication, because not all my readers will react the same way. I expect that I would have readers who need the images to capture them, but I also think a good portion of them would appreciate smart facts. I’ve noticed that part of the success of the social platform giants is their reliance of the “herd mentality” of much of their customers. I think they deliberately cultivate this. Such a mentality makes it easy for them to capture and hold large crowds of people, all of whom want to be “in” and who, as a result, tailor their responses to everything to suit what is expected of them.

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Nice post, I can see more each day that the new business landscape social media
    creates is a significant change, a good thing for a lot of businesses.

  • Jitendra Padmashali

    Nice post, I can see more each day that the new business landscape social media creates is a significant change, a good thing for a lot of businesses.

  • https://eaglesandauracles.com Paula Eagles

    You make really valid points but your simplified approach to neuroscience creates a somewhat exploitative feel to your article … some mention of the dangers of the less innocuous use of these techniques would have made for a more balanced and fair treatment of the subject … and therein lie the dangers of neuromarketing – pushing the “buy button” is a big topic for ethical debate!

  • https://eaglesandauracles.com Paula Eagles

    i couldn’t agree more! Do we really want to live in a world ruled by ads that simply trigger our instinctive responses and minimize or (undoubtedly, ultimately) negate our higher reasoning … ? I suppose this highlights the distinction between those who want to educate or enlighten vs. the drive for commercial gain. I’ve also added a comment re: the need for a discussion on ethics in neuromarketing.

  • http://resonateyourideas.com Melinda Schmiedeknecht

    What about those analytical-bent brains out there? You really think that left-brain number crunchers aren’t going to pay attention/be influenced by facts and stats?

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Thanks Ricky. Facts and Figures are still key to have, as they serve as the way we rationalize our decisions…. however, the actual trigger of behavior are the subconscious ones like what I talked about in this article.

    Only having facts and figures, features and benefits will result in low behavior.

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    HI Mayssa, great questions. In my opinion/guess, it relates to the fact that we are visual creatures. Visual based items like images, videos, inforgraphics, etc… are able to be processed by our subconscious [limbic system] and thus we tend to prefer visuals over base text. Text is processed by our conscious [neocortex] and thus isn’t as compelling in relations to behavior.

    Additionally, the facts, figures, statistics in infographics hold what neurologists call “novelty” which captures our attention… Novelty is a key driver of attention because we are evolutionally programed to find the newest & best information to improve our lives. Hence, the facts, figures and statistics offer that chance to learn and improve.

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Hi Melinda, good point. let me try and explain… Ultimately the trigger that makes us behave is in our subconscious.

    However, our conscious brains still needs to rationalize why we’re behaving. This is the piece you’re talking about… Those who are “analytical-bent” will rationalize their behaviors with stats, features, etc. Those who are “creative” may rationalize with things like “It helps people”, “improves the environment”, etc.

    So i’m not arguing the importance of still incorporating those into your marketing… they can be important… however, ultimately they aren’t the trigger that’s driving our behavior… so it’s more important to focus on those subconscious triggers and support those with conscious rationalization

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    Hi Margaret, thanks for the ideas. You make two points.

    First – I’m not suggesting anything has to be dumbed down. I’d argue the smart marketers find ways to infuse these concepts as the core of their communications with a layer of rationalization on top.

    Also, it really depends on what your goal is…. if your goal is to capture attention, this may work using facts of figures due to the “novelty” principle. However, it may not directly drive behavior. At best, you may get some sharing of content based on the “Social Currency” principle [people like to share things that make them look smart of “in-the-know”]

    If you add in some of the concepts we talked about in this article and find ways to make those facts and figures better engage the subconscious using images, memories, mirror neurons, etc.. It would likely increase behavior. Hence why infographics do well…

    Second – This crosses a bit more into sociology and social psychology which is a bit different focus than this article… but definitely a good topic none the less. There’s a SUPER interesting documentary from BBC on the birth of PR and applying psychology to the masses… It’s called “Century of Self” and it’s free to watch on vimeo here: http://vimeo.com/48842811

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    I agree, it’s just like anything in marketing… there is a “right” and ethical way of doing it and a “wrong” or unethical.

    Email marketing can be done right with opt-ins or wrong with scraping emails and compiling lists. Same with collecting personal data. [and so on]

    Ultimately, it comes down to humans and their level of ethics [in general]. You make a good point and it’s definitely a discussion that will continue to happen as neuromarketing becomes more and more developed.

