We’ve now had enough data on social media engagement and its effects to know A. that it is desirable to the degree that it has become the Holy Grail of social media activity and B. That it is maturing as an activity which means that despite what technology is or is not allowing us to do what ultimately drives it are the same basic principles that drive human behavior.
So, if you are looking to generate more social media engagement what are the four basic principles you should have in mind every time you create content?
Cognitive Dissonance – Put more simply: offer your audience a mental challenge. Whether you challenge an existing belief by providing a reasoned and data-backed alternative that leads to a positive conclusion or broaden the current horizon by expanding the vista that lays before your audience’s eyes your post had better provide conceptual or practical value. Being controversial for controversy’s sake is no more useful than posts that write a lot and say nothing. We are in the age of semantic search and the semantic web, content is being produced by the truckload. Standing out from the volume requires more than just the ability to shout louder.
Self-Perception Theory - Content never takes place in a vacuum. Even the most commercial, self-serving form of advertising helps its audience understand something about themselves. For your content to resonate it has to hit that ‘soft’ area where the values you stand for and the values your audience holds meet the area where the avowed part of identity takes shape. If your content is not in some way empowering, eye-opening, ennobling then it was written just to please you and meet your need for content. Selfishness, however couched, works no more when you create content than when you’re trying to make new friends.
Reward Principle – What motivates your audience is the kind of reward they receive when reading it. Some will be motivated by the cognitive effects your content has on them (it educates, informs, entertains, etc). These are intrinsic rewards. Some will be motivated by the practical aspects of what you post (what they can do better, faster and more profitably after reading your content, what they gain or what they can prevent losing, etc). These are extrinsic rewards. A fair portion of your audience will be motivated by a blend of these two. The point is that even if you are selling iceboxes to Eskimos there’d better be a real reason for them to buy them from you that not they can understand but they can also internalize and explain to others. Fail at that and your content will fail.
Norming – In group psychology theory norming is the stage of acceptance of others and their differences. Social media content can run the gamut from posts that are about changing the world to posts that talk about how to change a flat tire. Anything that is of insufficient depth and detail in what it describes or lacks empathy for the audience is most likely going to jar. Whatever your content is about it is important that it helps the audience reach the norming stage where they become part of a perceived social group with you and those who consume it. Social media has fostered new behavioral models and has contributed greatly to the building of specific communities across the web. Your content, in whatever format it is in, needs to be part of a shared language and culture. One that unites those who consume it and helps them feel that they are part of a greater group.
How you mix these ingredients in the content you create will depend, each time, upon your own perceptions of identity, knowledge and expertise filtered through the goals you put in place. But the critical decision you make at each point will determine how successful you will be in getting engagement for your content across social media platforms.
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