Are you connecting with your customers emotionally using social media?
When the SPCA commercials come on the television, I brace myself for loads of emotion. The sad stories, the sad music, the faces of the puppies and kittens. What a downer.
I am emotionally moved to act and feel terrible about myself when I don’t. Sadvertising is a merciless play on my emotions.
Writer Rae Ann Fera talked about this rise of “sadvertising” in which brands do more than pluck your heartstrings; they pull hard and hope to break them. In the past, though, these kinds of ads were meant to make you feel guilty (as with with the SPCA commercial). This new breed, Fera says, is going for a different outcome. They don’t want to guilt you into action. Instead, brands are trying to get you to connect with them on an emotional level, and are hoping to get shares on social media.
In an interview with NPR, Fera described it simply: “Purchasing seems like a very rational kind of thing, but in fact we don’t make decisions rationally. We make decisions emotionally.”
Just as emotional headlines get people to read your content, emotional social media content can get customers to buy. It taps into instinctive thinking rather than rational thinking. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio performed a study on people whose brains had been damaged so that they were no longer able to feel emotions. In every other regard, they were completely normal. What did he discover?
Making decisions was almost impossible. They could logically process information, but they needed emotions to help them make a decision. To put a number on it? Our decision making is 70% emotional and 30% rational.
Connecting With Customers Emotionally With Social Media
You can see why you want an emotional connection with your customers; it helps break down barriers to both buying and loyalty. The emotional connection helps them decide to take action. Fortunately, social media is uniquely placed for making emotional connections.
A 2012 study by Motista, a company that specializes in helping brands connect with customers on an emotional level, revealed several interesting things about social media and emotions. Mainly, that customers who use social media are more emotionally connected to the brands they are following.
- Getting their emotional identity: 46% of social media followers felt that their purchases from a brand reflected their personal lifestyles, while only 21% of non-social media followers would say the same thing.
- Feeling positive about life: 46% of social media followers also felt that their purchases from companies they followed brought joy and pleasure to their life, while only 20% of non-social media followers said the same thing.
The Motista study reveals several interesting aspects about the purchasing habits and price sensitivity of social media followers vs. non-social media followers, which can be summed up easily: those who follow your brand on social media are more prone to acting positively towards purchasing because of how they feel about you.
So how can you make customers feel a positive emotion about you on social media?
Don’t make your customer think too hard.
If you’re trying to connect on an emotional level, don’t appeal to their logical way of thinking. Don’t make them think too hard. Don’t ask tough rhetorical questions, or force them to make a difficult decision. Don’t create content that dredges up conflicting thoughts about politics and worldviews. Let them instinctively connect with your content without forcing them to leave system one thinking and delve into system two.
We spend a limited time on social media networks, and don’t have the time to process weighty intellectual thoughts. We like, share, and retweet on a whim in a moment. Ideally, your social media should register in the four emotional areas:
- Happy. We want to feel happy about what we purchase. In fact, we have a fear that we will be unhappy. People also love a good laugh. Social media content that taps into the happy factor and does it well is going to be popular.
- Sad. We’ve already talked about sadvertising, and how brands are trying to tug at bittersweet feelings and tears to get people to connect to their brands. When it works, it’s powerful. When it doesn’t, it makes people angry about feeling guilty or pandered to. Use this cautiously.
- Fear. Customers are highly motivated by fear, even more than they are by pleasure. Avoiding pain is what the entire airline industry is built on, frankly. You should take time to list and understand the fears of your audience. Create social content that dispels those fears.
- Anger. Avoid making people angry. This might work well for politics or other divisive arenas, but for most brands, angry customers aren’t a good thing. Even if you are trying to use anger to motivate customers towards good behavior about some injustice, long-held anger is like adrenaline, and dissipates quickly while wearing out the person.
An interesting infographic by Go-Gulf can serve as a caution for some types of emotional content. While some sad content has gone viral, the general rule of thumb is to stay away from the negative emotions and go for those that make people feel happy, hopeful, and joyful.
Remember: You’re not answering their intellectual needs. You’re hitting one of their four emotions.
Use repetition in your social media.
We’ve talked about how repetition is important in helping people remember our content, but repetition has value for marketers who want to tap into that system one thinking. When it comes to system one emotional decisions, repetition can seem like truth. The more our brain hears something, the more we start to assume it is true (just watch the political ads on TV).
By choosing a theme or idea for a social campaign, you can repeat that theme in unique ways and not just repeat the same identical social media content. Whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube, you can hammer home an idea by repeating it from every possible angle.
- Choose the theme or idea.
- Create content that approaches that theme or idea from different perspectives.
- Publish regularly so your social media fans begin to attribute that to you.
- Do not publish the same identical content repeatedly.
Microcar manufacturer Smart Car decided to use repetition and have a little fun with its followers on Twitter. They encouraged people to take a selfie and submit it. What they did next was clever:
— Official smart USA (@smartcarusa) December 17, 2013
— Official smart USA (@smartcarusa) December 17, 2013
They had fun with the selfies while also getting their product in the picture. It was both a great use of a repetition (a theme) and bringing their biggest fans into the fun.
By repeating your theme or idea throughout your social media, but in different ways, the repetition is implanted in your customer’s mind and the next time they need you, there you are, at the front of their mind. People rely on familiarity rather than logic. Repetition makes you familiar.
Know whether you’re answering needs or wants.
Needs and wants aren’t the same thing. There can be overlap.
