social media how to

Are you planning a social media campaign?

Do you wonder why some marketing campaigns are more successful than others?

The recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral because they used powerful psychological concepts to influence participation.

In this article I’ll share the concepts ALS used to achieve overwhelming success and how you can use them.

use social psychology to improve marketing

Find out how to use social psychology to improve your marketing.

#1: Appeal to Indirect Public Commitment

We are more likely to act on and complete a task when we promise ourselves we’ll do it. The obligation is amplified when we make a commitment publicly—we put even more pressure on ourselves to follow through so we don’t risk both personal and public letdown.

als challenge facebook update

Publicly passing a challenge to others compels them to take action.

The ALS Association used this concept in a somewhat different (but equally effective) way: participants weren’t making the commitment themselves; the person nominating them was publicly making the commitment for them. This form of peer pressure makes the nominated person feel morally obligated to accept (commit) and follow through.

How You Can Use It

Take a step back and look at your campaign to see if there are opportunities to ask people to make a public commitment.

For example, if you’re hosting a free event and are afraid people will sign up but not show up, add an extra step after registration asking them to share their activity on their social networks. Their public commitment increases the likelihood that they’ll show up.

#2: Question Personal Identity

Each of us has a set of characteristics we use to describe who we are as individuals. Collectively these characteristics are called your personal identity. Identity is all about perception—how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you.

Most people hold these characteristics as part of their identity: kind, giving and charitable. The ALS Association challenged people to be consistent with those characteristics as a way to influence their actions.

personal characteristics word cloud

It’s important to understand the motivating characteristics of your audience.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was essentially saying, “You see yourself as charitable [an assumption] and if you are in fact charitable, you will do this. Otherwise you’ve shown that you are not charitable.” In situations like this, people choose to participate rather than challenge their identity.

How You Can Use It

Take a look at your campaign’s audience. Break down the characteristics that define the group’s overall personal identity, and then use those to influence action. Call out the characteristics they identify with and tie them to your product or service:

“If you’re the type of person who appreciates creativity, rarity and perfection [identity characteristics], our new Imperial Court Wood Sofa [your product/service] will speak to you.”

Those who identify with the characteristics of creativity, rarity and perfection are drawn to the sofa because they want to reinforce their identity.

#3: Create Exclusivity

Although anyone could have participated, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge created two groups: those who were invited to participate and those who were not. This invitation-only tactic builds a level of exclusivity around those who were invited—it’s as if they’re now part of the club.

shutterstock 103168676 image of red carpet and velvet rope

Most people are attracted to something not everyone can have. Image: Shutterstock.

When something is exclusive, limited or rare, it has greater influence on our actions. People who were invited to participate in the ALS challenge were compelled to act because they subconsciously wanted to be a part of this exclusive club and say, “I did the Ice Bucket Challenge.”

How You Can Use It

In addition to invitation-only events, marketers commonly create a sense of urgency and exclusivity by limiting the number of items available and the amount of time they are accessible.

The invitation-only tactic is easy to implement, but it’s a long-term commitment because it usually takes a great deal of time and effort to get the ball rolling.

Create an invite-only group on the social network you and your audience use most. Start off by inviting a mix of industry experts, and then publicly promote the group. At the same time, show members the group’s value and explain what others need to do to be invited to join.

I suggest making the requirements somewhat difficult in order to retain exclusivity and thus the appeal of being included.

Another idea is to offer a limited number of items to dramatically boost the urgency to act. People don’t want to feel like they’re going to miss out, so having a limited quantity of something may be the extra push your customers need to take action.

Post something on Facebook saying, “The first X people who message [or like, or share] us will get access to Y.” Continue to update that same post with a running tab of how many items are left.

Similarly, limiting how long a product or service is available is a powerful way to influence behavior.

social media success summit offer

Social Media Success Summit offered a time-sensitive discount to spur action.

Let’s say you’re an NFL merchandise e-commerce shop. You develop a promotion that runs for the entire football season where whichever team is ahead, their merchandise is 10% off during the game. Once the game is over, the promotion ends.

Twitter would be a good channel for a campaign like this. You could give score and game-time updates as a countdown, adding pressure to make purchases before the game ends.


The ALS Association leveraged basic psychological concepts to drive hundreds of thousands of people to take action and spread the word about their cause. Whether you were a participant or a skeptic, there’s no question that the Ice Bucket Challenge was a marketing smash and exceeded the organization’s expectations.

Now that you have an understanding of these concepts and how to apply them, it’s your turn. Find creative ways to bake them into your next campaign and you’ll see the influence you have on others.

What do you think? Have you used any of these social psychology tactics in your campaigns? Which ones worked best for you? If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

Render of silver stantions and a red carpet from Shutterstock.
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  • dan

    what software did you use to blacken the writings

  • dan

    what software did you use to blacken the words that comes right under idea# 1–public commitment..thanks for the post

  • Nicki Escudero

    Fantastic article, Luke! I try to weave social psychology principles into every social media campaign, and I thought you hit the nail on the head with your suggestions — I really loved the NFL discount one, especially! Thanks for sharing!

  • What an insightful post! Loved it!

  • Great article, I had already heard about this psychological approach but I haven’t used it yet. But now I’m going to start using it. : )

  • Great post . Happy to read.

  • Oh @Luke it was really stunning that you looked deep into the marketing strategy and has come up with ideas to share with us!! And yes indeed I learnt good tips as well.

  • Gimanthi

    Amazing article….i’m a beginer..think on these concepts.Thanks.

  • Nice post Luke. I agree that as marketers, we need to use more social psychology in our creative process. My wheels are already turning on projects after reading this. Time to get to work. 🙂 Have a fantastic Friday!