  • http://www.kagraphicdesigns.com/ Kelly Ann Jones

    Great article and great timing, for me anyway…
    Thank you!

  • Lucas Selbach

    Hi Luke! (that´s my nickname!!)

    Thanks for this great article – simple and understandable.

    If you don´t mind, I´ll translate to Portuguese and point the source – is it OK??

    Best Regards from Brasil!
    Lucas Selbach
    http://www.e-feito.net

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Hi Luke, I’m happy you like this article. As you can see in the footer below, all rights are reserved by copyright for all content published on Social Media Examiner. This means that the content cannot be republished elsewhere in any format.

  • Lucas Selbach

    OK Cindy,
    Thanks so far!

  • Dan Messina

    Great article! Although I wish there was more universal names for these “parts” of the brain, but it may be impossible. I like the dual process theory and Kahneman’s “System 1″ and “System 2″, which seems very similar to your use of “new” and “old” brains, but even he says those aren’t real physical systems, only used for naming purposes.

    Old and New sound too much like “lizard brain” or Reptilian Brain, (the Amygdala), which is a physical part of the brain that’s well understood. Using ‘Old’ brain seems to confuse things for me as you mix physical regions of the brain with behavior that is derived from many parts of the brain, if that makes sense.

  • http://resonateyourideas.com Melinda Schmiedeknecht

    Thanks for clarifying, Luke.

  • AmandahBlackwell

    Great post!

    Facial cues work on the social media sites I manage for our local animal shelter. One of our volunteers takes stunning photos of the animals; the photos are have the look and feel of professional “pet portraits.” The public shows their appreciation by sharing, liking, and commenting on the photos. I believe that these photos of our shelter animals, especially those of our Lonely Hearts Club, have helped them to get adopted.

  • John

    That P&G Sochi commercial is extremely powerful. Brought a tear to MY eye! Thanks for sharing it.

  • EilidhMilnes

    Excellent piece which I’ve duly RT and shared. Interesting how by employing these simple proven methods you can make a huge difference to your impact. I was speaking at a health and safety conference ten days ago and recall saying almost identical words to yours above, “If you want to inspire action, you have to appeal to the emotional side of the brain.”
    In the professional speaking industry we do exactly the same we, “Create common ground so the audience feels comfortable—appeal to empathy and shared memories and provide something new.” Whether you are engaging online or on-stage storytelling and your ability to conjure up images will make you unforgettable.

  • http://www.latinzonemagazine.com/ Latin Zone Magazine

    Thanks for the help. Extremely good points. Specifically loved the face insight idea. It will work amazingly in my site’s niche. Can’t thank you enough!

  • http://www.copywritingcomedian.com Jessica M.H. Smith

    This is a fantastic blog post. Guy Kawasaki & Mari Smith just hosted a webinar on this topic, but I missed it, so I feel like this is the super Cliff’s Notes version. Like Sam, I appreciate the science references and the fact that a post about visual cues has decent examples and graphics. As a copywriter I often talk about the power of story and visuals are a part of that. However, being able to point to *how* and *why* is helpful in making my case, especially re: social media. Cheers!

  • Pingback: How to Build a Brand Narrative()

  • http://www.lucasmohr.de Lucas

    Really good points Luke. Thanks! What do you think about using peer pressure such as in nominating (see ALS ice bucket challenge) others to trigger action?

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    haha awesome thought Lucas! I actually going to write-up an article about the psychology/sociology behind why ASL challenge this weekend [i’ll try to remember to comment link when it goes live].

    But there are a number of factors that contributed to the success of that project and one of them was peer pressure and social identity pressure. The peer pressure part is easy to understand, but the social identity piece is interesting….

    If an individual considers themselves as a giving, charitable person, which most of us tell ourselves we are [even if were not]…. this is a characteristic we associate with our identity. When someone/something challenges our identity, we are much more influenced to act on that in order to preserve our personal identity and social image.

    …. more to come in breaking this down in my article.

  • http://www.lucasmohr.de Lucas

    Hi Luke, yeah the social identity pressure is defitenily the more interesting part. Looking forward to your article!

  • http://LukeSummerfield.com/ Luke Summerfield

    It’s being published on Social Media Examiner on Thursday :-) Keep your eyes peeled









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