Needs are those things that are real and functional. Your customer needs food. They need soap. They need help with their website. Wants, on the other hand, are more like emotional needs, things the customer can do without but still desires. Sometimes the customer doesn’t know (consciously or unconsciously) whether their need is a real need or an emotional one.
The first stage in your customer’s buying decision process is that of recognizing a need.
If you customer does not feel they need what you have to offer, they go nowhere. Emotional social messages best tap into your customer’s wants, which often are motivated by emotion in the first place. When you answer an emotional need and want with an emotional social message, you can convince your customer that it’s a real need.
This plays into the emotion of fear, too. Fear has a role to play in needs and wants. By understanding fears, you can also better understand both needs and wants. Let’s look at Charmin’s Twitter feed as an example. Clearly, people need their product. Is it possible Charmin can also tap into, uh, fear?
— Charmin (@Charmin) October 3, 2014
A recognized need, a sympathetic nod towards a fear held by parents, and a little humor to boot. Nice work, Charmin.
Tap into blissful ignorance for happy customers.
Sometimes we tell our customers too much.
You’ll always have the customer who wants to know everything about the products they buy, but many customers would prefer to not know everything. It’s called the “blissful ignorance effect” and it hinges on customers who are already committed to buying something. They don’t want to know any unnecessary information that might make them question their decision to buy.
Check out this tweet from Delta. Instead of tweeting the safety record of the 737, or how much legroom you’ll get, they instead go for happy.
Baby got back! We like big jets and we cannot lie, this 737 is ready to fly. pic.twitter.com/N9BaWWi3SR
— Delta (@Delta) July 30, 2013
Remember, information addresses system two thinking, the intellectual side, while less information allows the emotions to take over.
If you have a die-hard and loyal customer fan base always lining up for your product, you may want to keep details sparse and let them enjoy the happy emotions that come from not knowing everything about it. When creating social media content for already popular products, remember that people want to feel happy about their decision to buy and are, once committed, only concerned about justifying their purchases by playing up the positives while downplaying the negatives.
Help your customer achieve buyer happiness. Help them with the justification, convince them that they were right. Talk to their emotions instead of their heads.
Feed identities, not build relationships.
An emotional connection might end up being a one-off purchase by a customer, or a long-term relationship. The concept of building a relationship between a human being (your customer) and a brand (an entity) is impossible. At most, you’re misusing the word relationship when what you mean to say is loyalty. A customer can have long-term loyalty with a brand, but it cannot relate to it.
That seems like splitting hairs, but it is important. If you are creating social media to create relationships, you will be disappointed in your return. But if you build to create loyalty, or even identity, you won’t be disappointed.
Instead of asking “how can I form a relationship with customers?” ask “how can I make my customers loyal to me?”
The answer? Feed their identity.
As we saw in the Motista study, social media followers build identities around the products and brands they use. Help them by creating identities they can latch onto and share in their social media. According to Go-Gulf, 68% of social media users share content to show others who they are and what they care about.
Let’s use Delta again, and look at a recent tweet. What identity are the feeding?
— Delta (@Delta) October 2, 2014
They are feeding nostalgia, but they are also giving people who love vintage airplanes and cars something to retweet in their feed.
You should know your audience already, and know what they identify with. Create social content that feeds that identity and allows them to easily share it to tell others who they are all about.
Watch out for adrenaline overload.
Word of warning about overuse of emotional hooks: It gets old, quickly.
Having too much adrenaline pumping for a long time is harmful for the human body. When it comes to tugging at emotional heartstrings, we can easily wear our customer out if we do it all of the time. There is always a place for the crisp, clean, and forthright copy that promotes your product’s benefits (see #5 here) without being emotional. Interspersing that with periodic emotional hits is better than all emotion, all the time.
It’s all part of being a good social media publisher. You mix up curation, conversation, and emotional content so that your audience is never bored and never worn weary.
Why Connecting Emotionally Works
When it comes to understanding how we connect emotionally to advertisements, we need to understand a few things about how we process information and how we make decisions with that information. Once you understand how important it is that your social media content connect emotionally to your audience, you’ll better understand why and how to do it.
Fast and slow thinking.
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, 2002 Nobel Prize winner, showed that we are not rational beings in terms of how we make choices. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, he demonstrated how we have two systems at work in our minds: an intuitive and automatic “system one”, and a lazier and calculating “system two.”
System one is the fast thinking, while system two is the slow thinking. System one relies on gut instinct, emotion, cravings, unconscious decision-making, or even prejudice, while system two is conscious, deliberate, and rational. System two rationalizes system one’s ideas, and often overrules them. Most of us think we are using system two, making all of our decisions carefully and deliberately.
We use both systems when thinking, but we try as hard as we can to avoid slow thinking as much as possible. We’re processing a lot of information and decision-making every day, and we rely on our “gut instincts” to help us out. So what does that mean?
Your customer isn’t making decisions logically, at least most of the time. They are relying on emotions and instinct when it comes to deciding what to buy or what to read. Buy creating content on social media that triggers that emotional response, you are tapping into this and understanding that emotional content requires less work for your audience to decide about.
Warning: this can go both ways. Your poorly made emotional content can turn your audience off violently, too.
While there are still detractors that believe it is impossible, or not useful, to connect with customers emotionally on social media, what we know about the human brain and how we make decisions should tell us otherwise. People aren’t looking to be best friends with a brand, but it is still possible to create social media content periodically that hits an emotional bulls-eye and helps your customer decide to buy.