  • Great tips, to stand out on social media you have to do something different to everyone else. I think you have to do something fun, creative, and like you say create a need to take part.

  • Karen

    There’s just one problem… People have caught on to the exclusivity/limited time tactic a long time ago. In our focus groups, the consensus is that this is a turn-off. For example, with the Ice Bucket Challenge and “invite only,” I’m aware of many people who just decided to do it and pass it on to others.

  • Sabrina Kizzie

    Brilliant article! Thanks for sharing Luke !
    -Sabrina Kizzie, Author & Social Media Lecturer
    Twitter & Instagram: @Sabrinaonmove

  • Qiufang Chen

    The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the successful way of using social psychology to create big influence of social attention. It apply several steps to get audiences involving in the event. The pressure of possibility of personal and public letdown is what the ALS Associations used to challenge audiences. Participants feel the morally obligated to accept the challenges from other participants. The public commitment is peer pressure of participants created itself or nominated from others that increase the percentage of doing something.

    The personal Identity is also efficient way of making the group of people to response. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge uses this tactics to identify the overall characteristics of group. Human in common is that afraid to be challenge with negative characteristics on themselves.

    Creation of exclusivity is how the events developing the form of club-typing events. It also offers the limitation of items and acts urgently in the event, such as time pressure.

    The social psychology is a long-term tactics to the marketing, which take times to follow up, and easy to ignore from other news and events. This form of marketing communication may avoid their target audiences or exposure with negative attitudes toward brands.

  • Thanks Lin!

  • thank you for reading Nicki!

  • Awesome, Great to hear! 😀 Glad you enjoyed

  • Thanks Steve, have a great weekend and thanks for reading!

  • Hi Karen, Thanks for the comment. That’s interesting that you found out that the concept of exclusivity wasn’t effective with your focus group. I’m curious to learn about your focus groups.

    Who was in your sample? How many focus groups were conducted? What was your sample size? Is it possible that your findings were exclusive for that group?

    One of the reason the concept of Exclusivity is so effective is because of the novelty that surrounds it. Novelty has been shown in countless studies to activate our reticular activation system, the system that controls where our attention focuses. This is hardwired into our brains from 100,000’s of years of conditioning.

    So [in my opinion], I don’t think it’s something that we’ve learned to adapt to. When done properly, it will still work.

    HOWEVER, the key words there are “When Done Properly”… and the problem is that many marketers don’t implement it properly. Typically this is because they are not offering something of enough value for the information the user must exchange for the exclusive offer. This makes it an unbalanced transaction and pisses the user off. – OR – the marketer uses the exclusivity rule, but then bends the rules and actually opens it up longer or more than expected. This erodes trust with the users and makes the next use of exclusion much less effective.

  • thanks Sabrina! So happy you enjoyed it 😀

  • SunShine

    Great info, Thanks for sharing. ~ SunShine

  • Luke, your mention of “when done properly” reminds me of the trend I’m seeing now of the need of applying your marketing knowledge to social media for best results.

  • Good points! Thanks for sharing! This was an interesting campaign to watch.

  • Really interesting article. I think a key element to marketing is engaging your audience as much as you can and doing this in a unique way. Thanks for sharing.

  • Great post Luke, really great insight and great suggestions. Thanks for posting

  • Using psychological tactics surely is a clever idea. In these cases the customers cannot back out without risking their reputations. What a clever article this is!. Thanks 🙂

    – Julie H.

  • Donna Arriaga

    Luke, I appreciate your insights into the ALS Icebucket Challenge! You raise some interesting points on how organizations and businesses can leverage psychology to advance campaigns and visibility.

    Though, for me, perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the Icebucket Challenge has more to do with the power of a united community voice, rather than any one organization’s ability to create a campaign on this scale.

    The ALS Icebucket Challenge is a great example of a campaign being “owned” by its supporters – individuals reaching out to their friends, family and neighbors, each connecting around a mission. In this case, the real power and momentum resided in the hands of engaged and passionate individuals – individuals who leveraged their social networks to celebrate, support and invite others to join a cause.

    The organization’s role and responsibility then, is to take on a gracious role of thanking supporters, celebrating their successes, and amplifying their collective voice.

    So the bigger questions that I have are…
    – How can organizations best “warm the ground” and empower their communities to own the mission?
    – And, once even the slightest amount of community-driven momentum is built, how can an organization best support and fuel that momentum?

    Any insights you have on those questions would make for another excellent post! 😉

  • Sean

    Interesting article Luke, but you missed out on an important point: the ALS Association did not come up with the Ice Bucket challenge – two ordinary guys from Boston (Pete Frates and Pat Quinn) did. Important point missed: do not forget to look outside your organization for help and inspiration.

  • Hi Karen,

    You make some great points. I think the most important thing to recognize is that there is more than one thing contributing to the behavior of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge participants (which Luke did a excellent job of pointing out).

    In regards to your comment on people doing the challenge despite receiving invitation (exclusivity effect): These individuals were more than likely impacted by what Luke referred to as the desire to not challenge their personal identity.

    In Social Psychology this is referred to as “cognitive dissonance” and occurs when an individual experiences a tension from holding two “cognitions/values” at the same time that are inconsistent or “dissonant” from one another. The need to reduce this “dissonance” is an extremely powerful effect and is easily strong enough to influence behavior independent of any exclusivity effect.

  • Boudewijn Lutgerink

    As to #2, personal Identity, I could add that people tend to act according to a characteristic you allot them. So saying something about the other person that is absolute positive you can expect that they will act accordingly. Quite understandable, if you say a person you consider them as friendly and intelligent they won’t react with a dumb and unfriendly act. this can be used in writing as well.

  • Boudewijn Lutgerink

    Most likely this is done with HTML. look for the and tags (without the spaces.